Modernization of labelling: what impact for companies?

March 7, 2022

In October 2016, Health Canada introduced a new approach called the Health Canada Healthy Eating Strategy to improve the food environment in Canada to make the healthiest choice easier for Canadians. The strategy also aims to improve information about healthy eating and the nutritional quality of foods, protect vulnerable populations and promote better access to nutritious foods. 

At the same time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has launched a Food Labelling Modernization (FLM) initiative, with the objective of creating a more modern and innovative labelling system that meets current and future challenges. This initiative, if accepted, would also result in more consistent labelling rules that are in line with international standards. 

Both of these initiatives will have many impacts on agri-food packaging and, potentially, on the products themselves. To make a smooth transition, it is important to be well prepared.

An improved table and list of ingredients

To date, some of the changes proposed by Health Canada have already been published and can be applied immediately. In fact, in the case of the Nutrition Facts table, we note the following new requirements:  

  • Redesign of the graphic criteria, including an increase in the size of the calories
  • The serving size is more prominent and has been harmonized for similar foods
  • Daily values have been updated
  • Milligram (mg) amounts for potassium, calcium and iron must now be included
  • Addition of the percentage of daily value for total sugars
  • Adding an additional note on the percentage daily value.

The list of ingredients also has new graphic criteria. In particular, it must be displayed on a white or neutral background and show the title “Ingredients” in bold type. This requirement also applies to the “Contains” title, if applicable. In addition, ingredient names must be capitalized and separated by bullets or commas. In addition, the new requirements require that sugar-based ingredients be grouped in parentheses following the word “Sugars” and that food colors be referred to using their common name.  

Additional proposals under study

In addition to the changes that have already been formalized, five additional proposals are still under evaluation and have recently been the subject of consultations. For example, Health Canada is proposing to :

  • Require a front-of-package nutrition symbol for certain foods
  • Make changes to certain nutrition claims
  • Repeal certain labelling requirements for intense sweeteners
  • Amend the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) in relation to the prohibition of the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)
  • Increase the amount of vitamin D that must be added to milk and margarine.

Labelling on the front of the package

Readability and ease of identification

The CFIA is also proposing changes to specific requirements. These include the following requirements for common name, supplier information and dating:

  • A minimum font size of 0.8 mm high for small packages (area of 10 cm2 or less) and 1.6 mm high for other food packages
  • Upper and lower case letters, where appropriate, and compliance with language rules
  • Adequate contrast (e.g., black letters on a white background) 

Furthermore, all words forming the common name should have the same prominence, without intervening information. In addition, the common name should be at least half the size of the most prominent information on the main side of the package and no smaller than 1.6 mm. Note that the CFIA modernization initiative includes several other proposals, including:

  • To require the declaration in the ingredient list of the percentage of any ingredient highlighted by words or image on the label or in advertising
  • Requiring the statement “flavour” or “flavoured” on food products that would be expected to contain a characteristic food, but instead contain a natural or artificial flavour
  • Harmonize and align collective names used in Canada to the extent possible, by modifying, deleting or adding new collective names, such as vegetable oil, flavouring substances or milk ingredients. 

Many changes to be expected

Of course, all of these changes, whether they are already in place or still being proposed, could involve major changes to food packaging. 

It will be essential for affected companies to develop a transition plan that addresses all of the issues involved. Being well prepared can have many economic and logistical benefits.

Steps to consider for an effective transition plan include :  

  1. Review the changes
  2. Determine the impact and share the information with other departments
  3. Gather the necessary information from suppliers
  4. Determine and confirm what needs to appear on the packaging and obtain approval from the departments concerned
  5. Carry out the transition.

Note that the original regulations can still be used during the transition period.  

In this regard, regulated parties must comply with either the old or the new requirements, but partial compliance with both sets of requirements is not permitted.

However, as of December 14, 2021, all prepackaged foods being manufactured or imported will have to comply with the new requirements. That is, the amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations regarding nutrition labelling, ingredient listing and food colouring requirements. It should be noted that there is a proposal to extend this date to December 14, 2022, but this new date has not been formalized.  

Please note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some food labelling modernization initiatives will be delayed. The dates listed in the 2019-2021 Regulatory Forward Plan are no longer applicable. CFIA will be evaluating these deadlines over the next few months. The dates presented in the article above reflect information that was known prior to the pandemic.  

* The information in this article was taken from the Health Canada and CFIA websites. Some passages have been copied verbatim so as not to alter the meaning of the requirements or proposals.

Suggested articles