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Identity Crisis (Part 1 of 2)

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Do you know what you’re eating? Don’t always believe what food claims to be on the label.

In our last column on unique Philippine food, we mentioned that every food product has to meet certain standards in order to be acceptable for sale in both the domestic and world markets. Of these many standards, one of the first a manufacturers must comply with is the Statement of Product Identity.

“Product Identity” is NOT related to marketing a corporate or brand image. It gives a name to the product being sold.

A recent landmark case in the UK saved Proctor & Gamble millions of Euros when the courts ruled that the popular snack Pringles is NOT a potato crisp (potato products are slapped a 17.5% VAT in the UK, unlike most other food products). The reason? Pringles uses only 42% potatoes and did not have enough potatoes to meet the legal standards of the product identity “potato crisps.”

Product Identity

At first glance Product Identity seems very simple and straightforward. If the product is juice, then the product identity must be “Juice,” right? Well, could be... but maybe not. This is because unlike Corporate Image, which is determined by the people within the business entity, Product Identity is governed by strict legal requirements. So in order for a manufacturer to be able to declare a beverage as “Juice,” the product must meet the legal requirements that define “Juice.

Pineapple Juice

Here’s an example: The photo above shows two similar looking products produced by a single manufacturer. The packaging design for both products is almost identical, except that one product is Pineapple “Juice” and the other is Pineapple Juice “Drink.” This indicates that the product on the right is totally different from the left one. The difference lies in the nature of the beverages; the difference is in the ingredients.

In the Philippines, the Bureau of Food and Drug regulates the labeling of food products. According
to BFAD regulations, in order for a manufacturer to be able to declare a product as Pineapple “Juice,” it must not contain any added water and must use the extract from a fresh fruit, without the use of processed concentrates.

If these requirements are not met, the manufacturer cannot call the product “Juice” and must label it “Drink.” On the other hand, even “Drinks” have their own set of legal requirements, which must also be met.

These regulations protect consumers by providing accurate information about products in the market. They also protect us from inferior products. The same regulations also protect manufacturers of legitimate products from unscrupulous competition. Imagine paying for gourmet-priced red wine vinegar if the manufacturer just used some acetic acid (the sour part of vinegar), powdered flavors, and coloring!

A couple of years back, we encountered a manufacturer in Dipolog province who was selling “home-made patis.” This made us skeptical since Dipolog is not so near the ocean to make patis viable. Things smelled more fishy (pardon the pun) when we learned that their home-based manufacturing facility didn’t even have a hint of fish! Upon closer inspection, the so-called patis turned out to be nothing more than water, a couple of drops of soy sauce, plus some salt and caramel!

Continue Reading: Going Through an Identity Crisis Part II

print ed: 08/08


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