Packaging and The Product: An Evolving Story

Food makers and grocers are stepping up to the plate with their own nutritional take on what’s inside the package.

As governmental pressure mounted for labels that “emphasize nutrients that consumers might want to avoid, like sodium, calories and fat,” a New York Times story says, “manufacturers insisted that they should also be able to use the labels to highlight beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and protein.”

The result: a labeling system developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, and a $50 million advertising campaign to promote it in the fall.

The White House is planning big moves, the story goes on to say, quoting a statement calling the labeling initiative “a significant first step” but one that will be seen as a stepping stone to “future improvement” — and be followed carefully by the F.D.A.

It quotes Michelle Obama’s push for the industry, marked by a speech last March on “clear, consistent” label needs.

“Mrs. Obama challenged our industry to move farther and faster providing consumers with healthier product choices and more information,” said Pamela Bailey, the chief executive of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “We would not be here today if she had not defined the common objective.”

Product perception issues are getting hotter. Earlier this month, people pointed fingers at packaging as a way to keep consumers from noticing changes in the volume of the products they were purchasing.

“From toothpaste to tuna fish, hot dogs to hand soap, companies have been shaving ounces and inches from packages for years,” ABC News quotes a Consumer Reports study as saying. The story suggests that “to keep consumers from noticing the incredible disappearing act, manufacturers have grown clever about packaging.” The study cites up to 20 percent reductions.

Meanwhile, the Times story also flags an industry initiative called Smart Choices, which was shelved two years back “after the F.D.A. said it might mislead consumers,” alleging it promoted “sugary cereals like Froot Loops as a healthy choice.”