April 15, 2021

Stay Up to Date on Important Changes to Mexico’s Retail Label Regulations

By: Sarah Larson

by Raul Caballero, Food Export In-Market Representative for Mexico
& Teresa Miller, Food Export Strategic Partnerships Manager

If your company is considering exporting, or you are currently exporting, to Mexico then you should be familiar with NOM-51. NOM-51 is a new Mexican regulation that outlines the labeling requirements to sell your product in the Mexican retail market.

Background Info

Over the past few years, several changes have been made to NOM-51 from changing nutrition facts from voluntary to mandatory, to implementing new ingredient warnings, etc. The most significant change prior to 2021, was the addition of a front pack labeling regulation established by presidential decree. This decree established that all products needed to have a front pack labeling to be compliant with the regulation.

This new information, approved in 2015, consisted of the well-known thumb shell icons, similar to the ones used in U.S. packaging where calories and other ingredients are addressed per portion and per packaging.

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In addition, a new tax was established for any products containing 275 calories or more in a 100g portion (an example was the tax imposed per liter of soda). The objective of this tax was to try to reduce the consumption of high caloric content foods.

Cultural food lifestyles, bad habits, lack of self-care, nutritional education, and disposable incomes are considered to be a few of the factors leading to the high level of obesity in Mexico. The idea was also to establish immediate measures to reduce high caloric eating habits and lower the costs on the public administered health system.

In 2019 several NGO’s started a campaign to promote changes to the NOM-51 labeling regulations by adding a warning system to all products containing high contents of fats, sodium, sugar and calories. This new system consists of a “black stop signs” which are an octagon shape, that warned consumers of the high contents of these ingredients. The higher the content of these ingredients the larger the stop sign would be in the front packaging of a product.

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The idea of this system is to influence the consumer to quickly identify products from the front of the packaging that would allow them to make smarter choices when purchasing products, without having to review the ingredient list or the nutrition facts.

This new system has already been established in several countries in Latin America including Chile (the first one), Uruguay, Peru, and Colombia.  And it looks likely that more countries will be added to the list in the future. Most of Latin America’s population has some level of nutritional problems; several governments throughout the region have enacted  the above process with support from the World Health Organization.

Other details of these new front pack labeling in Mexico forbid food manufacturers to use influencers (characters, mascots, famous people, games, promotions) in the front pack labeling to impact or sway a product sale. In addition, all products containing caffeine and artificial sweeteners must also address it in the front pack labeling.

What is the Status Now?

On March 27th, 2020 Mexico’s Federal Register made official the changes to NOM-51 and the new front of packaging “stop sign” system became effective. It was agreed that the implementation would begin on April 1st, 2021 for all products to be in full compliance. Since March of 2020, the regulation allowed food manufacturers and importers to sticker the “stop signs” to their current packaging. The stickering process within the regulation became a concern, as many U.S. products come into Mexico with stickers for a market test prior to being able to establish a clientele and make decisions on making permanent changes on the package and labels.

On March 31st, 2021, the Secretariat of Economy in coordination with the Secretariat of Health, published a number of considerations in an Inter-Institutional agreement that consisted of:

  1. Two month extension for full compliance going from April 1st, 2021 to May 31st, 2021, without being fined
  2. The extension includes to continue to allow (for those two months), “characters, mascots or famous people” in the front pack labeling as part of their marketing practices.
  3. National (Mexican) food manufacturers are allowed to continue stickering their products up until May 31st, 2021.
  4. Importers will be allowed to continue stickering imported food products as long as their stickering is in full compliance with NOM-51.
  5. Mexican authorities are aware that consumers will see partial compliance of the NOM-51 regulation due to packaging inventories within products in the market (particularly even more difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemics).
  6. Based on all of the above authorities will not fine producers, manufacturers, or importers while this extension has been granted.

The good news for U.S. food exporters is that this Interinstitutional agreement will continue to allow importers to sticker products, even with the new front pack labeling regulations, as long as these stickers fully comply with the conditions established in the new NOM-51 regulation.

How the Branded Program Can Help!

Did you know that the Food Export Branded Program offers exporters the opportunity to get reimbursed 50% of their expenses to adapt packaging and labeling to comply with export markets requirements? And you can use this funding for your products in the Mexican market to help comply with these new labeling requirements!

If you would like to know more about this topic and how it specifically affects your products, please register for a Virtual Consultation with our In-Market Representative in Mexico.