Legally, any pre-packed food product comes under the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, which denote that "all food which is ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer or to a catering establishment, [should] be marked or labelled." The requirements stipulate foods must contain a list of ingredients with a quantity indication for certain items, alongside information on storage and a best-before date.
But bakery retailers are often exempt from this rule, because they frequently make a good proportion of their stock on-site, to be sold fresh on the day it was made. This means many products are also exempt, as the regulations "do not apply to foods which are not pre-packed when sold to the ultimate consumer; foods pre-packed at the request of the purchaser; or foods pre-packed for sale to the end-consumer."
This being the case, it's tempting to allow your unlabelled foods to enjoy a reprieve from bureaucracy, but before you dismiss labelling as unnecessary, consider also its benefits.
"I believe strongly about food labelling on packaging - perhaps controversially, I believe everybody should be made to label their products responsibly," says marketing manager Alistair Toal, of Northern Irish bakery Grahams. The family-run outlet has recently taken the move to label its products using the traffic-light system - despite the fact that many are in the red and amber range. This was part of a top-to-bottom corporate social responsibility programme. "We looked at everything from sustainability to our responsibility to the consumer," he says. "I believe the FSA's traffic-light system is the clearest and easiest way for the consumer to ascertain the levels of salt and fat and that's why we chose this format." Since labels were added to a new line, the effect on sales was difficult to quantify, but PR was positive. "Bakery items have always been seen as a treat, so we don't think it will stop anyone buying our products," he reasons.
Grahams is urging others to follow its lead and, across the country, a number of weight-loss groups and nutritional information resources are also pressing for information on baked goods to become more widely available.
Availability of data
Pat Wilson, communications director of online service Weightlossresource.com (WLR) says, "It's quite frustrating for WLR and its members to be continually told, 'Data is not available for products bought from bakeries', while most manufacturers and brands are leading the way, giving complete information for their products.
"We receive about 50 queries weekly from members asking for the calorie count of bakery products from individual bakeries and supermarket bakeries," he adds. "We have to find the most similar item we have data for, yet we are in a position where certain outlets and products do not give basic information.
"It mystifies us how supermarkets can provide very comprehensive information on their own-brand products, but not their bakery products. People do want to know the nutritional data of foods they eat."
In fact, researchers at Wilson's have cited bakery pro-ducts as a constant bugbear to maintaining the comprehensive nature of its service, with chains such as Greggs not bothering to reply to requests, and others simply stating "no data available".
With feelings running high, it is little wonder that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has stepped in and is currently looking at how to approach the issue with bakery retailers. But for the time being, it seems bakery retailers may be caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to labelling products.
"At the moment I wouldn't advise bakeries to label nutritional values until we have more information from the FSA," advises Jim Winship of the British Sandwich Association (BSA). "Labelling products correctly is actually quite complicated, and bakeries who put information on labels which is incorrect risk falling foul of Trading Standards."
Unfortunately, it seems that while accurate pack labelling might be easy enough for large supermarkets or sandwich packers, smaller outlets are likely to have a much harder time ensuring consistency - particularly as even a few grams' discrepancy on an ingredient like salt could turn a well-intentioned practice into a legal risk.
"Smaller outlets don't usually have the facility to monitor what goes into their products as closely as is necessary," says Winship. "From a large facility, such as a factory, it's not as difficult to regulate what happens in your products. You're also more able to offset the costs. At the moment it's quite expensive to make the kind of nutritional analysis needed for accurate food labels."
So while consumers might be in favour of labelling nutritional content, the industry advice is to hold fire for now. The good news is that the BSA is in liaison with the FSA to introduce new regulations that will afford more leeway to bakery retailers, enabling them to list amounts as more of a guideline, rather than set quantities. Talks are also under way to formulate a 'nutrition calculator' to calculate what to put on their labels, without having to resort to expensive ingredient analysis.
All this might be a few years off, but meanwhile, the BSA is petitioning for guideline nutritional contents in poster form, which can be displayed by retailers. While these won't list the nutritional quantities of products for specific retailers, they will provide a guide to the type of nutrients consumers might find.
It seems likely that if bakery retailers are allowed to label products on nutritional content, how they are labelled will be the next topic. Subway grasped the bull by the horns this month by introducing nutrition guides at counters (see opposite). With supermarkets and the FSA battling over whether the traffic-light system or Guideline Daily Amounts are best, perhaps it's time bakery retailers involved themselves in the debate, before the choice is made for them.
=== Food Labelling Regulations 1996 ===
Do you know how the labelling law affects you? The current regulations require that: all food which is ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer or to a catering establishment, subject to certain exceptions, [should] be marked or labelled with:
l the name of the food
l a list of ingredients
l the appropriate durability indication
l any special storage conditions or conditions of use
l the name and address of the manufacturer or packer or of a seller.
Exceptions are defined as anything which doesn't come under the class of pre-packed. So if you bake your own bread on the premises, it need not be labelled. But shipping in packed sandwiches from an external kitchen might subject you to these requirements.