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How food labelling can drive opportunities

A recent survey in Italy on food labelling has highlighted that origin, especially Italian origin, is crucial to the country’s consumers. They are prepared to pay a premium for this information, too. Ilario Giangrossi and Chiara Bicci of Norton Rose Fulbright’s Milan office discuss the opportunities that arise from this end-customer focus.

A recent survey in Italy on food labelling has highlighted that origin, especially Italian origin, is crucial to the country’s consumers. Ilario Giangrossi and Chiara Bicci of Norton Rose Fulbright’s Milan office discuss the opportunities that arise from this end-customer focus.

Food labelling has been gaining increasing attention in Italy in recent years, in line with wider food safety awareness around the world. Providing clear food information to consumers has become essential for food business operators as a result of EU measures to improve food labelling rules. It is now essential that consumers have legible and comprehensible information at their disposal to make informed choices about what they eat.

Public consultation

In April 2015, the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies announced the conclusion of the online public consultation of residents on the labelling of food products. Over 26,500 participants voiced their opinion by responding to a questionnaire with 11 questions on the importance of being able to trace products, of indicating their origins and transparency of information on the labels.

The initiative’s purpose is to involve the public on the transparency of the labelling information on food products. Another purpose of the consultation is to fall into line with the general principles set out by the European Union (EU), especially after the first tranche of rules included in Regulation No 1169/2011 about food labelling, presentation and advertisement became compulsory across all member states on 13 December, 2014. (The obligation to provide nutrition information will now apply on 13 December, 2016).

Over 96 percent of respondents declared the importance of food product origins being clearly and understandably written on the label, while for 84 percent, the location where food is processed is essential. For eight out of 10 Italians, the fact that the product is made with raw ingredients from Italy and processed in Italy is crucially important at the time of purchase, after which 54 percent require that they contain natural ingredients. According to the survey, 45 percent even require products to be DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) and IGP (geographically protected product) brands, while 30 per cent count on the product being organic. For nine out of 10 people, it is important to know the origin for food safety assurance; for 70 percent it is useful for ethical reason, such as compliance with workers’ regulations.

Responses indicated a strong desire for Italians to be informed of the origin of the raw ingredients used in food preparation. Raw meat and fresh milk came top (95 per cent), followed by dairy products such as yogurt and cheese (90 per cent), cut fresh fruit and vegetables (88 per cent), processed meat such as salami and sausages, tinned canned meat (87 per cent) and rice (81 per cent). Over 18,000 people (79 per cent) indicated the processing location on the label is always essential and for 86 per cent, it is very important that 100 per cent of this happens in Italy.

Nearly 22,000 people (82 per cent) stated that they are willing to spend more to be certain of the product’s Italian origin and source, with nearly half willing to spend from 5 percent to 20 percent more.

Political commitment

Minister Maurizio Martina said:

“We had an extraordinary participation, with more than 26,000 consumers and operators saying what they want to read on the label. Their answers were explicit: clearly marking the origins of raw materials is fundamental to supplying transparent information and preventing fraud. We will present these results to Brussels along with a proposal aimed at making domestic rules on food labelling even more effective, in line with the EU provisions. This was not only a simple questionnaire but a way of sharing with consumers our goals on a matter that affects everyday life. We value the information on the origin of a product, and labelling is what allows consumers to make informed choices.”

The Minister of agriculture, food and forestry policies – who had previously stressed also the need to safeguard geographical indications and to combat counterfeiting – added that Italy is “committed to restoring the obligation to display the factory on the label” and that for this purpose “on the one hand, they are carrying out a battle in Europe to change the regulation to mandatorily include this information while, on the other hand, they are working together with the technicians of the EU Commission to introduce a national rule that applies to Italy”. “Transparency and accuracy of information must be granted to consumers when it comes to food,” he concluded.

Giving consumers better access to clear, comprehensive and reliable food information is clearly one of the Italian government’s key priorities.

New opportunities

The public consultation on the labelling of food products has shown how a label can actually drive consumers’ choices when buying food products. Considering the growing interest of consumers to know as much as possible about what they eat, food business operators and companies in the agribusiness field should be able to find innovative solutions to acquire new customers and retain the existing ones by promoting targeted communications, making information on ingredients and nutritional values more accessible (also through new devices made available by recent developments in digital technology, such as apps for smartphones or interactive web ites) and clearly stating the origin of their own products on the label, as this is what concerns consumers most. This is therefore the time to turn consumers’ needs and EU rules into an opportunity to improve transparency in Italian food labelling.

By Ilario Giangrossi, partner and Chiara Bicci, senior associate in the Milan office of global legal practice, Norton Rose Fulbright