Ensure your new food or drink product launch is legal

10 October, 2019

Before launching new food and drink products or modifying existing ones, conducting a regulatory environment review could save you time, money and wasted effort.

The food and drink industry thrives on successfully launching new products and brand extensions to meet consumers’ growing demand for novelty, great taste and convenience. And, in today’s health-conscious world, people also want products that keep them healthy.

However, the exciting business prospects such new markets offer to food and drink manufacturers and retailers also conceal serious dangers for the unwary if they are launched without a proper understanding of the regulatory environments in which they will be distributed and sold.

Legislation governing what can and cannot be included in terms of ingredients, manufacturing processes, packaging, and for any claims made about the products vary markedly between different countries and regions of the world. The costs of getting it wrong could be huge.

It is therefore imperative to conduct a regulatory review at the start of any new development. And that’s where the expertise of Leatherhead Food Research’s regulatory team can help. Leatherhead has a multinational regulatory team speaking 20 languages that specialise in food and beverage regulation across 150-plus markets.

By working with companies to expose concepts to a regulatory environment review early in the development process, Leatherhead Food Research helps them focus their efforts on products with global potential, accelerate launch timelines and align cross-functional teams. A regulatory review – which is equally applicable to products from challenger brands that are driving a lot of innovation in the sector – is designed to deliver greater efficiency, agility and profitability in new product development (NPD).

Benefits of regulatory review

Developing new products can be a costly and inefficient process, especially when seeking to push boundaries, including enabling nutrition & health claims, and moving to natural and clean formulations. But the challenge is not just technical; the internal dynamic between stakeholders with differing perspectives – marketing, R&D and regulatory – can create a tension that is not always positive.

To ease the pain, Leatherhead Food Research recommends conducting a regulatory environment review as soon as new product ideas emerge. This exposes concepts to an assessment of their suitability for target markets. Factors such as claims, formulation permissibility, packaging, communications and manufacturing processes are all considered, enabling early identification of potential hurdles and changes to be made before unnecessary cost is incurred.

It allows a more targeted approach NPD, reducing the time to market and ensuring that products launched appeal to consumers, while remaining safe and legal.

A regulatory environment review can also be used to explore the global potential of challenger brands, taking account of their legal and consumer acceptability in different markets.

As a result, any regulatory review will provide a clear, concise qualification as to whether to adopt and adapt a product concept or simply ignore it, and such reviews can be particularly useful to scientific and regulatory affairs functions looking to better support marketing colleagues in a fast-moving landscape that is being disrupted.

Advice on what to do

Having completed a number of these reviews recently, Leatherhead Food Research recommends that those embarking on NPD in new markets, or developing new products, consider a number of key points:

1) Permissibility in markets

When developing a new concept for a particular category and/or market, or when looking at a challenger brand, it is easy to assume that permissibility of similar concepts is assured: this is not the case. In particular, many smaller challenger brands may be taking bigger risks in order to create a point of difference; however, the diversity and dynamic nature of the regulatory landscape between markets means that permissibility in one country does not infer permissibility in the next –even within a trade bloc. There are ways to navigate these differences that can contain the risks to an acceptable level.

2) Formulations and formats

Many innovations involve format or formulation modifications; for example, to make a product more ethical, natural, healthy or convenient; this can often include the substitution of one or more ingredients. It is important to ensure that ingredient use is supported by the legislation in target markets, without undermining compliance with compositional standards. Additives are a good example of this, since in many countries their use is subject to regulation and restricted to a positive list.

3) Manufacturing processes and ingredients

Using new technologies, such as new ingredients, processing, packaging and distribution, are another way to make your product stand out from the crowd. However, if the use of a new technology  has the potential to affect its safety, you should review the impact on launch timelines. For example, genetically modified crops may specifically require labelling and pre-market approval, as in the EU.

4) Nutrition and health claims

Consumers are looking for health benefits and functions from both indulgent and commodity foods, and, as a consequence, nutrition and health claims are becoming common among new products. However, as science develops and the authorities restrict unsubstantiated claims, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure yours is a legitimate claim.

Nutrition claims and health claims are fundamentally different: nutrition claims refer to any claim which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular nutrition properties due to energy (calorific value) and / or due to the nutrients or other substances; a health claim states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents, and health, where health means a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Due to the differences in regulatory processes and requirements between markets, consideration should be given to launch timelines and the opportunity to develop a single body of evidence that can support claims across different markets. Manufacturers also need to stay abreast of the latest regulatory developments with respect to following certain rules with respect to using approved claims, and must assess from all standpoints, including regulatory, technical, nutritional and sensory.

Multi-market opportunities

Multi-market launches of perceivably healthier products are a key feature in the growth strategy of many food and beverage companies, allowing businesses to leverage their scale to deliver the improved operating margins demanded by investors.

As a consequence, it has become a necessity to consider the global potential of product concepts at an early stage of development. This requires aligning cross-functional teams to ensure the right product opportunities receive the right focus.

When done successfully, this enables the creation of a united brand position across multiple markets, while minimising inefficiencies created by last-minute changes to ensure individual market permissibility.


If you would like more information, Leatherhead will be holding a webinar on Wednesday 6th November.

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Alternatively, please email [email protected] for expert, independant advice.