Claudia, you have worked for key industry players such as Herbalife, GSK and Glanbia Performance Nutrition. Your current role is as the Associate Director for Regulatory and Quality Compliance - Europe at Nutrabolt. Can you give us a brief overview of your professional career to date?
“After completing my BSc in Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, I worked for Saputo, which is Canada’s largest dairy processor. During my tenure at Saputo I held positions within R&D and Product Development. After moving to London, I worked in Process Development for a ready-meals company, but wanted to shift paths so I joined Herbalife as part of the Product Regulatory Compliance team for EMEA. That role kicked off my career in Compliance.”
“It was a fantastic first step to get familiar with harmonised EU legislation as well as national rules, plus deal with foods and supplements. I then moved on to GSK to support the Regulatory team with the acquisition of Maximuscle, followed by taking on the role of Regulatory Affairs Manager for Functional Beverages, such as Lucozade and Ribena. About a year later, just as the sale of the GSK beverage portfolio to Suntory was being completed, I joined Glanbia Performance Nutrition (GPN) as Technical Compliance Manager. I stayed with GPN for close to 8 years, moving up the ranks to Senior Regulatory Affairs Manager – EMEA. A lot changed during that time as well; when I started, I was working with two brands, and by the end, following several acquisitions, there were seven!”
“In my current role with Nutrabolt, I am heading up Regulatory Compliance for Europe, but also taking on responsibilities within the Quality department.”
Have you always had a keen interest in the F&B industry, and what attracted you to the regulatory side in particular?
“My interest started off in nutrition, so I admit that I was reading food labels when I was a teenager! I chose to study Food Science because it wasn’t a hugely popular degree at the time, despite the enormity of the F&B industry, and thus I recognised the numerous potential career opportunities. I started working with Food Regulations because I wanted to distance myself from the chaos that I experienced on the factory floor in ready-meal manufacturing. The role with Herbalife provided me with the escape I was looking for, and I came to realise very quickly that food regulations and compliance was what I wanted to do.”
“I want to ensure that the products that I am responsible for are safe, legal, transparent and truthful. These days consumers have a plethora of choices when it comes to foods and beverages where many brands use non-compliant ingredients or exaggerate claims. I want to help them navigate their way and seek out trusted brands.”
You also hold the position of Vice-Chair of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance. What is the purpose and objectives of this organization and can you talk us through your roles and responsibilities as Vice-Chair?
“ESSNA is a trade association, which essentially acts as the voice for the sports nutrition industry. ESSNA engages with policy makers and regulators to promote a favourable regulatory environment for the sector. It tackles non-compliant products, unfair competition, and aims to protect consumers by ensuring they are not misled, as well as addressing inadvertent doping. The Vice-Chairs support the Secretariat by reviewing and contributing to position papers, press articles, and any consumer-facing material. We are also the face of ESSNA, speaking at various industry events on behalf of the association, as well as accompanying the Secretariat in meetings with key political figures.”
The covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU are just two of the major events that have provoked changes to the laws and legislations governing the food and beverage industry over the past couple of years. In your opinion, what are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities to have come out of this?
“The Covid pandemic has put a strong focus on the importance of being healthy and having an active lifestyle, and both the UK and EU are putting a strong emphasis on consumers’ health. In the EU, we are looking at mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling and nutrient profiles, and in the UK there will be advertising and promotional restrictions to foods that are high in fats, sugars and salts. This will present a challenge to companies regarding re-labelling entire product ranges, as well as any reformulation to improve the health score of the product. In the sports nutrition sector there is an extra layer of complexity because some products will score poorly despite them being formulated specifically for a sport performance benefit, therefore ESSNA is working hard to ensure sports nutrition products can be exempt from such legislation.”
“The main opportunity we have is to try and educate the consumer on what a healthy diet and an active lifestyle looks like. No amount of additional label information or advertisement restrictions will prompt consumers to eat better if they are not properly educated. The Covid pandemic offers this opportunity for education because general health has been cast in the spotlight.”
“Regarding Brexit, the main challenge will be seen with any deviation from current or upcoming EU legislation felt by companies selling their products in both the UK and EU. This could result in brands having a different recipe for each region, and/or a different label due to specific requirements. On the other hand, this is an opportunity for the UK to move away from any EU legislation which may seem too restrictive or problematic. If the UK does take that step and can demonstrate a high degree of food safety and customer trust with those changes, it could prompt the EU to follow suit.”
You have managed all aspects of compliance and regulation for several brands’ sports nutrition products across the EU. In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, have you actively sought to change the approach taken regarding food advertising and labelling? How has this compared to the approach taken by other key players and competitors in the industry?
“Unfortunately, the pandemic saw many players in the industry using Covid as a marketing tool, exaggerating the immunity benefits of their products. If immunity claims were made on any products that I have worked on, they only used authorised claims.”
“Another change which was initiated before Covid but was amplified by the pandemic, was the move from “sports nutrition” to “active nutrition”. With gyms closed and mass sporting events cancelled, these same products were now even more targeted towards the active individual, as opposed to those specifically training at the gym or engaging in sport. Although labelling wasn’t altered to reflect this change, there was a general shift in communication when discussing the industry as a whole.”
Brands and professionals in the F&B space can often find it challenging to keep up to pace with changing legislations and laws determining the development, production, transportation and marketing of products and ingredients. How do you deal with challenges arising from differing national legislation, or from various interpretations of existing food law?
“When working with sports nutrition, there are numerous areas of food law that fall under national legislation, such as maximum permitted levels of vitamins and minerals, botanical acceptability, authorisation and maximum levels of amino acids and other substances, etc. It is important to ensure the formula is compliant for the key markets of sale, which often means using the most conservative levels of ingredients. The only way to get around this is to have different formulas for different markets. Also, when making a regulatory-based decision, I always ensure that I can defend that position if ever challenged. This should be sufficient to demonstrate to any enforcement agency that no rules are being broken (providing that I have a strong defense for my decision, as food law is not always black and white and is often open to interpretation).”
What is the most enjoyable part of your job, and what (if anything) do you wish you could do more of?
“The most enjoyable part of my job is the satisfaction of knowing that I’m helping sell products that are safe, truthful and compliant. Especially in sports nutrition where products are designed to support individuals in their active lifestyles and achieving their goals. Regulatory professionals in the F&B industry are a relatively small group so it would be great to have more face-to-face meetings and networking opportunities. However, unfortunately due to Covid that has been rendered more problematic over the past 18 months!”