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Sugar content labelling requirements

30/11/2023 By Ibrahim Belo in Food technology

Food labels provide consumers with information about what ingredients food and beverages contain, enabling them to make informed decisions before they buy. The benefits of clear and compliant food labelling are many. There are laws around food labelling that food and beverage manufacturers must comply with. In addition, consumers must be able to make informed buying decisions based on what a food or beverage items contains, whether that be an allergen they must avoid or a desire to better manage their diet and consumption of, for example, sugars, non-nutritive sweeteners and saturated fats.

Nutrional value information on a food label

Food and drink manufacturers are required by law to display specific ingredient and nutritional information clearly on the label.

As it’s recommended that adults limit their daily sugar intake to 30g, sugar content labelling is crucial for consumers to make decisions that align with their health, preferences and any medical requirements. As a result of their functional properties, sugar products are found in a wide range of food and beverages – more than consumers may realise. Ragus’ natural, plant-based pure sugar products are found in many instantly recognisable food, drink and medicine brands in retail and hospitality globally. Clear and accurate labelling enables consumers to better understand and manage their sugar intake.

Sugar content labelling requirements in food and beverages

On most pre-packed goods, save food supplements and mineral water, the sugar content is one of seven ‘values’ that must, by law, be included on the nutritional information label on the back. As sugar is a carbohydrate, sugar content information tends to appear under a carbohydrate sub-section called ‘of which sugars’, as this separates it from the starch content. This is the ‘total sugars’, which includes the ‘free sugars’ added by the manufacturer, such as glucose, and naturally occurring sugars, such as lactose in milk. The consumer will then be told how much sugar there is per 100g or 100ml and, depending on what the product is, per serving or portion. Sugar content will be expressed in grams (g).

Side-by-side of food labels showing nutrition facts

By displaying a broad range of nutritional values, consumers can choose food and beverages that meet their personal dietary profiles.

All labelling information should be written clearly and transparently so it can’t be misinterpreted by the consumer. It’s not mandatory for food and beverage manufacturers to include nutritional information on the front of the product, but many do, using a traffic light colour system. If the total sugar appears in the red box, this indicates a high content. Publishing this information on the front allows consumers in a supermarket or shop to quickly check how a product’s sugar content compares between products, and according to personal preference and dietary requirements.

Nutritional information food label and on a tinned goods item

The voluntary traffic light colour system highlights which ingredients are present in higher amounts.

When it comes to sugar content labelling, sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners are subject to extra labelling requirements. This means if a product contains either sugars or sweeteners, or both, this must be stated clearly by the product’s name. For all these reasons, it is important that food and beverage industry professionals and manufacturers understand food labelling regulations.

Understanding food labelling regulations and guidelines

Food labelling regulations exist to ensure the consumer knows what they are buying and regulatory bodies like the UK’s Food Standards Agency and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) can maintain healthy competition among traders and manufacturers.

Food Standards Agency website and Defra building sign

The Food Standards Agency website is the UK regulatory body for food and beverage labelling.

The Food Information Regulations 2014 and the retained European Food Information to Consumers (FIC) Regulation 1169/2011 are the pieces of legislation that apply generally in the UK. For sugar labelling requirements specifically, food and beverage manufacturers should also be aware of the Specified Sugar Products (England) Regulations 2003. These regulations highlight the descriptions required for certain sugar products like glucose syrup. In some cases, the sugar manufacturer may need to note the sugar manufacturing process.

Food labelling compliance challenges

Food labelling laws and regulatory compliance in the food and beverage industry are not always easy to navigate. The main challenges facing food and beverage manufacturers in complying with sugar content labelling requirements is the need for a clear strategy, having to manage both regional rules and global standards, and changes to policies and regulation.

For example, in October 2022, new restrictions on promoting high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products by location and volume price came into force. A failure to comply with these regulations starts with support to becoming more compliant but could eventually lead to the business involved being served with financial penalties.

Sale signs in a supermarket or shop

The UK ‘High Fat, Sugar and Salt’, or HFSS, legislation limits promotions of products containing fat, sugar and salt above specific amounts.

Compliance has a positive impact on the manufacturer’s products and consumer trust, while non-compliance can also lead to product recalls, regulatory fines or penalties, and potential health risks and safety issues.

Sugar labelling best practice for food and beverage manufacturers

To ensure compliance with sugar labelling requirements, food and beverage manufacturers must make sure labels are accurate, transparent and clear for consumers. In addition to allergen information, an ingredients list and nutritional values, food labels should include the name and business address of the manufacturer, and the extra information required for sugar and sweeteners. The Food Standards Agency provides a list.

Food labelling’s role in consumer education and transparency

Food labelling is a gift to manufacturers in that it enables them to build trust with the consumer through transparency. But, as highlighted earlier, accurate and clear sugar labelling is also important to educate consumers as to what ingredients are in the food and beverages they choose to buy. This is especially important if a consumer has allergies, intolerances or simply wants to actively manage their sugar, salt, calories or saturated fat consumption. Where a lower intake may be required for health or medical reasons, for example, the consumer has the information. According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), a food product is high in sugar if the total sugar accounts for 22.5g or more per 100g.

Bottles of coca cola on a supermarket aisle

Fizzy drinks can contain a higher amount of sugar. Food labels inform the consumer of how much sugar there is.

With a growing consumer demand for healthier products, it is likely future trends in food labelling will focus more on highlighting the presence of artificial sweeteners or higher amounts of sugar in products and align with clean label trends. The UK government’s sugar reduction strategy and soft drinks industry levy or ‘sugar tax’ may also impact both trends and potential changes in food labelling regulations, especially related to sugar content.

By law, a food or drink’s sugar content must be stated on the label on the back of a product and can also be included on the front label. This ensures regulatory compliance for food and beverage industry professionals and manufacturers and transparency for the consumer.

Ragus supplies high-quality natural pure sugars to industrial food and beverage producers to enhance product tastes, textures and appearance. To learn more about our pure sugar products, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, keep browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

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Ibrahim Belo

With a primary responsibility for manufactured product quality control, Ibrahim works within our supplier chain, factory and production laboratory. He has a focus on continuous improvement, implementing and maintaining our technical and quality monitoring processes, ensuring standards and product specifications are met.

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