Notes the ensuing article, “The mother of 15-year-old Alexi Ryann Stafford, of Weston, FL, says her daughter died of anaphylactic shock last month after unknowingly consuming a Chips Ahoy! cookie containing peanut butter…Now her mother is calling for more distinct packaging for snacks that contain allergens…her mother says she confused the similar red packaging between Chips Ahoy!’s Chewy and Reese’s flavors. Her mother also says the wrapper with the word ‘Reese’s’ on it was folded back, so her daughter didn’t see it.”
Should the packaging have disclosed more so that there would be no way to miss the peanut reference, or did the manufacturer use adequate care? This issue will, no doubt, be debated for some time among legal and consumer protection experts. Regardless of how this plays out, one thing is sure: This tragedy should be a wakeup call for all manufacturers to review their current labeling/packaging and address strategies for the future. How much is enough, and what can be done to ensure that consumers get the full story, loud and clear?
In another instance, labeling verbiage – or lack thereof – raises suspicions about sneakiness, and consequent health issues. For several years, I have allowed myself occasionally to drink Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi because they had removed aspartame. Initially, I checked the labels to make sure the controversial stuff wasn’t in there.
Recently, I decided to check the ingredients on the packaging holding a 12-pack of cans in my cart. There weren’t any – only some vague reference to “classic sweetener blend.” Now very suspicious at the lack of disclosure, I perused a bottle of it on the shelf above only to see aspartame listed front and center.
I threw the 12-pack back on the shelf, then started wondering: How long have I been unwittingly consuming aspartame? The February 2018 issue of AdAge provided some answers, noting, “PepsiCo – which faced a consumer backlash after it pulled aspartame from Diet Pepsi in 2015 – is making a full reversal and will once again use the controversial sweetner [sic] in the soda’s mainstream variety.”
Then there’s the story of the poorly-labeled contact lens cleaning and disinfecting solution containing 3% peroxide – something that definitely should not be used without a special cleaning system. I almost bought it, but noticed at the last moment the rather small type showing this ingredient and purchased the peroxide-free product. Having unwittingly used this type of solution decades ago, I can attest that the burning pain that ensues is significant.
Far from advocating for more externally imposed regulation, I’m strongly recommending self-regulation that encompasses common-sense, a paramount concern for the consumer, and telling the penny-wise-pound-foolish bean counters to get lost. There is no justification for negating good labeling and packaging “customer service” to save money.
What should manufacturers intent on providing this most basic service do to help make sure their labeling and packaging provide the full story in a way that protects – instead of infects – consumers? Let’s take a look:
Develop verbiage and design that’s big, bold and clear enough to see and absorb without question. “Classic sweetener blend” is vague at best, and avoids providing key information about aspartame, especially when an ingredient list is not accessible without breaking open the box.
Test out the designs and verbiage via focus groups and other consumer testing before going into production. Make sure people get the messages they’re supposed to about potentially unhealthy, or even lethal, substances before they find out the hard way.
Tell bean-counter critics to come back with recommendations that will do the job proficiently, potentially saving some money, instead of attempting to force down the cost at any cost. Sometimes, cost-savings can occur by developing and/or perfecting manufacturing processes that drive efficiency up and costs down, without compromising anything in the way of label and packaging quality and high-profile disclosure.
Use changing look and feel as a reason to promote through regular communication channels the “new and improved” image and the reasons for doing it.
When consumers can see a manufacturer doing something that clearly benefits them and their well-being, it’s a powerful sales tool (which, of course, most bean counters won’t factor into their equations). Even if, as in the case of aspartame in Wild Diet Cherry Pepsi, it’s a response to consumer demands for the “old” formula, it’s a chance to let the world know in no uncertain terms.
While I wouldn’t have been happy about Pepsi using aspartame again, loud, clear and transparent communication – including clarity on the package – would have made me at least appreciate their forthright stance.We already have myriad labeling and packaging regulations to address full disclosure and education. It’s time to make sure we’re covering all bases.
Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA, since 2008. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.