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Feature Story
 
The Truth
      on
         Labeling
 
by Cynthia  L. McGowan


Industry groups band together to make sure retailers have the know-how to comply with rules on marketing container plants.

Some long-standing rules governing labeling of container plants have come into the spotlight lately, and it’s important that the floriculture industry pay attention.
Some state and local weights and measures officials, in response to the rise in sales of container plants as well as a consumer complaint in Pennsylvania over an allegedly inaccurate label, have increased their scrutiny of the industry’s compliance with advertising and labeling laws. This has served as a wake-up call to many in the floriculture industry, who “had no idea” that they possibly were in violation of the Uniform Weights and Measures Law and the Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulations, says Terry Humfeld, vice president of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).
The rules will require many retailers and vendors to rework their labels, advertising and signage regarding container plants, if they want to be in compliance. Says Cindy Rapshus, vice president, floral merchandising, for Albertsons, Inc. and chairwoman of PMA’s Floral Council: “The verbiage required for compliance is much different from today’s normal label information.”

INDUSTRY GUIDE
To help retailers and vendors with compliance, several industry associations jumped into action. The American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) took the lead and gathered expert help from the PMA’s Floral Council, OFA—An Association of Floriculture Professionals, the Society of American Florists (SAF) and the North American Horticultural Supply Association (NAHSA) to produce an eight-page Industry Guide to Marketing Container Plants, which was released in December and is available for free at each of the association’s Web sites.
The guide spells out, in easy-to-understand language, what is required of retailers and their suppliers. “The guide was created as a way to help interpret the regulations in such a way that there can be some consistency across the industry,” Mr. Humfeld says.
According to the guide, the purpose of the law is to assist consumers “in comparing similar products by using uniform and consistent price and quantity information on the product package or in advertising and signage.” The law applies only to retail sales to consumers and not to transactions between retailers and suppliers. All information on labeling, signage and advertising must be accurate, and it must be easily accessible to consumers. Stores may choose to put the information on in-store signage or individual plant labels, or both. If they use both signage and individual labels, the information must agree.

THE BIG THREE
Three kinds of information are required.
1. The Declaration of Identity
This is the name of the plant. The description may be the common name and/or botanical name. Signage or labels on containers with more than one type of plant may say “mixed annuals” or “mixed perennials.”
2. The Declaration of Net Contents
The quantity of the container must be stated in either dimensions or volume, and the law requires that quantity declarations be given in both U.S. and metric measurements. For consistency across the industry, Mr. Humfeld says, the guide recommends expressing the quantity by volume using liquid measure (fluid ounces, pints, quarts and gallons in U.S. measurements, and milliliters and liters for metric). In addition to consistency, using volume measurements will reduce the amount of information required. If container dimensions are listed, the top and bottom diameters and the depth must be listed, in both U.S. and metric measurements. That means six numbers on a label rather than just two if the volume measurement is used.
3. The Declaration of Responsibility
This provides consumers with the location of the grower, distributor or retailer of the product. The company name, city, state and ZIP code are required. If the container plant material was grown by the retailer on the premises, the declaration isn’t required. The declaration also isn’t required on advertising—it is required only on labels and signage.
Examples of acceptable declarations of responsibility provided by the guide include:
• For production by the retailer off the premises: “Grown by ABC Garden Center, Washington, DC 20005”
• For production by others: “Grown for ABC Garden Center, Washington DC 20005;” or “Grown by ABC Growers, Anytown, MD 20105.”

NEW WAY OF TALKING
Ted Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing for Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery in Homestead, Fla., says that, for the floral industry, the rules are “a change in the way everybody thinks and talks. We’re all used to saying, ‘This item comes in a 6-inch pot.’ Well, according to the statute, that’s no longer a 6-inch pot because it’s not perfectly 6 inches from top to bottom. Pots tend to taper, or they have an outer rim that’s bigger than the base.”
Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery has already come into compliance with the rules, and that’s why Mr. Campbell served on an audio panel in early April sponsored by the PMA to discuss the rules and how to comply with them. Mr. Campbell stresses that the rules are manageable. “We can be compliant without going crazy over it. It’s not hard to do. The label requires three things: The name of the plant, which we’re probably doing already; the size of the pot, in imperial [U.S.] and metric liquid measure, which you can get from a pot manufacturer or your supplier, in most cases; and a statement of responsibility.”

LABEL FORMAT
The next step is getting the required information onto the labels, signage and advertising, in the correct format. “What it boils down to,” says Mr. Campbell, “is everybody’s going to need a bigger label just to accommodate the level of information that’s required.”
The guidelines go into detail about the law’s requirements for different types of labels, including standard labels (those typically found on a consumer package, including hanging tags and stake tags), spot labels, stickers and container embossing. The main constant for the different types of labels is that the declaration of identity and the declaration of net contents must always be in close proximity, and the net contents must be located in the bottom 30 percent of the label or sign. The law offers more flexibility on the placement of the declaration of responsibility. For details on label variations, including placement of labels, consult the guidelines.
Mr. Humfeld, Ms. Rapshus and Mr. Campbell agree that industry compliance will require cooperation between retailers and vendors. “Retailers will work closely with their vendors to make sure that their products are accurately labeled and that they have the proper information that they can use for their ads and for their in-store signage,” Mr. Humfeld says. “They’re going to be expecting their suppliers to provide a lot of this information.”
Says Ms. Rapshus: “The suppliers will have to comply with how the retailers want the products labeled according to the guidelines.”

ENFORCEMENT
The labeling laws, although they are federally mandated, are enforced by state weights and measures officials. Because of that, enforcement will vary tremendously across the nation. Some states will pay close attention, and others might not. Penalties, too, for noncompliance will vary; they might range from stop-sale orders to fines. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which published the rules in its Handbook 130, will serve as a mediator if a dispute arises between a retailer and a state agency. The industry organizations that devised the Industry Guide to Marketing Container Plants worked closely with NIST to ensure the guidelines were accurate, Mr. Humfeld says.
Although the laws have been around for years, he says, the industry has been given an unofficial grace period to come into compliance. But, he says, by the end of this year—or spring 2006 at the latest—regulators will expect the industry to be in compliance.
The industry shouldn’t ignore the labeling rules, says Mr. Humfeld: “It would be irresponsible to think this is just going to go away.”


You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at cmcgowan@superfloralretailing.com or by phone at (800) 355-8086.


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