Confused about labelling rules for fresh produce? What’s mandatory? What’s not? What do retailers want? Here’s what Australian fresh produce suppliers need to know.
Farming and agriculture remain vitally important to Australia’s economy, contributing almost $50 billion a year to our bottom line. But times are changing. Consumers are increasingly interested in what they’re eating and are looking to food labels for answers. New food labelling and coding regulations are being introduced to provide more transparency. Industry standards are constantly evolving. And to add to all that: major supermarkets, processors and distributors are insisting that Australian fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers implement their own labelling and coding rules.
Finding it tough to keep up? You’re not alone.
To help, below we answer your top questions about labelling rules for fresh produce…
Why do we need fresh produce labels?
There are lots of reasons, but top of the list is transparency. Australian consumers want to know what’s in their food and where it comes from – and that includes fresh produce. They are increasingly looking to food labels for the answers: use-by dates, ingredients, allergen information, instructions for storage and preparation, advisory and warning statements, country of origin … the list goes on.
It’s not only the consumers who need this information; retailers and wholesalers need answers too. In Australia, it’s estimated that between 50-60% of supermarket sales are perishable items, with a loss of 5-7% as a result of poor inventory management (Planet Retail – Food Waste report). The right labelling helps better and faster turnaround of stock, improved stock accuracy and improved tracking of product recalls and withdrawals. So, for any fresh produce suppliers who value longer-term relationships with their customers – and that’s probably every producer in Australia – labelling and coding compliance is a must.
Who makes the rules?
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) sets the standards for what information must be on food labels in the Food Standards Code, which documents legal requirements for additives, nutrition, storage, labelling, and GM foods. Local state and territory agencies (such as the New South Wales Food Authority) enforce the rules.
The rules for labelling and coding fresh produce in Australia
The good news is that fresh produce is mostly exempt from the full labelling requirements, so long as it is:
- not in packaging
- whole or cut fresh fruit and vegetables in packaging that does not obscure the nature or quality
However, there may still be certain information that needs to be displayed in connection with the food or provided to the purchaser on request.
The rules that DO apply to fresh produce are:
Rule 1: Country of Origin
Two years in the making, new country-of-origin food labelling laws came into full effect in July 2018. These labels clearly spell out the country or countries where the food was grown, manufactured or packaged. In other words, consumers can clearly see which foods are grown, produced or made in Australia.
As a Victorian grower told the ABC News, if shoppers can clearly see which produce is Australian, they would hopefully be inspired to buy more local food.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is in charge of enforcing the new laws, with penalties of up to $220,000 for an individual and $1.1 million for a corporation. Australian meat company Conroy’s was fined $10,200 in 2015 when it was found to have mislabelled Danish bacon as Australian.According to the ACCC, the bacon product was labelled as a “Product of Australia” when it was produced using imported pig meat.
Here’s a breakdown of the Country of Origin claims, according to ACCC:
- Grown in – a claim about where the ingredients come from and is commonly used for fresh food. Can also be used for multi-ingredient products to show where the food was grown and processed.
- Produced in – a claim about where the ingredients come from and where processing has occurred. Often used for processed, as well as fresh foods.
- Made in – a claim about the manufacturing process involved in making the food.
- Packed in – a claim where a food has not been grown, produced or made in a single country. The label identifies the country it was packed in.
Foods are classed as “non-priority foods” and “priority foods”. Fresh produce falls into the priority foodscategory.This meansyour product can only claim to be produced or grown in Australia if it contains 100% Australian ingredients.
If grown, produced or made in Australia, your priority food country-of-origin label will feature a kangarooin a triangle logo, and a bar chart and textidentifying the proportion of Australian content in the food.
The Australian Business website has a helpful video guide for more information on the new Country of Origin labelling.
Note: Food that was packaged and labelled on or before 30 June 2018 can still be sold without the new labels.
Rule 2: Nutritional Information
While the Food Standards Code requires all manufactured foods to have a nutrition information panel, fresh produce is exempt from this rule if it is:
- packaged fresh fruits and vegetables
- sold unpackaged
- foods in small packages (less than 100cm squared)
However, if you are making a nutritional claim about the product (e.g.“good source of calcium”), a nutrition information panel must be provided. Watch this video for more information.
What do Australian retailers want?
In addition to meeting the Food Standards Code, fresh produce suppliers need to tick the boxes for their customers’ labelling requirements. Retailers such as Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Aldi have strict labelling regulations to keep their warehouse and supply chain working efficiently. Mostly, this comes down to labelling at a carton or crate level.
Take Coles. The Australian retailer launched significantly more vegetable items in 2017 than in 2015 to meet consumer demand. But it also asks suppliers to follow some stringent rules. To start with, all Coles Brand suppliers use its web-based product and supplier database, Fusion, which the company says “allows for product traceability and strict adherence to quality compliance standards such as declarable allergens, certifications and nutritional information”.
Coles asks its fresh produce suppliers to follow specific carton/crate labelling requirements whereby each “pickable entity” (crate, carton, bag, tray, bin) is individually labelled with product description, SKU code, unit of measure, vendor details, batch numbers and date codes (where applicable). And, of course, suppliers are reminded that each label must contain the mandatory country-of-origin information.
Many retailers request that GS1 Australia logistics labels are assigned to cartons and pallets. Even if they don’t, these labels are great practice to provide information in a way that can be easily understood by both machines and humans.
In Part 2, we delve into the different types of codes you need to know for fresh produce, including Databar, Date Codes, PLU, GTIN and SSCC. Don’t miss it!
How to get the right labels
Matthews can help you with your product label, carton label and compliant pallet label for fresh produce. Combining the latest label applicator and printer technologies with expertise, Matthews ensures your fresh produce always has the right information in the right place to comply with your trading partners and the legislation.
Looking for highly informative casestudies, whitepapers and infographics for manufacturing? Or videos showing solutions in action and lots of detailed brochures? Find all that and more in Matthews’ large resource library. It also has presentations we’ve done to industry bodies and articles from our thought leaders. Plus, it’s all free to download!