News from CRIS: Trending - Vegan & Plant-based Labeling

March 7, 2023

What is a marketing label?

A marketing label is a featured word or image that is highlighted on a product’s packaging to encourage sales. Often, these words underscore an ingredient or process that implies health, safety, or effectiveness.  

What do marketing labels focus on? 

These labels typically focus on ingredients and processes that consumers may believe lead to better health, better outcomes, or a lessened environmental impact. For example, some people prefer to buy products they view as healthful and sustainable, so they will look to cues on product packaging such as “all-natural,” “high-fiber,” or other labels that call out a food or product’s positive attributes. 

While these labels can have a positive impact, they can also cause some confusion. For example, “gluten-free” has increased in popularity in the past few years, popping up on many products. While this label is vital for individuals with celiac disease, most people do not need gluten-free foods or products for their health. This is what’s referred to as redundant “trend” or “hype” labeling.

What is "trend" labeling? 

When health fads become part of mainstream conversations, companies may repackage, relabel, or even reformulate products to meet the trend. 
For example, “gluten-free,” “fortified with,” “natural,” and “clean” are common marketing labels found on products. Sometimes these labels, such as “gluten-free,” are put on products that never contained gluten, such as sugar, rice cereal, and even bottled water. 
When manufacturers advertise that a product is fortified with a specific ingredient, they are simply advertising the ingredient which is already listed on the “Nutritional Facts” for food or on the ingredient list for cosmetic and other household products. Drawing attention to those ingredients may influence a person’s decision to purchase the product. However, people can read the label and see what ingredients are present without the additional marketing label. 
For marketing labels, such as the “clean” label, we can clearly see redundant trend labeling. It’s redundant because manufacturers cannot sell unsafe or unhygienic products to the public, so labeling a product as “clean” does not provide any additional information unless a company defines its use of the “clean” label.

It’s a trend label because it is harnessing a lifestyle fad that has become part of public conversations.  

Is vegan, plant-based, and animal-free a trend or marketing labeling? Are they regulated by the government?

Vegan, plant-based, and animal-free labels are considered trend or marketing labels because they do not reflect the health or safety of a product. Health information on food is typically found on the “Nutrition Facts” label. That label will let you know what is in the product and how it fits with your personal nutritional needs. 
Vegan and plant-based labels can be certified by a third-party organization, which requires manufacturers to meet specific standards. 
To our knowledge, there is no organization certifying animal-free labels.


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