The Importance of Food Label and Packaging Translation

Dynamic Language | July 25, 2019

The globalization of business and the rise of e-commerce has made it possible for anyone with internet access to buy and sell goods worldwide. Thanks to a variety of online sales platforms, entrepreneurs can connect with consumers in all sorts of markets without investing a fortune in marketing and distribution. Unfortunately, many of the individuals and organizations exporting food products overlook a critical component of the process – and this oversight can be catastrophic for businesses and their customers.

Food labeling regulations differ from country to country, and a company’s continued success depends on meeting packaging requirements. After all, people all over the world want to know what they are eating. For those with food allergies, clear, accurate packaging information is a life-or-death issue. Thoughtful food labels and packaging translation and localization leads to a safer use of products and higher sales, producing a solid return on investment.

US vs. The World: How Food Labeling Regulations Differ from Country to Country

The good news for businesses who wish to sell food products internationally is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets reasonably stringent food labeling requirements. Chances are, if you are meeting FDA regulations, there won’t be a need to collect a lot of additional information before selling products in other countries. Many nations are working together to create international food labeling standards. However, the project is still a work in process.

Examples of differences between the US and other parts of the world include the following:

• The US requires calorie count per serving, no matter what size the package is. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) requires a calorie count based on the product’s weight.
• The US requires the identification of eight common allergens if contained in the product. The UK requires the identification of 14 common allergens.
• Bolivian food labeling requirements are especially detailed. In an effort to encourage healthy eating, processed foods must include warning labels. Additionally, products containing bioengineered ingredients must be marked as such.
• Any company sending food products to China must ensure all information is written in the Chinese language, and products must be tested for quality and label accuracy before they are permitted into the country.

Businesses approach international labeling requirements using a variety of methods. Some prefer dual-labeling, which covers packaging requirements for the countries where the product is to be sold. Others add supplementary labels to their standard packaging. The tags include any additional details required by the country receiving the products. However, the most successful businesses are those that tailor their packaging to the specific audience they wish to reach.

Boosting Sales Through Translation and Localization

Meeting regulatory requirements isn’t the only goal when creating a translation and localization strategy for food packaging. Labels that meet the technical standard don’t always meet consumer standards. For example, when Coca-Cola was first introduced to China, there was no effort to create a brand that worked with the market. Instead, distributors tried out a variety of phonetic equivalents to the English word “Coca-Cola”, with alternately hilarious and horrifying results.

One of the most memorable – and least successful – translated to “bite the wax tadpole”. When Coca-Cola finally created a branding strategy specifically for Chinese markets. It settled on a name that translates to “let your mouth rejoice”. Clearly, this name is far more likely to attract customers.

Coors Beer faced a similar disaster when it tried a direct translation of its “Turn It Loose” campaign in Spain. The slogan translated to “suffer from diarrhea”. Translation from experts in the local market would have prevented this unfortunate error.

Designing product packaging that meets regulatory requirements while simultaneously meeting consumer expectations is a tall order – particularly when you aren’t familiar with the audience. Investing in localization services that manage translation and make adjustments for consumer preferences is a sure way to boost sales over time. Most businesses enjoy a solid return on their investment in the form of revenue growth.


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