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Uncork the QR codes!

Food manufacturers are eager to use QR codes on their labels. Now the EU has normalised the use of these codes in the regulations. For now, the new rules apply only to the wine industry, which is pioneering in this area of food labelling. The QR code rules should make it easier for the industry to meet its new obligations to provide wine consumers with ingredients and nutrition information.

Which bottles must meet the new requirements?

The cut-off date for new provisions introducing the obligation to label wines and aromatised wine products with a list of ingredients and nutritional statement was 8 December 2023.

The new requirement applies to almost all products in the wine sector with the exception of wine vinegar and certain types of grape must. Therefore, it covers traditional still wine and various other types, such as fortified wines and sparkling wines.

The need to provide a list of ingredients and nutritional declaration on the label also applies to de-alcoholised wine products (0% wines), and aromatised wine products, such as sangria or vermouth.

Wines produced before 8 December 2023 do not have to meet the new requirements, while those produced from that date onward are subject to new obligations. The time of “production” should be associated with the time when a product obtains the legally required characteristics of the given product category.

Approval of hybrid communication (printed + electronic label)

The new labelling obligations under EU Regulation 2021/2117 might seem onerous for vintners. But the regulation eases this burden by allowing some of the information to be shifted from the printed label to an electronic label.

The provisions do not directly mention “electronic labelling,” but only mention providing information by electronic means indicated on the (printed) label. However, this term is widely used, even by the European Commission in its FAQ. It refers to the space where the consumer is directed after scanning a link on a printed label with a smartphone—in practice, a website.

What must a printed label contain?

Businesses responsible for labelling wines have two options: either print the full wording of the ingredient list and nutritional declaration on the physical label, or use hybrid communication.

For nutritional value, the printed label must include at least the energy value, along with an “E” symbol and a link to the electronic label. The remaining information would then have to be provided on the electronic label (e.g. on the website liked to the QR code).

With the ingredient list, the printed label could be limited to allergen information (e.g. “contains sulphites”) and a link to the electronic label. Then, the rest of the information would have to be provided on the electronic label (e.g. via a QR code).

The provisions do not specify exactly what the link to the electronic label should look like, but it is clearly not enough to simply print a QR code, even marked with a letter “i” (for “information”). When looking at a printed label, consumers need to know what information they can expect when using a QR code linking to mandatory information.

What can an electronic label feature?

The regulation indicates that the list of ingredients and nutritional declaration cannot be presented with other information intended for sales or marketing purposes.

This raises numerous questions for businesses regarding the extent of permissible interference with the electronic label and the possibility of adding elements to it to attract the consumer’s attention.

In practice, each case of voluntary placement of additional information on an electronic label should be assessed on its own merits for the potential risk of violating these rules.

Businesses must also remember that it is prohibited to collect and track the data of users who visit an e-label website.

Joanna Krakowiak, attorney-at-law, Marcin Rytel, adwokat, M&A and Corporate practice, Life Sciences & Healthcare practice, Wardyński & Partners