From time to time, I check the comment sections of our stories to make sure we aren't missing important questions our readers have on issues we write about.
And sometimes it pays off. Here was a comment on a story I wrote about The Hershey Co.'s caramel candy brand, Lancaster, that it's producing in China now and will release in the U.S. next year:
"RB said: Isn't the reference to Lancaster against FDA regulations if they don't have any facilities in Lancaster?"
That's a good question, because I know the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can be pretty picky about food manufacturing, food safety and packaging information. So I went straight to one of the best tools on the planet... wait for it... Google. A few keyword searches brought me to the FDA's guidance documents on the subject.
These explanations were quite useful, and I really had no clue there were as many specifics down to brand name placement, general food descriptions, nutritional information, etc. I see the point, in many cases -- to prevent consumers from being confused about what the product is.
However, I couldn't find any guidance that would indicate Hershey had done anything wrong by calling its new candies "Lancaster." There is a section in the guidance outlining requirements for company identification and place of origin. But that's for the small type info you see on the back of the package, not the brand name.
I know it's not food and not covered by the same regulations, but everyone knows Amazon.com is based in Seattle, not the deep dark jungles of Brazil. It's just the name, not the place of origin.
The FDA issue is a moot point anyway. For starters, the original item Hershey is manufacturing is for Chinese markets. FDA regulations don't apply there.
Hershey confirmed these answers to me yesterday right before they announced the January launch of Lancaster caramels in the U.S.
"It should be noted that FDA regulations specifically allow for the use of fanciful terms that are not intended to suggest geographic origin," Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman said in an email.
"In this case, the Lancaster brand name is used as a trademark and relates back to the history of the company and its founder, and is not intended to suggest a source of production origin. Another example: our York Peppermint Patties which are not made in York, Pa., or York, England. It's simply a brand name."
If you're new to food manufacturing and packaging, or are a small company without Hershey's resources and dedicated staff, then my suggestion is to check with the FDA directly. Its labeling compliance site can be found here for more information.