Good Source of Vitamin D! High in Fiber! Heart Healthy! Helps Support Weight Loss! As a food business, you want your product to consumers to pick up your brand over someone else’s. Including a nutritional claim is one way to stand out as well as including all of the labelling requirements per the FDA that a consumer expects. There are multiple pitfalls for a food brand when it comes to labelling, some are just a poor judgement call and some labelling choices can land a business in court or in hot water with the US government.
Nicole Turner-Ravana, Founder and Director of Strategic Nutrition Communications (SNC), is making a big impact nationally and internationally on how brands market themselves to reach their ideal customer. Turner-Ravana has been a part of the food cluster from the beginning, attending meetings, serving on committees and volunteering at events. She is passionate about local food, health and nutrition and goes about serving these areas in both her career and personal passions. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, Turner-Ravana knew she didn’t want to be a dietician or do clinical work, but was very interested in how we talk about food. She went on to earn her Masters in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University and as part of the program students completed case studies of food companies. After a visit to Fort Collins in 2007, she and her husband decided to leave the busyness of Los Angeles and make northern Colorado their home. The move gave Nicole the opportunity to establish Strategic Nutrition Communications as a way to help a variety of companies and organizations navigate how they talk about food and nutrition. At this point she formalized her business as an LLC and hasn’t looked back since.
SNC is a nutrition labelling and marketing company that works primarily with food businesses as well as public health organizations. In addition to crafting a FDA-compliant nutrition label, including in-dept nutrition analysis, and and all of the
other requirements for a packaged food items, Turner-Ravana also advises on legitimate claims and creates romance copy. “We have such a contention food lawsuit environment in the US,” she remarked. “It is really important to stay competitive with cutting-edge marketing, but also to be accurate and scientifically-based to protect [a food brand] from getting them into trouble.” Beyond the labelling and analysis, SNC is a branding and communication agency, helping both private businesses and public or non-profit organizations know how to talk about food in a variety of settings including selling food or educating people on how to eat better or make different choices in their diets. One area that she cautioned to be aware of is around influencers. While this can be a great marketing strategy, the food company is who will be held responsible for any misrepresentation on the part of the influencer. Something to definitely keep in mind!
Over the past 10 years, SNC has worked with a wide range of food business clientele in every age and food category you can think of, including international products. Food brands who want to import a food into the US employ Turner-Ravana’s skills to make sure their packaging is compliant with labelling and nutrition claims. As an advocate for local food systems, “I want to be a resource for our local food businesses, Turner-Ravana said. “A lot of times these companies don’t even know what they need or what kind of risks they may be exposing themselves to. I can help them navigate this.”
This expert navigation will be even more important as a deadline looms to comply with the new FDA food label by 2020. “It is not just how it looks that is different”, Turner-Ravana added, “but how you create the numbers has changed as well.” Definitions of what qualifies for certain calculations as well as reference daily values are all changing. Added sugars is one of the big changes, which can be very complicated depending on the product you are creating. All of this will force companies to re-evaluate every health claims in relation to nutrition they are putting on the package to make sure it is correct based on the new guidelines. While there are new nutritional label services online that can pump out a label, Turner-Ravana reminds us that the quality of data you put in is the quality of data you get out. She works with a FDA approved gold-star database, but more than that, it is the 15 years of working with food labelling that is worth avoiding the DIY approach. “Sometimes you may not understand the data you put in such as cooking losses, transfers of pan release agents, loss of nutrition over time or different allergens coming in contact with your recipe,” Turner-Ravana quickly rattled off. “You can spit out your numbers, but it may not actually be accurate to your product which can open you up to risk.” Giving a client a label that they feel confident in after addressing all potential issues is what SNC excels in.
While this may seem like it is only important for the “big guys” selling in Whole Foods, Costco or any grocery retailer. You may be thinking, I am exempt from this because only have a few employees or low sales volume (see the full exemption here). The reality is if you put a nutrition label on your product, no matter your size of food business, you are now liable for the content and claims you are making. SNC offers small business rates that are very reasonable because “I always want to help the small, local business.” Most food business opt for a flat rate package that includes the nutrition label, a full label and packaging review and collaboration with the graphic designer to set up the label; multiple SKUs with size or flavor variations to the main recipe are charged incrementally at a lower rate. Spending several hundred dollars up front is much less expensive than hiring a lawyer to work through a lawsuit or recall after the fact, Turner-Ravana added. She expects to see a marked increase in clients after the USDA finalizes its requirements on how GMOs need to be labeled and the FDA finalizes their rulings on dietary fiber and added sugar. “People are in a pause right now hoping the FDA and USDA has all of their guidance completed this summer and then can go full speed ahead and do everything at once to save time and money,” Turner-Ravana said.
Beyond nutrition labelling, there are packaging requirements for every packaged food, even if you are operating under the Cottage Food Act. Allergens, in Turner-Ravana’s assessment, are the most important because of the protection it provides for the customer. As an example, she cited the common confusion with coconut. This is technically a tree nut and needs to be listed as an allergen, but many don’t think of coconut oil this way and may leave it off of the allergen statement. There are lots of ways allergens can come into a product especially as a recipe becomes more complex with sub ingredients so it is important to remain vigilant when sourcing ingredients. “Having confidence in your suppliers and getting good information from them and then have a way to document and follow that process through the cooking stages to provide accurate information to your consumers is the easiest way to protect your company and minimize the risk of a customer getting sick,” Turner-Ravana explained.
While many times she meets clients in the nutritional label phase of their business, SNC offers expertise beyond just the labelling and packaging compliances. “I can really be a resource as people position their product and decide how do I want to look to my consumer, what is my consumer interested in, what is their nutrition savvyness so they aren’t talking over or under them and whether they are communicating their product in the most effective way,” Turner-Ravana said. A product only has so much real estate to communicate with a potential customer, so having help from SNC who can provide not only label advice, but also communicating a cohesive message across channels like social media, websites and printed materials, can be a key to success. “I can be a tool in your toolkit to run ideas by or bring me into a brainstorming session before launching a new product or to appeal to a new type of customer,” Turner-Ravana added.