The Easy Way to Reduce Food Label Obsolescence

What is Food Label Obsolescence & What Causes It?

It’s frustrating when Brand Owners have to throw away labels because the brand copy, ingredients or nutritional facts change!  Consequently, the obsolete labels are “trashed” and a brand new batch is produced with the updated information. The top two causes of obsolescence are commodity market fluctuation and updates to FDA requirements. Okay great, but what the heck does that mean?

Commodity Market Fluctuation

Corn, Chicken and Turkeys, oh my! Many of the components that go into packaged or canned foods are susceptible to demand shortages due to environmental causes, animal illnesses, and a variety of other reasons. When these shortages occur, companies often times have no choice but to swap out one ingredient for another. If that wasn’t stressful enough, every time an ingredient is changed, new labels need to be created. Take the avian bird flu epidemic of 2016 as an example: Over 45 million birds were stricken with the flu, creating major hen and egg shortages. As a result, many companies started using powered eggs as ingredients, which required them to update their labels to reflect the  change(s).

FDA Requirements

The FDA takes their responsibility to protect the public’s health very seriously and makes improvements to food label requirements on a regular basis. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (21 CFR 101) is being adjusted since scientific information now links chronic diseases such as chronic obesity and heart disease to diet.

Here’s a list of nutritional label items that were adjusted:

  • Serving size – Regular Amount Customarily Consumed, or RACC
    • Example: Soda 8 oz. to 12 oz. – who only drinks 8 oz. in a can?
  • Larger Calories font
  • Added Sugars – scientific evidence supports reducing caloric intake from added sugars
  • New Nutrients added – Vitamin D and Potassium
  • New Fiber definition – requires fiber to have a beneficial physiological effect to human health (lowering blood glucose)
  • New Footnote
  • Category additions – Hor d’oeuvers, dried vegies, drink mixes, seasoning past, seaweed sheets

For visual folks such as myself, here’s what the Nutrition and Supplement changes look like:

          Old                            New

These Nutrition and Supplement Fact updates require a speedy implementation. Manufacturers have until July 26, 2018, to comply with the changes and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until July 26, 2019, for compliance.  However, with the Trump administration, there is some thought that the regulation changes may be pushed back. In anticipation, some companies are holding off on making changes until they know more. This approach will likely get riskier as the deadline looms closer.

About Face

Nutritional Call-Out Label

As the “face” of your product, front labels require eye-catching graphics that command attention from shoppers. It’s important that the consumer immediately recognizes the product name and brand before taking that next step towards the next option. In fact, these statement-making graphics play a big role in differentiating how to manage front label obsolescence versus back label. There are a couple different strategies when building the design:   It’s trendy for labels to feature call-outs of nutritional highlights on the front of a package.  If this is your angle, it might be best to print digitally so that the content can be refreshed quickly and inexpensively.

“Traditional” Label

Other companies stick to a more “traditional” look for their front labels, which can create a great opportunity for flexographic printing to be utilized.  In fact, for longer runs (10,000 linear feet and higher) it can be more cost-effective to run flexographically than digitally.  Plus, assuming the product to which the labels are adhered is in a consistent rotation at the store, you won’t have to worry as much about label storage costs. It’s okay to stock up!


With all this is mind, there is one easy way to reduce food label obsolescence.

When approaching a nutrition facts update, consider printing back labels in shorter runs on a digital press. You’ll have the opportunity to save money in a few different ways:

  1. Shorter runs will save you money in storage as well as in printing costs. Fun fact: short runs, up to 10,000 linear feet are very cost-effective when run on a digital press.
  2. If you use a digital press, you won’t run into or plate costs every time you need to make a change, like you would if printing flexographically.
  3. Digital allows you to “Walk Before You Run.” It provides flexibility to work out any kinks before committing to longer print runs and/or switching to a flexographic press.
  4. Don’t wait till the last minute to start planning for your change over. Any advanced notice helps! Your supplier can provide recommendations to manage part inventory that minimize obsolescence.

With all the different factors to consider, sometimes managing food labels can feel more like juggling eggs.  Before any eggs get dropped, it’s important to partner with a printer that truly understands food labels, managing obsolescence, and can navigate you through the myriad of complexities without negatively impacting your customers. At AWT Labels & Packaging, this is our wheelhouse. We are committed to finding the most cost-effective solution for your project and even offer Supplier Managed Inventory (SMI) programs to help further manage inventory.  Contact Us to discuss how we can help you out.


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