Engaging with regulatory early in product development can inspire food and beverage innovations that please customers, satisfy regulatory requirements and reduce launch time
Have you heard the joke—that regulatory teams put the “no” in innovation? The punchline is tired and untrue, according to Yvonne Traynor, Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs, Kerry Europe. In fact, she says, engaging with the regulatory team early in the product development process can spur innovation and save time and expense by getting ahead of concerns around claims, ingredient declaration, labeling and pending regulation changes. It can also speed up product releases, such as when a lengthy governmental approval process must occur prior to sale, and reduce risk of releasing a product or advertising materials that must be recalled—something that can damage reputation and result in a costly fine.
“At the early stages of developing a new product, we can help by asking customers the right questions, often in a slightly different way than sales or research and development would”, says Traynor. “If a customer lets us know early on that they want to make a certain claim, or that they want to pursue a specific sustainability angle, we can be sure it’s included in the project brief”.
As ideation begins, regulatory team members can use their knowledge of worldwide guidelines to ensure formulations are compliant across various points of sale while also meeting customer goals, says Zeynep Ilkbahar, Senior Manager of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs, Kerry Europe. When a regulatory roadblock is encountered early in the development process—such as restrictions in the use of certain substances or a nutritional or health claim which may not be legal in every jurisdiction—a creative solution can be worked into the product more easily since recipes are still in being refined. And, when claims and ingredients are vetted early on, it’s less likely that that a customer will be told late in the process that claims can’t be made or ingredients can’t be used.
Whether you work for a company with its own regulatory department or you partner with an ingredient manufacturer with one, here are six reasons Traynor and Ilkbahar suggest bringing regulatory into the conversation as early as possible.
Labeling concerns: Different locations have different rules regarding nutritional claims such as “no added sugar” and “high in fiber”. This is especially important for products destined for sale in multiple locations. For example, what counts as “low in salt” in the U.S. may be too high to warrant for such phrasing in the UK. Artwork is another, not often considered a topic for regulatory concern: if you want to market a fruit-flavored product by placing a strawberry on the label, you may face repercussions if there’s no actual strawberry in the formulation.
No-No ingredients: Many companies provide “no-no” ingredient lists to the innovation team before beginning work on a new product. These are created because a company doesn’t want to use an ingredient, doesn’t want to add an ingredient to its label or wants to create a perception of the ingredient not being there. Although these lists are often presented early in the creative stage, it often falls on regulatory to confirm new formulations align. In most cases, regulatory guidance is required to understand the details of the customer requirements. For example, if it is mentioned in a no-no list that “artificial” colours are prohibited, it is up to regulatory to investigate and understand the exact parameters.
Sustainability criteria: Increasingly, food and beverage companies are driven by sustainability goals and pledges. While these ideals may not be written into a brief, many companies expect their positions to be baked into ideas. Regulatory team members are often the ones to seek out these stances and ensure sustainable manufacturing methods are used and that ingredients reflect established sustainability criteria. For example, some companies are concerned about the sustainability of palm oil, but may not explicitly include it in a no-no list.
Compliance checks: It’s very difficult to find a product that complies with the various regulations set forth in every country. For instance, an additive which is permissible in a snack seasoning according to European legislation may not be acceptable in certain Middle Eastern countries that follow Codex Alimentarius or local regulations. A regulatory team can check against the guidelines in each country a product will be on sale, spotting any issues well in advance. Often, it’s possible to find an alternative ingredient which works in both regions, when there’s enough lead time.
Future changes: Sometimes, product developers are familiar enough with regulations to make a product that is fully compliant. But rules change, and it’s often the regulatory team that stays on top of pending shifts. This gives them the unique role of being able to advise on making a product that is compliant now and in the future. For example, if a country or region has decided that in two years, it will begin to enforce a sugar tax, a product can be formulated to meet these new regulations early so no reformulation is needed. By planning product development ahead of regulations, you can help customers be first to market. In addition, regulatory professionals are able to identify regulatory issues that represent a potential threat or opportunity to the business.
Early approvals: In some cases, such as when using a new enzyme in a product, manufacturers must get approval from the government in the location it’s intended for sale. A formal application must be submitted, and the government’s response can take weeks to months. When a regulatory team is aware of recipes and requirements, they can predict which products will require such approval processes. By submitting an application as early as possible, they can help the product launch sooner than if the process was started in the final stages of development or manufacturing.
Food and beverage makers that partner with Kerry gain access to our regulatory team in addition to food scientists, consumer insights experts, manufacturing facilities and more. To discuss the ways we can work together, contact Kerry.