Food & Beverage: Five regulatory development trends in 2024

After coming under pressure from consumers, regulations in the Food & Beverage sector are changing rapidly – and they are having a considerable impact on manufacturers and their products. Here, experts from Trace One, a global leader in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software and regulatory compliance solutions within the process manufacturing and retail CPG space, discuss the major regulatory trends which are emerging in 2024.

Sustainable development: More rules than ever

Sustainable development issues “have been an underlying trend in marketing for several years, but until recently there were few rules and little harmonisation,” explains Erika Redaelli, Head of Regulatory at Trace One. After a phase of “greenwashing” (companies claiming to be greener than they are), deep-rooted change is now taking place, and should become yet more pronounced in 2024. This trend is confirmed by Jovana Stevanovic, Senior Food Regulatory Specialist, who says that a number of key issues are emerging around sustainable development, especially in the European Union in order to control the environmental promises made by manufacturers and force them to ‘back up their ecological claims’. The European Commission’s initiatives (such as the green Claims Directive proposal) and guidelines on environmental claims are based on broader consumer protection and environmental legislation, such as the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the General Product Safety Directive. These guidelines aim to ensure that any environmental assertions made by businesses are accurate, substantiated, comparable, and not misleading to consumers. In the food and beverage industries, companies may make various environmental affirmations regarding sustainability, packaging, sourcing of ingredients, carbon footprint, etc. The European Commission’s initiatives require these claims to be supported by reliable evidence and to be clear and understandable to consumers. Furthermore, these add to existing initiatives like the voluntary EU Ecolabel scheme, which provide criteria for certifying environmentally friendly products, including some food and beverage products. These regulations help consumers identify products that meet specific environmental standards. “It is important for businesses operating in the food and beverage industries to familiarize themselves with relevant EU regulations and guidelines concerning environmental claims to ensure compliance and avoid any accusations of greenwashing or misleading advertising. Additionally, regulations and guidelines may evolve over time, so it is advisable to stay updated with the latest developments from the European Commission and other relevant authorities”, Redaelli adds. At the same time, huge attention is given to consumers about the wellbeing of animals involved in the food supply chain, notably about how they are raised, transported and handled. Regulations vary from a country to another, but there are common standards, known as General Welfare Standards, that can be found in different jurisdictions and which set minimum standards for the treatment of animals raised for food production. In parallel, there is a lot going on around protection of the environment and the biodiversity and sustainable sourcing practices. Since 2023, the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products ensures that products consumed in the European Union do not contribute to deforestation or forest degradation worldwide. Finally, there is also ongoing discourse evolving around the issue of food waste, especially regarding initiatives related to food expiry dates, may they be regulated or not: in some frameworks where a best before date is enforced, to project the possibility to remove it, and for those where it is absent, on how to make a clear distinction between food safety and sensory quality. Some retailers have already started taking initiatives regarding not labelling foods that do not require a best before date by law.

Food safety: Lower limits for contaminants

“As technology improves, analytical techniques become more sophisticated and more traces of contaminants are found in food products,” says Redaelli. Technological advances are leading to stricter standards than ever on contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, microbial pathogens or toxins. “We are succeeding in finding smaller quantities of substances and the regulatory limits are being reduced. We are also finding more contaminants,” she continues. Food producers and manufacturers have to adhere to these lower limits to ensure the safety of the food supply and protect public health. Compliance with these standards is typically enforced through regulatory agencies responsible for food safety inspection and regulation. It is an ongoing process, as major health protection agencies have this continuous feedback active and in place. In the last years, for example, a topic has been persistent pollutants (dioxins, PAHs, PFAS), substances that are released in the environment through human activity and are then accumulating in the supply chain. Also, there is growing concern about contamination associated with packaging and food contact materials. Redaelli says: “Packaging can interfere with food. We are seeing a trend of certain contaminants being banned and the thresholds for others being lowered.” This has been highlighted in arguments over banning Bisphenol A, or other potential/suspect/recognized endocrine disruptors in numerous countries. The recent trends over packaging recyclability and reuse also in the food supply chain is creating a debate, “the industry must be ready for changes concerning all materials in contact with food,” Redaelli adds “incorporating the challenges to make the process of generating food packaging sustainable”. Overall, food safety regulations have been evolving in a number of directions in recent months. The World Health Organisation recently amended its recommendations on the composition of breast milk formulas, as well as on advertising and packaging, to ban images on packs intended for under-threes. “This creates a conflict between regulators and medical recommendations,” according to Nurberk Derelioglu, a Regulatory Specialist at Trace One. There is also a trend towards increased consumer protection with allergens regulations: more allergens (new allergens sources being made mandatory), lower limits (as analytical capabilities increase) and growing awareness about the risk of cross-contamination. “We’re starting to see mandatory allergen information, with stricter limits,” says Redaelli. She also points out that more and more questions are being asked about vegan products, which may contain traces of milk or eggs. “At present, there are no regulations governing the labelling of vegan products, only standards” she says, “but some a few high-profile cases and recommendations on the topic are starting to circulate”.

