Take steps to substantiate green claims ahead of directive, says Leatherhead Food Research

Food and beverage companies should take time to assess the potential impact of the European Commission’s proposed Green Claims Directive on their products, Leatherhead Food Research advises.

In readiness for the Directive, which may be in place by late 2024, then applied from late 2026, companies need to ensure any green claims are properly substantiated. Sustainability has become a lucrative differentiator for food and beverage products, but companies found to have misled consumers risk severe reputational damage.

Leatherhead recently conducted surveys in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the UK to gauge consumer attitudes to green claims. Overall, 37% of adults in these countries say they have purchased grocery products specifically because they were labelled as environmentally friendly. Green claims also influence consumer loyalty and spend. Findings suggest that 34% of adults have selected a different brand to usual due to green claims, and 30% have chosen a product that costs more than alternatives perceived as less environmentally friendly.

Regulators and authorities are dedicating more attention to the authenticity and integrity of claims. In addition to the proposed Green Claims Directive, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is already enforcing its own Green Claims Code and announced in January 2023 that it will scrutinise household products – including food and beverage products – for potential greenwashing.

Mariko Kubo, head of scientific and regulatory affairs at Leatherhead Food Research, says green claims are becoming a regulatory minefield. She advises food and beverage companies to take a cautious approach to avoid unintentionally making misleading claims which could lead to accusations of greenwashing.

“The rapid rise of green claims and the corresponding influence on consumers has outpaced the development of clear rules for their use,” Kubo explains. “While the proposed Green Claims Directive seeks to bring some harmony there could still be divergence across EU member states since directives are less rigid than regulations. Ultimately, companies need to be proactive, scrutinising and substantiating green claims in case they are singled out by authorities in the markets where they operate.”

According to regulatory specialists at Leatherhead, there are three key steps that companies need to take for substantiation. Firstly, identify any product statements that could be construed as ‘green claims’ then ensure they are specific and represent a genuine benefit. Secondly, the claims should be validated in terms of accuracy, truthfulness and clarity. Finally, it’s important to check that all promotional materials – from product labels and packaging to advertising – are truthful and not misleading.

Kubo suggests that companies consult the proposed Green Claims Directive alongside ISO 14024 and ISO 14025 on environmental labels and declarations. Companies marketing food and beverage products in the UK also need to be aware of the best practices outlined in the CMA’s Green Claims Code, and be mindful of potential scrutiny from the authority.

“Sustainability is such an important matter that regulators are set to take a hard-line approach to greenwashing, whether it’s intentional or not. Food and beverage companies need to make the substantiation of claims a priority. Ensuring they are holistic, specific and verifiable is a good place to start.

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