Is Food ‘Cheapflation’ A Cheat

The increasing expense of natural substances is driving some food organizations to consider supplanting fixings with cheaper ones to try not to raise costs, which is known as ‘ cheapflation ‘. But is this illegal or fraudulent? According to the EU, it is not, provided that, as the Valencian technology center Ainia reminds, the consumer is informed with precise and easy-to-understand labelling.

As a consequence of the increase in the prices of the raw materials used in the production of food , the ingenuity of the sector has been sharpened to contain the final costs of the product . One of the options being considered is what has been called ” cheapflation “.

That is, the substitution of certain ingredients or food products for others of lower cost . This strategy is intended to maintain, and even increase, the supply of products in the different food categories without significant increases in the final price.

Given this situation, two aspects should be kept in mind from the point of view of food legislation. “On the one hand, what is related to consumer information and labeling. On the other, what is related to questions about food and substitutes”, points out the head of the Department of Food Law of Ainia, José María Ferrer.

According to Ainia, in these alternatives it is essential to consider how the consumer is informed, as provided for in Regulation 1169/2011, since the possibility of substituting any component or ingredient is provided for in Annex VI.

Thus, in the case of foods in which a component or ingredient that consumers expect to have been commonly used has been replaced by another component or ingredient, the label must contain -in addition to the list of ingredients- a clear indication of the component or ingredient that has been used in that partial or total substitution .

Said indication must be displayed very close to the name of the product, and using a size with a height of the reference corresponding to at least 75% of the height of the reference of the product name and not less than the minimum size required in article 13 , paragraph 2 of this Regulation.

” The practice of substitution is feasible, provided that the information is properly provided and that, furthermore, it is done in accordance with fair information practices based on the fact that the food information will be precise, clear and easy to understand for the consumer,” he points out. Ferrer.

The European Commission has already dealt with these options in the questions and answers regarding the application of said regulation on food information provided to the consumer. For example, a food in which a naturally occurring component has been replaced by a different component or ingredient, for example, a cheese-like product in which the milk fat has been replaced by vegetable fat .

” It is the responsibility of the food operator to find a suitable name for this substitution food in accordance with the regulations relating to the name of the food”, points out the Ainia expert.

Recovery of substitutes
Behind the cheapflation concept, what is euphemistically intended to be presented is the ” return of substitutes ” . As contemplated by the Spanish Food Code, it is a product that, without misleading or fraudulent purposes, and with an express declaration of the intended purpose intends to substitute all or part of a food”, according to Ferrer. That is, he points to “substitutes either in whole or in part.”

These foods are regulated and have been on the market for decades . A very clear example is chocolate substitutes. Those preparations that, as indicated by Royal Decree 823/1990, of June 22.

Said Decree states that “under special formats or moldings and that are susceptible due to their presentation, appearance or consumption of being confused with chocolate, they meet the requirements established for this product in the technical-sanitary regulations on cocoa and chocolate products. intended for human consumption, except that cocoa butter has been totally partially replaced by other edible vegetable fats in its hydrogenated fractions and the clear differentiation in the labeling.

“Cat in a Hare”
Food legislation contemplates different options when some ingredients are substituted or when a substitute for the original food is made, these possibilities, in accordance with current legislation, are available to the sector. ” What should not be raised is the picaresque of the pig in a hare . Innovation and ingenuity always, fraud never”, warns Ferrer.

Faced with a situation like the current one, the expert concludes, ” it is about innovating, through the reformulation of products and managing the production processes and acquisition of raw materials more efficiently.”

In this sense, the Ainia food law expert emphasizes that all the variety of actions that contribute to placing the widest range of food on the market and allow us to respond to consumer demands are lawful. Of course, all this without losing sight of the possibilities offered by food legislation.

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