By Associate Anne Case-Halferty

Evolving consumer demands, litigation trends and the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were featured topics of the Ninth Annual FoodBev Exchange, which took place virtually November 9-10. Compliance and regulatory professionals from across the country shared best practices and discussed recent and emerging developments in the food and beverage industry, including: the growth of grocery e-commerce and food delivery services; data security and privacy concerns; and shifting regulatory enforcement priorities.

Of Counsel John F. Johnson III led an in-depth panel discussion with prominent industry professionals about emerging FDA, USDA and FTC labeling priorities and advertising trends. Key topics included: pending legislation targeting food safety and quality standards; the possibility of further regulatory clarity by FDA on the use of “healthy” and “natural” labeling terms; and FTC’s newly finalized rule cracking down on marketers making false “Made in the USA” labeling claims. Panelists included Megan Galey, Hostess Brands Senior Corporate Counsel; Alysse Giallourakis, J.M. Smucker Company Senior Corporate Counsel; and Dr. Stefano Liparoto, Kerry Taste & Nutrition Senior Principal Scientist.

In a series of panels and roundtable discussions, practitioners and compliance experts exchanged strategies for navigating a complex regulatory framework that can often lag behind technological advances and consumer demands. Marketing restrictions and standards-of-identity issues regarding alternative proteins, such as plant-based meat or milk products, and bioengineered foods continue to pose challenges for companies striving to meet evolving consumer preferences.

Several panels focused on cannabis-derived products and the complexity of operating in a fractionalized legal landscape. In addition to hearing high-level government regulatory officials weigh on these emerging issues, a featured highlight included a panel discussion regarding methods to improve collaboration between marketing, legal and compliance teams.

The opportunities and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic were a central theme across all conference sessions. Many panelists agreed that increased consumer demand for subscription-based programs and food delivery services during the pandemic presented significant growth and innovation opportunities, but also raised new concerns regarding food safety, data privacy and potential liability risks, particularly given the prevalence of third-party vendors (such as grocery shoppers or delivery drivers). Nearly all participants agreed that many of the industry-wide changes initially spurred by the pandemic were likely here to stay, and they emphasized the importance of reviewing company practices and updating internal policies to manage risk and ensure regulatory compliance in the face of so much change.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.