New sources of protein: The first steps towards regulating the sector

Two main questions are emerging: are these new sources of protein of similar quality to meat; and do the products used to make them have potential allergens about which consumers have yet to be informed. “There is a lot of discussion about it,” says Redaelli. “It’s starting to happen, and we’re going to see regulations on this subject. There is a growing trend towards having reliable a means of distinguishing between products derived from animals and those derived from plants or made in laboratories.” Some countries may think about protecting their local economy by banning cultivated meat, making sure descriptors used for meat-based products are not used for the plant-based ones. Farmers in particular are moving to protect their products and ban the use of terms such as “meat” or “milk” for goods that are not derived from animal production. Redaelli says: “We’re seeing a lot of initiatives on how to market these products, and on whether they have the same qualities, but also to determine the allergenic risks, given the changes they will bring to our way of eating. I have seen a lot of discussion around pea and chickpea protein and how, having them in concentrated form could be a problem for some people.” The regulation of new sources of protein is a complex and evolving process that requires careful consideration of safety, quality, labelling, and sustainability aspects. By taking proactive steps to regulate this sector, regulators can support innovation while safeguarding public health and consumer interests.  By implementing clear labelling requirements, leveraging advanced technologies, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders, regulators and industry partners can build trust and confidence in these emerging food categories.

Local regulations: The risk of market fragmentation

The rise of local regulations likely risks the fragmentation and disruption of global markets in the Food & Beverage sector. These risks are seen in the United States – with bans on certain ingredients at state-level – and worldwide with the emergence of nutritional scores based on multiple standards. “In the United States, there are initiatives at state-level to ban certain substances and products,” explains Redaelli, citing in particular a California law that forbids several additives and which has since been taken up and extended in other states such as Illinois and New York. “For the moment, these bans are limited to the United States, but they have an impact on everyone. This creates market fragmentation and limits the movement of goods,” she adds. These generate complications for producers whose interest is to simplify, reduce the number of SKUs and have their product reach the biggest number of customer possible. The risk of fragmentation is also present in the different front-of-pack- labelling solutions implemented around the world, which are based on vastly different principles (from “scoring”, to “warning”) and have a huge impact on visual and label. Redaelli says: “Every country has different solutions regarding visual guidance for consumers on packages. They are very different from each other, and this generates a disconnect between the different markets. It makes it more difficult to penetrate different markets with a single product. It’s very disruptive.” The potential challenges of this market fragmentation could involve divergent standards, additional compliance costs and resources, supply chains getting even more complex (to source materials, ingredients, or components from different suppliers to meet local regulations), but also a confusion amongst consumers and trade barriers limiting market access for foreign companies.

A global trend: Transparency for consumers

In conclusion, the main trend in 2024 – which brings together all those mentioned above – is the growing demand for transparency for consumers, who are demanding that they have a say in the food they eat and that manufacturers are held accountable for the health effects of the products they produce. “Manufacturers must not mislead consumers,” Derelioglu concludes. Redaelli goes even further: “We are seeing a higher level of regulation for consumers so that they are informed and protected. There is a clear trend towards transparency for consumers – and even regulation by consumers at a local level.” This demand for transparency, driven directly by consumers, is undeniable, and poses new challenges for manufacturers and distributors in the months and years ahead. While the demand for transparency poses challenges for manufacturers and distributors, it also presents significant opportunities for those willing to invest in transparency initiatives and prioritize consumer trust and accountability. Embracing transparency can lead to long-term benefits in terms of brand reputation, market competitiveness, and sustainable growth.

These regulatory trends are shaping the landscape of the Food & Beverage sector, driving manufacturers to adapt their products, processes, and strategies to meet evolving consumer expectations and regulatory requirements. Companies that proactively address these trends and invest in compliance solutions are better positioned to succeed in this rapidly changing environment.

The adoption of digital technologies is transforming regulatory compliance and product lifecycle management in the Food & Beverage sector. Regulators are embracing digital platforms for data collection, reporting, and traceability, enabling more efficient monitoring and enforcement of food safety regulations.

Take the stress out of compliance with Trace One Trace One adds value to food and beverage companies by streamlining compliance management, enhancing visibility and transparency, mitigating risks, facilitating supplier collaboration, and ensuring audit readiness. By leveraging Trace One, businesses can navigate complex regulatory landscapes more effectively and focus on delivering safe and high-quality products to consumers while tackling challenges such as product lifecycle sustainability or Packaging management solutions.

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