People like to say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” There’s one problem — most of them are lying. They judge not only books, but products of all sorts based on their packaging. In fact, at least a third of product purchase decision-making is based on packaging. That’s why it’s so important to get your product labeling right.
Getting it right includes three key factors: cultural fit, accurate translation (where necessary), and compliance with local regulations.
A successful product label is more than just text. It’s like a mini-advertisement for your product. And like any advertisement, if you don’t take the local culture into account, your sales may suffer for it.
There are many instances of where labeling went wrong. See these four examples of badly translated packaging. Now, once you’re done laughing, look again.
Note that it’s not even strictly translation errors that can cause problems: Queen Love’s “Virginity Soap” is hilarious because it’s just so out of sync with cultural expectations in the Western world.
Your product packaging may not simply need to be translated. It may need to be redesigned entirely to appeal to local audiences. That’s why your choice of LSP matters.
Whether shopping in a store or online, the label is where customers look to find key information about their potential purchase. Depending on the product, labels can list ingredients and materials, instructions, safety information, and more.
Product names and branding elements can be altered from the original to ensure cultural fit. But there’s no such flexibility when it comes to the information customers need to make purchasing decisions or keep themselves safe. Accurate translation of information like this is non-negotiable.
Compliance With Regulations
Regulatory compliance includes accurate translation, where required. But there’s more to it than that. Labeling regulations also govern the type of information you present on the label, the way it’s presented, sometimes even down to the size of the font used.
Failure to meet product labeling requirements for your target geographic region won’t just make your product less appealing to customers; it also exposes your business to legal liability and compliance risks. Since regulations vary between countries (and sometimes even between states), the potential for costly error increases as your business expands to other regions.
This overview of retail product labeling requirements will help you understand more about what’s involved.
Retail Labels for Food
Generally speaking, labels for food products must advise consumers of the product ingredients (including potential allergens), the “best before” or “use by” date, country of origin, and nutrition information. The address of the manufacturer or distributor is also required.
United States Food Labeling Requirements
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates most food labels. However, meat, poultry, and eggs are under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture, while the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade governs alcohol sales, including labeling.
States can also impose their own labeling requirements. And if you’re planning to sell your food product in other countries, the requirements get even more complex.
Canadian Food Labeling Requirements
In Canada, food labeling requirements are outlined by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Safe Food for Canadians Act and Regulations. Mandatory information has to be provided in both French and English, with some exceptions for specialty foods, local foods, and test market foods.
Net quantity symbols must appear in English and French as well, and use locally appropriate units of measurement. “Best before” and “packaged on” dates must be formatted as Year/Month/Date.
Mexican Food Labeling Requirements
Mexican food labels must comply with the Mexican Official Standard NOM-051. As you’d expect, this includes standard information like ingredients, allergens, country of origin, etc. Everything must be in Spanish using appropriate date formats and units of measurement.
But there’s more…Mexican food label laws now mandate specific warnings to help curb poor nutrition and obesity. Foods high in saturated fat, trans fats, sugar, sodium or calories must carry black octagon-shaped warning labels. Products with caffeine or added sweeteners must have warning labels to indicate that they are not for children. And they cannot use child-friendly branding elements like cartoon characters, pets, celebrities, or athletes.
Say Adios to Lucky the Leprechaun, Tony the Tiger, and Count Chocula — they are no longer a part of this nutritious breakfast!
If you’re exporting to the EU, you’ll need to comply with the Food Information Directive, which took effect in 2014. Information including but not limited to country of origin, ingredients, allergens, and nutrition must be available in “a language easily understood by the consumers of the Member States where a food is marketed.”
For more details, see our guide, International Labelling: How to Ensure Global Success.
Organic Food Labels
In the United States, organic food must be certified to contain at least 95% organic ingredients, with no synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, biotechnology, synthetic ingredients, or irradiation.
Products certified as organic in the United States can use the Canada Organic logo under an equivalency agreement. However, there is not yet an organic equivalency agreement between the US and Mexico. For now, to market products as organic in Mexico requires certification under Mexican organic standards.
Retail Labels (Non-food)
Regulations for non-food retail labels vary depending on the product and the country or region where it’s being sold. With that said, just as with food products, some elements are standard almost everywhere.
- Country of origin;
- Name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor;
- Product description, including contents, materials, and the amount of the product included. You may also include a serial number or a batch number for tracking purposes;
- Compliance marks for specific regulatory standards.
It should go without saying, but just in case…all of this information needs to be provided in the local language or languages of the country you’re selling to.
Many countries have additional requirements for products intended for babies and children, as well as for potential hazards like electronics.
For more details, see General Merchandise Labeling: An International Checklist.
Labeling Requirements for Electronics
Electronic devices make the world go ‘round. But faulty wiring or poorly-manufactured batteries can cause fires or even explosions. As a result, electronics labels need to contain safety information like voltage, power ratings, power output ratings, and warnings against improper use.
It’s recommended (but not required) that electronics sold in the US carry the UL compliance mark, which certifies that the products have been designed and manufactured to specific safety standards.
In Canada, not only do electronics need to meet safety standards, compliance marks such as UL, ULC, CSA, or TUV SU are required for some electronics in some provinces. Meanwhile, electronics being sold in the European Union require the CE mark on their label.
Some electronics sold in the US must carry the FCC compliance mark to indicate that the device complies with FCC regulations on electromagnetic interference. In Canada, you’ll need the Canadian equivalent, an ISED certification number, instead.
Electronics entering Mexico must comply with NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM-024 in terms of labeling. The best practice is to get a Constancia de Conformidad (Certificate of Conformity) to ensure that these requirements are met.
Fully Compliant Retail Labels
No matter what you’re selling, ensuring your labels are compliant for your target region is essential. The US, Canada, Mexico, and the EU all require that your product packaging be written in local languages. In Canada, that means your labels need to be in English and French. In Mexico, that means Spanish.
Choosing a Labeling Translation and Compliance Partner
This article is meant to provide a brief overview of labeling requirements in these different regions. If we were to list every regulation that could possibly apply, it would be a book, and a thick one, at that.
But the bottom line is this: If your labels don’t have all of the required information, you can’t sell your products. And if your products are recalled or warehoused at the border, you’re losing money.
Our global translation and compliance experts are here to help you get it right the first time. Our international label and compliance services help make sure your product packaging meets all requirements for your target regions.
Ready to take your products global? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.