Chai spices

By Helen Saini, Founder ICHAI Teas

Food and drink labelling is an absolute minefield, as I discovered when ICHAI was undergoing a rebranding and website update. As a small company with no in-house expertise in this area, re-wording my product labels and website so that I complied with the latest regulations was a daunting task. ICHAI is a premium product and the main focus is on taste, quality and naturalness but being a plant biologist with a natural curiosity for these things, I have become interested in the health benefits of spices in my blends. Communicating these benefits in line with European regulations would have been much more challenging without the support I received from the Food and Health Innovation Service (FHIS).

The first thing they did was to create an innovation action plan to target the areas I felt I needed help with. Part of this involved putting me in touch with the relevant academics and experts. The first people I had the privilege to learn from were a small team of marketing experts from the food and drink industry, who had helped over 130 Scottish start-ups. Their advice was absolute and resolute: avoid giving overt health claims on your branding. People don’t trust them and the consensus is that these messages have no effect on sales whatsoever. Most people who buy actual and perceived health products are health-aware and are capable of doing their own research. Things like blueberries, tea, herbs and spices are “Nature’s Functional Foods” and will be bought regardless. That, said, the media have an appetite for healthy ingredients so the strategy we came up with was to provide a source of interesting articles via the social media route and keep the branding simple.

I was still keen to have a small website section on the potential health benefits so FHIS connected me with an academic from the James Hutton Institute in Dundee who provided me with invaluable information on the latest scientific evidence for the health benefits of the spices contained within my tea blends. I was then put in touch with an expert on nutrition and European Health claims affiliated to the University of Bath. She took me through what wording was and wasn’t permitted on my website for each potential health benefit. For instance, even though the science on which a claim is based may have shown a reduction in blood lipids for a particular spice, the wording would need to be “helps maintain healthy blood lipids.” Web pages read by health professionals are permitted to have more detailed research information but these need to be password protected or safe guarded by a question such as “Are you a registered health professional?” before you are allowed to proceed. The advice given to me was to keep the consumer-facing part of the website very simple.

It would seem that simplicity is also key when it comes to product labelling. There are a large number of claims related to botanical substances that haven’t been assessed by the European Food Authority and it is likely that what can and can’t be included on a label will change in the next 1-2 years – the advice given to me was, “if in doubt, leave it out.” New labelling rules coming into force in December 2016 have meant that requirements have already changed and it was useful to be guided on areas such as when to mention the percentage of specific ingredients and whether or not I could use the term “100% natural ingredients” on my labels (fortunately I could).

With the recent supermarket farm labelling scandal and an abundance of websites claiming all sorts of weird and wonderful things, the consumer is losing faith. It was important to me to develop a brand with integrity and an authentic place where people can go for genuine information about the products they are buying. As with most things these days, social media seems to be the way to go when it comes to expressing yourself. Here, you can safely share your opinion on a new paper or article that might relate to your product, without a costly label change somewhere down the line! There is no question that the help I received from the FHIS has helped me build a spiced tea brand with integrity and the advice I received on the new product labelling was invaluable.

Interface assisted Helen whilst being supported by the Food & Health Innovation Service (FHIS), funded by Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Enterprise 2010-2015. FHIS enabled companies to tap into a wide range of scientific, technical and market support to help grow their businesses. Campden BRI lead the consortium delivering and Interface was part of the team alongside Rowett Institute of Nutrition & Health, University of Aberdeen and SAOS.   Interface is still able to assist food and drink companies to link them to academic expertise and can also signpost onto other industry expertise where applicable.

11 May 2016