Big changes for chips, cereals, sodas and other popular snack foods in South Africa

The Department of Health has taken another step towards making sweeping changes to food labelling in South Africa, including warnings signs on unhealthy foods.

The department has gazetted (14 April 2023) proposed changes to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, opening the Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs for public comment.

The proposed changes reinforce many rules already in place for product packaging in South Africa, such as ingredient lists and sell-by dates, but also introduce a host of changes for more modern changes in food advertising.

Most notably, as part of the changes, the department wants food items that are high in sugar and fat content to come with large warning labels attached – and to block these foods from being marketed to children.

The department wants mandatory front-of-package labelling (FOPL) to be present on any pre-packaged foodstuffs that contain added saturated fat, added sugar, added sodium and which exceed the nutrient cut-off values for total sugar, total sodium or total saturated fatty acids.

The cut-offs are:

Total sugar(s)

  • Solids: >10.0g per 100 g
  • Liquids: >5.0g per 100 ml

Total Saturated fatty acids

  • Solids: >4.0g per 100 g
  • Liquids: >3.0g per 100 ml

Total Sodium

  • Solids: >400mg per 100 g
  • Liquids: >100mg per 100 ml

A similar label must be in place for any item that uses artificial sweeteners.

The FOPL must be clearly visible and, insofar as possible, be integrated into the packaging. The FOPL may not be partially or completely covered by any other element, the department said.

The relevant foodstuffs must display such logos on the front of the package – and they will have to cover 25% of the front of the package. The department said that product sellers also cannot try to avoid the labels by shrinking them deliberately to diminish their visibility.

The labels will be subject to letter size requirements in all cases.

The department is also taking a hard line when it comes to the marketing of these products.

Products which carry these labels may not be marketed to children, and may not make any claim with an energy, health or nutrition message – irrespective of whether their nutritional profile passes the Nutrient Profiling Model used to determine as such.

This poses a huge issue for many of South Africa’s favourite snacks, like potato crisps and sodas – as well as the entire breakfast cereal market, which can carry sugar content as high as 33 g per 100g, and is often directly marketed to children.

Advertisers also cannot “abuse positive family values such as portraying any happy, caring family scenario, on a label or package in order to encourage the purchase of consumption.”

They cannot carry references to celebrities, sports stars, cartoon characters, puppets, computer animations or anything similar – and can’t promote competitions, tokens, gifts or collectable items which appeal to children.

Marketing for these products also cannot “omit undesirable aspects of a food’s nutritional profile, contain any misleading or incorrect information about the nutritional value of the product or be represented as a substitute for meals.”

The comments are open for three months, effective from the date of the gazette.

These are the labels: