Food and drink manufacturers need to substantiate green claims now

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Leatherhead Food Research has urged manufacturers to act fast to substantiate their green claims
Leatherhead Food Research has urged manufacturers to act fast to substantiate their green claims

Related tags Green Claims Code

Food and drink manufacturers need to act now to substantiate their green claims ahead of a new directive from the European Commission (EC), according to Leatherhead Food Research.

Set to be in place by 2024 and applied late 2026, the Directive aims to crack down on misleading environmental messaging across EU markets while addressing greenwashing concerns by setting out a set of detailed rules for how companies should market their environmental impacts and performance.

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.

Regulatory minefield

Leatherhead Food Research head of scientific and regulatory affairs Mariko Kubo warned green claims are becoming a regulatory minefield and advised food manufacturers to take a cautious approach to avoid unintentionally making misleading claims.

“The rapid rise of green claims and the corresponding influence on consumers has outpaced the development of clear rules for their use,”​ said Kubo. “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​.”

Key steps

To this end, Leatherhead laid out three key steps that companies need to take for substantiation:

  • Identify any product statements that could be construed as ‘green claims’ then ensure they are specific and represent a genuine benefit.
  • Claims should be validated in terms of accuracy, truthfulness and clarity.
  • Check that all promotional materials – from product labels and packaging to advertising – are truthful and not misleading. 

Kubo suggested 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​,” she added. “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.”

Consumer attitudes to green claims

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 suggested 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.

Related topics Legal Environment

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