The rise of mobile and e-Commerce in the food sector has never been more pronounced. From traditional brick-and-mortar businesses migrating to digital models to the new millennial generation that expects to buy their produce and perishables on Instacart or Amazonfresh, a product’s digital food print is expanding at an unprecedented clip. It’s forcing us to take a digital-first approach to the governance and management of product information. 

On Dec. 13, 2014, the European Union (EU) officially started to enforce new regulations for the labeling of food products sold on the market. On the surface, the new European Regulation, known as 1169/2011, is a logical idea to combine and simplify all previous EU regulations related to food labeling. Given that consumers no longer only purchase food items in a physical store, the implications of changes to how food labeling and ingredients are represented must also live in the digital world, wherever the products are sold or represented. If a company operates in the global food market, it must evaluate its product information governance, practices and procedures.

For those of us who only glance at product labels to check the number of calories or carbs, it might seem like a trivial matter, however for consumers in Europe it most certainly appears not. The regulation has very specific requirements that affect both the physical and digital representation of products sold.

Labeling Requirements

For starters; you have to make physical labels easily visible, allergens have to be emphasized in a way that clearly distinguishes them from other ingredients, trade name, net quantity and actual alcoholic strength of alcoholic beverages that contain more than 1.2 percent alcohol by volume, must be in the same field of vision. Nutrition declarations must be listed in a specific order, with a unique presentation; e.g., energy, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt. Certain meats must have country of origin and a date indication.  

The above information may be old news; after all, you probably launched a project to address the labeling change to update your websites and other representations of products that are sold in Europe. However, when the project was complete, what kind of process did you leave in place? Did you identify the sources of all this information in your business? All of the enterprise systems, spreadsheets, filing cabinets, product specifications and scattered notes where product information, product attributes and digital images that must accompany products online might live.

Did you put in place an adaptive process for when you change the mix and assortment of products you sell, or the vendors you buy from, or the advent of an entirely new product, new formula or refreshed ingredients? When representing all of the expected EU1169 information about the products you sell on the various websites of your business, your e-Commerce partners, mobile applications and other digital representations of the products, can you be sure that your business will remain in compliance as the world turns?

These are serious questions because without the ability to guarantee compliance with the regulations, your company may not be able to sell the products online or in their physical form. In short, sales of these products and the revenue associated could come to a halt. Getting things back on track could take longer if an 1169 project was implemented last year, versus an adaptive process to create and propagate product information attributes from product introduction, packaging design, to sales and supply chain distribution.

Helpful Hints

Here are a few hints and tips to help you begin to move toward a more adaptive approach to product compliance.

First, map your product information sources. This includes the many systems, people, repositories of product data that make up the product you design, brand, process, package, distribute and sell.

Next, maintain a single source of the truth, such as an internal product catalog that helps you track the changes to product information that ends up on packaging labels and websites, apps and e-Commerce sites.

Establish an efficient method of multi-channel distribution for product information. This should include establishing a way to distribute and track the product information you have propagated to your partners, customers, labels and places where the products you sell are represented.

Lastly, enact controls to ensure that the product information you are distributing is complete, accurate, consistent, current and of the right quality.

There’s never been a better time to get your executive team onboard to improve the way you govern and manage product information that drives your sales in Europe and beyond. 

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