European food and nutrition regulations are a bigger worry for European nutrition companies than the state of the global economy and higher raw materials prices, according to new research published by the organisers of Vitafoods Europe.
According to the research, Brexit is not expected to have a major impact on the European nutrition industry, but continued regulatory issues in new product development (NPD) and health claims woes are the biggest challenge.
The data, published ahead of the Vitafoods Europe trade show in Geneva in May, shows that nearly half (43%) of nutrition companies said stricter regulation throughout the EU was their biggest challenge, compared to 35% whose main concern was higher prices of raw materials while just 27% cited the state of the global economy.
Drilling down into EU regulation, 60% of those surveyed said getting health claims approved was the main area of EU regulation affecting their companies, ahead of trade regulations (14%) and labelling regulations (13%).
Nearly nine in ten (87%) considered it important that a nutrition ingredient or product be associated with an EFSA-approved health claim.
Just shy of a quarter (24%) considered the current EU regulatory environment to be unhelpful to their companies, although significantly more (37%) considered it helpful.
Further findings from the research reveal that the UK’s decision to exit the EU did not rank highly as a concern for respondents, with 36% saying Brexit would not have an impact on the European nutrition industry.
The findings from the research, which surveyed 190 visitors and exhibitors to Vitafoods Europe, did not surprise experts, though one pointed to out that a tightening up of EU regulations could be a benefit to the nutrition industry.
Results are not surprising
Patrick Coppens, regional director, Europe & MEA, EAS Strategies, Belgium, said: “I would not say they [the findings] are surprising. It is logical that companies indicate that regulatory requirements are strict and becoming stricter and that is of course not always a supportive element when you want to market quickly an innovative product.”
While EU regulation can prove an administrative burden, Coppens said the introduction of tough rules and regulation does have an upside.
In particular, he said it “ensures standards are sufficient so that you have a more level playing field between operators in the market”.
A recent review of the EU’s health claims process found that only a small fraction of the health claims submitted were authorised.
The European Commission only authorised 261 claims for use, just 8% of those which applied, between 2008 and mid-2015.
Coppens said nutrition companies were fully aware of the challenges they faced when establishing a health claim.
“We have now been 10 years in the process so companies wanting to have an application for a health claim should by now know what is possible and not possible and how to do it," he commented.
“EFSA has published a lot of guidance and there is a lot of expertise in companies and also with consultants to help companies through that process.But that does not take away the fundamental problem that it is very hard to demonstrate a health benefit in a healthy population and that is something that no one can solve really."
The expert noted that a number of companies have already given up that struggle, "and just settle and use claims that have already been approved today, for instance for vitamins and minerals.”
New tool to help with regulatory maze
The findings come as the organisers of Vitafoods Europe announces a new resource to help companies navigate the regulatory maze.
Visitors to May’s event with any questions about regulation or certification will be able to have a one-to-one consultation with experts in its new Advice Centre.
Chris Lee, managing director, Global Health and Nutrition Network, Europe, Informa Exhibitions said: “Effective regulation is essential for consumer confidence and the industry understands its importance. However, it can create major headaches, especially for smaller companies.
“The process for establishing a health claim in particular can be frustrating, and it says a lot that companies view the prospect of tougher regulation as a greater challenge than the state of the world economy. Fortunately, Vitafoods Europe provides a range of services to support and advise companies as they navigate their way around the regulatory maze.”
Along with the new Advice Centre, Vitafoods Centre Stage will host a keynote panel discussion about the impact of EU regulation on innovation in the ingredient sector.
Speakers will include Maryse Hervé, managing director of ECCO, The European Consulting Company, and Beate Kettlitz, director of Food Policy, Science and R&D at FoodDrinkEurope.
Furthermore, the Vitafoods Education Programme will include a Business Workshop on Ingredient Registration and Regulation. Experts including Coppens will deal with questions such as how to bring new ingredients to the EU market.