Why You Need to Ensure Your Products' Data Quality with a Specification Sheet
Let me guess.
You're probably wondering 'What is a product specification sheet?'.
Don't worry, I'll get to that in a minute.
For now, just know - you NEED one (or more depending on the number of food products you offer).
No matter if you do B2B sales, or sell direct to consumer, I urge to you the importance of a product specification sheet. The data within a food product spec sheet can make or break your relationship with and patronage from customers and consumers alike.
So, if you're ready, let's hop right in and learn how food scientists and regulatory professionals communicate food attributes within the industry using specification sheets.
What is a Specification Sheet?
Now, to answer the question you've had all along. According to Dictionary.com, a spec sheet (or datasheet) is a 'list describing the specifications of a product that is for sale'. In terms of your food business, a spec sheet is an information sheet that documents all the attributes of a finished product which you intend to sell.
Not only are they incredibly important for producing and classifying products in-house, but they are the sole method of communication of product attributes within B2B (business-to-business) food product sales. Much of the data found on a spec sheet is also shared with the consumer on product packaging.
A specification sheet, or spec sheet for short, is a crucial element to your product development strategy and food safety/HACCP quality management processes.
If you’re interested in creating a specification sheet for your food products, we are launching a food labeling guide to help! In it, it’ll share insight that I learned during my 5+ years in the industry to help you label your food products and document specs on your specification sheet.
Elements of a Specification Sheet
Although there is not an industry-wide standard for specification sheet requirements, most spec sheets are likely to include the same data components, compiled into a clear, concise, one-to-two page document.
1. Product Name, Number, + Description
First and foremost, every specification sheet will include the name of the product as well as a SKU number, product number, sample number, etc. This is so you can quickly determine the product the sheet pertains to, both internally and externally.
A clear, descriptive product name is best to differentiate products from each other. Most times, a spec sheet or datasheet will also include a short description of the product. Depending on the nature of the product, and whether the spec is to be used internally or externally, the description may be a short blurb or a lengthy marketing description.
2. Ingredient Statement
The ingredient statement, also known as ingredient deck, is a vital piece of information that translates to various aspects of the processing cycle - from sourcing and procurement to marketing and packaging.
When generating an ingredient statement, be sure to adhere to the federal regulations regarding ingredient declarations. As per the FDA, "ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of a food ... shall be listed by common or usual name in descending order of predominance by weight..." For more information on how to label your food products, check out the FDA's Food Labeling Guide.
3. Nutritional Information
The nutritional panel also translates to various aspects of the processing cycle and is a critical aspect of a product's likelihood to sell to consumers and business partners.
In 2016, the FDA announced a new layout for the Nutrition Facts label seen on packaged foods. The new label is reformatted to make it easier for consumers to understand, and call out nutritional attributes that are scientifically linked to some chronic diseases.
The new format (seen below) will not be enforced until January 2020 for large manufacturers (> $10 million in annual sales) and January 2021 for smaller manufacturers. To learn more about the upcoming changes to the Nutrition Facts label, visit the FDA's website.
Every year, millions of individuals are subject to food product allergic reactions. While most reactions are minor, the proper declaration of allergens in your food product limits the risk of serious harm or death due to a food product allergic reaction.
Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, or FALCPA, there are eight major food allergens. Food ingredients that contain one or more of the following - milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans - or contains protein derived these major allergens must be declared on the food product label. For more information on food allergen labeling, visit the FDA's website.
5. Storage Conditions + Directions for Use
Appropriate storage of a food product is essential to maintain quality, taste, and safety of consumption. Declaring the storage conditions and directions for use within a product spec sheet ensure that the product will be adequately handled throughout the product lifespan.
6. Shelf Life
Similarly to storage conditions and directions for use, the declaration of a food product's shelf life is essential to maintain product quality. There is little government regulation regarding the expiration dates seen on product packaging. However, providing an appropriate shelf life duration within the spec sheet allows for an adequate sell by, best by, or use by date to be conveyed to the consumer.
7. Regulatory Compliance Claims
Also vital to a product's specifications are the regulatory compliance and marketing claims, also known as identity preservation claims. These claims, like GMO status, contents of gluten, certified organic, certified Kosher, etc., usually involve the certification or qualification of a third-party audit. For more guidance on label claims, visit the FDA's website.
8. Package Weight, Dimensions, + Contents
Providing the package net weight and dimensions on a specification sheet is especially vital to business-to-business sales. To ensure that the other party has correctly allocated storage space for a food product, the dimensions should adhere to some package measurement rules, according to GS1 US.
The declaration of package contents also supports business-to-business sales. To ensure the buyer is receiving the expected number of units, it's best to clearly communicate the standard contents of each package on the product specification sheet.
9. Microbiological, Physical, + Chemical Properties
Each of these properties allows for adequate quality control and HACCP processes throughout the product lifespan. These specifications provide a benchmark to ensure that the product is safe to consume and adheres to manufacturing standards. Common properties analyzed in food products include, but are not limited to:
Microbiological: aerobic plate count, coliform, yeast, mold, and salmonella
Physical: water activity, Brix, viscosity, and color
Chemical: pH and fat content
These are just a few suggested attributes for a specification sheet. To ensure that you capture all the data needed for your food product, consult the guidance of any third-party certification or regulatory requirements.
Get started creating your product spec sheets with our Food Labeling Starter Pack! Inside the pack, you’ll get a ready-to-use spec sheet template that you can plug-and-play your product information!
How to Create a Specification Sheet
As I said, there is no standard template for specification sheets across the board. How you choose to create a spec sheet depends most on your product and what attributes you need to communicate.
Whether you have a new or existing product, ensure that you have a specification sheet that communicates attributes that are correct, current, and in compliance with regulatory requirements.
If you’re interested in consulting professional help, you can learn more about our one-on-one services to analyze and create spec sheets for your products here.
Or, if do-it-yourself is more your speed, I recommend getting started with our food labeling guide. It walks you through the specification creation process with worksheets and templates for you to use. If interested, you can sign up below.
Whether you create your specification sheets internally or hire an outside party to create one on your behalf, the importance of a specification sheet's accuracy is crucial. Customers and consumers rely on the information you provide to them within a finished product's spec sheet to make purchasing decisions and packaging claims.
Outdated or incorrect specifications can lead to inaccuracies in finished product labels and manufacturing processes. By maintaining data quality via accurate product specification sheets, you are contributing to a greater level of food safety for your brand, your customer, and the industry as a whole.
Have you heard of a specification sheet?
Do you use spec sheets for your products?
What other ways do you ensure the data quality of your products?