It has always been challenging for food manufacturers to prepare the labels required by the FDA. Choices have been generally limited to nutrition CD-ROMs, laboratories and third-party consultants. Quick and easy options to create labels “on the fly” were difficult to find.

After extensive market research, San Francisco, Calif.-based FoodCalc® LLC designed an Internet-savvy solution--LabelCalc®, an online nutrition analysis tool that instantly generates accurate, up-to-date, FDA-compliant facts panels. LabelCalc successfully cuts costs by leveraging sophisticated, web-based technology and a database of 20,000+ ingredients, says Lucy Needham, founder and CEO. Since launching in April 2003, the company’s client roster has grown to more than 500, including companies such as premium snack manufacturer Energy Club, certified organic products supplier Herb Trade and international airline caterer Gate Gourmet.

“With LabelCalc, we offer all the services of a cutting-edge laboratory at the touch of a button, at an affordable package price of $175 that includes everything from analysis to allergen alerts and nutrient content claims,” says Needham. “In contrast, laboratories and consultants can charge upwards of $100 per individual service, totaling hundreds of dollars per product--a massive financial drain for small-to-medium manufacturers. They may also ask up to $500 for answering each compliance-related question, which is something we routinely do for our clients, as part of our consulting support services,” she says.

Clients, such as gourmet confection company Island Princess, have compared LabelCalc’s results to those of laboratories. “We tested the system for accuracy by using it to analyze some existing recipes,” said company vice president Gwen Purdy. “The results were identical to the laboratories’ and really demonstrated LabelCalc’s value.”

LabelCalc is designed for ease-of-use and convenience, allowing multiple users to access their secure accounts from any online computer. Users are guided through a four-step, 30-minute label creation process that identifies essential data and also helps pinpoint and fix potential errors. Nutrition CD-ROMs, on the other hand, must be installed on a single computer (for a lone individual or a network server for multiple users) and typically require lots of memory space, as well as training seminars to learn their functionalities, noted Needham.

Needham says one advantage of LabelCalc’s dynamic, web-based system is that it simultaneously updates its database to reflect the USDA’s annual revision of ingredients, so information is always current and accurate. “Since CDs cannot be [as] easily updated, they, in a way, expire,” she explained. “A little-known fact that we discovered, through research and our own clients’ experiences, is that some laboratories and consultants performing database analysis fail to perform these regular updates, putting food manufacturers at risk for incorrect nutrition labels and potential lawsuits.”

This situation recently arose with a LabelCalc client, soy yogurt producer Whole Soy & Co. A national grocery retailer discovered an error in the nutritional data of WholeSoy’s private label brand of raspberry soy yogurt. LabelCalc’s lead registered dietitian Alyson Mar corrected a miscalculation of 33.25 calories for the raspberry fruit preparation provided by an ingredient supplier, who said the inaccuracy resulted from an old nutrition CD-ROM.

A LabelCalc feature much touted by clients is its flexibility—the system is designed to facilitate new product development, allowing manufacturers to experiment with different ingredients online and create test analyses. This prevents much wasted resources, since new offerings can be created in cyberspace before actually investing time and money into manufacturing, according to WholeSoy CEO Ted Nordquist.

According to Needham, label generation is potentially a minefield for mistakes, since the FDA has established very specific formatting standards. There are only five approved formats, and deviations in small things like font size, line thickness or nutrient order can potentially make a label incompliant. Furthermore, allergens must be clearly identified, and nutrient rounding rules and content claim guidelines must be carefully 

For more information:
FoodCalc LLC • San Francisco, Calif.
Lucy Needham • 415-398-4628 •

Useful FDA Websites:

* Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004
* Nutrition Facts Panel
* Ingredient Statement Labeling
* Nutrient Content Claims