When most of us think about food and beverage labels, we think about the colorful labels that grab our eyes on the retail shelf. Maybe we are drawn in by a compelling product shot or dramatic lettering. Or we are stopped in our tracks by the matte black material with gold foil accents that feels so luxurious. These customer-facing labels, called “prime labels,” are a brand’s face to market, and they get all the glory. But how much thought is really given to the “boring” product information (PI) label that lives on the back side of the product, package, or container?
PI labels aren’t sexy, and they live in the shadow of their more glamorous siblings. But like prime labels, PI labels are mission-critical, and you must get them right.
PI labels are regulated by the Fair Packaging and Label Act (FPLA) and, in addition to carrying discretionary copy such as recipes and cooking directions, are required to include information such as nutritional content, safe storage information, and allergy warnings.
The FPLA is designed to protect both the food and beverage company and its customers. Insufficient or inaccurate food and beverage labels can result in fines and customer lawsuits if consumers become exposed to food allergens or toxins that weren’t listed on the label or because those labels contained false or misleading claims. For example, what happens if the brand forgot to add the nut allergen information and the product gets purchased by someone with a severe nut allergy? Or if the brand claims that its product is “organic,” but it doesn’t meet the standards set forth by the Organic Foods Production Act?
If information is missing or inaccurate, food and beverage makers face one or more of the following consequences:
Regulatory fines: Food and beverage products are required to carry labeling that describes the ingredients, nutritional value, and any health warnings. Not only must information be accurate, but it must match across all components of the food or beverage product, including the exterior packaging, the product label, and potentially the product itself. Failure to comply will cost you.
Loss of business/reputation: If there is an issue with your labels and a product needs to be recalled, there is a ripple effect that magnifies the challenge. Not only do you have to pay to recall these products, but you must replace the product and deal with the PR fallout and loss of reputation that can result. In some cases, customers will have lost faith in a brand because of a recall and the business never comes back.
Litigation: If someone’s health has been put at risk because of improper labeling (such as someone with a nut allergy being exposed to nut oil because it was not disclosed in the ingredient panel), that opens the food and beverage manufacturer to litigation and punitive damages.
A Dangerous Temptation
In today’s market in which more and more consumers are trying “eat healthy,” food and beverage manufacturers may be tempted to inflate or minimize specific issues or ignore them altogether so as not to depress sales. The challenge, however, is that this raises the potential for customer illness or death. Here is a list of common “deceptive label” tactics put together by an attorney group specializing in protecting consumers from deceptive marketing tactics such as food labeling:
- Misleading “all natural” food labels.
- Deceptive “preservative-free” food labels.
- False health claims.
- Misleading product labels.
- False “raised without antibiotics” claims.
- False “grass-fed” claims.
- False “free-range” or “cage-free” claims.
- False food allergy claims.
- Failure to accurately record the weight of the product.
Liability for Misinformation (Even if It’s Unintentional)
In addition to accuracy in labeling, food and beverage manufacturers must adhere to regulations regarding warnings and missing information. Among the types of misinformation:
- Failure to warn of risks which may be associated with the food product, such as DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine) and other dietary supplements.
- False information regarding nutritional content.
- Misinformation regarding the standard or grade of quality of a product (such as labeling it Grade AA when it is an inferior grade).
- Labeling that is difficult or impossible for the consumer to read.
- Incorrect expiration dates.
- Wrong label on the product.
Suddenly, “simple” product information labels might not seem so simple anymore. There are many moving parts, which is why food and beverage manufacturers benefit from working with a third-party distributor with established expertise in food and beverage labeling instead of trying to reinvent the wheel themselves.
Adhesives Are Not Interchangeable
Another factor in product information labels is adhesion. PI labels can be applied to a wide variety of substates (metal, glass, plastic, paper) and must remain adhered for a specific period of time. The surfaces on which these labels are applied can be smooth, rough, pervious, or impervious, and with a variety of chemical compositions. The adhesives required for each of these substrates are not interchangeable. PI labels must also endure the same range of environmental conditions as prime labels — some may end up on products that stay at room temperature; while others may end up being heated or frozen—that also require different materials and adhesives.
Just “any old” label material will not do. Each food or beverage application will require analysis to determine just the right combination of label material and adhesive for the substrate and longevity requirements.
This is why even simple black-and-white PI labels require working with a company with the experience and R&D. You want to know how to get that combination right the first time, every time. At BrandMark, we have decades of experience in this area, so if you need food and beverage labels, tap into our experience so you never find yourself in a sticky situation!