Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Packaging and Labeling

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 Product Safety | Consumer appeal

Product Safety

Packaging, which includes the container and the label or graphics on the container, does more than attract the consumer. It also protects your product from contamination and deterioration throughout its’ life. It must also provide information about your product, in compliance with federal food labeling regulations.

Labeling Regulations
The label on your food product must persuade a consumer to choose your product over a competitor’s. It announces what your product is, what it is made of and possibly its nutritional content. Your label must comply with regulations.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for food safety and consumer protection. Labeling regulations fall under its’ mandate. For detailed information on food labeling check out CFIA’s A Guide to Food Labeling and Advertising. The Food and Drug Act and regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act and regulations can be obtained from CIFA at

The following information simplifies the basic labeling requirements for food products sold in Canada.

Clerk Served Items
If your product is unpackaged until the time of sale no label is required. For example a donut in an in-store bakery, which the clerk puts in a bag for you.

In-store Prepackaged Products
If your food product is manufactured and packaged on the premise before sale, or packaged from bulk on the premises, your label must display:

  • common product name
  • net quantity statement (in metric)
  • name and address of responsible party
  • durable life (if product has a durable life of less than 90 days). Durable life information must include the packed on date and a best before date and the in-store signage must outline storage conditions and shelf life.
Wholesale Pre-packaged Products
If you are wholesaling or distributing prepackaged products these are the labeling requirements:
  • common product name
  • net quantity statement (in metric)
  • name and address of responsible party
  • durable life date (if product has a durable life of less than 90 days)
  • best before date with storage conditions if they differ from normal room temperature
  • list of ingredients (listed in order of proportion – largest to smallest)
  • bilingual labeling if sold outside the local government area
Farmers’ Markets
Labeling must meet the requirements outlined for wholesaled pre-packaged products, as detailed above.

Nutrition Labeling
Nutrition labeling, depending on your product, may be a good marketing tool as consumers are increasingly interested in the health aspects of food and want to make good food choices. A nutrition label may swing their choice to your product. On December 12, 2002, changes to the Food and Drug regulations resulted in changes to the nutritional labeling information, which appears on food and beverage products. Businesses have from 3 to
5 years depending on the size of the business, to comply with the new regulations. These new regulations requires a standardized “Nutrition Facts” panel which includes information on 14 core nutrients, serving size and per cent of daily required amount of nutrient. Nutrient content claims and health related claims are optional but if stated must follow the new guidelines. For detailed information on the nutritional labeling requirements, contact CFIA.

Nutrition Facts
Per 125 mL (87 g)
Amount% Daily Value
Calories 80
Fat 0.5 g1%
Saturated 0 g0%
+ Trans 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 0 mg
Carbohydrate 18 g6%
Fibre 2 g0%
Sugars 2 g
Protein 3 g
Vitamin A2%
Vitamin C10%
An example of the “Nutritional Facts” information that is required for all labels.

Package Size Regulations
Many processed foods, such as jams, pie fillings, condiments and salad dressings, have standard package size requirements. For instance, jams, jellies, marmalades, fruit spreads and preserves can be sold in glass or metal containers, in volumes of 250 ml, 374 ml, 500 ml, 750 ml, 1 L, 1.5 L, 2 L, 3 L or 4 L. Complete details for these and other processed products are outlined in the Processed Product Regulations of the Canada Agricultural Products Act, available from CFIA.

Principal Display Panel
All the information on food labels, including graphics must be true and not misleading or deceptive and must be easily read and prominently displayed. The common name of the food and the net quantity must appear together on the principal display panel. The common name is prescribed by the Food and Drug Regulations ie., orange juice from concentrate, or the name by which the food is commonly known ie., chocolate cake. The name is the product’s identity and its design helps define the personality of the product – add a personal touch by including a little about who produces the product or where it comes from.

Name and Address of Responsible Party
The name and address of the responsible party by or for whom a prepackaged product is produced must be declared on any label panel except the bottom in a minimum height of 1.6 mm. The address must be complete enough for postal purposes.

Durable Life
A durable life date (“best before” date) is required on prepackaged foods with a durable life of less than 90 days. Include storage instructions (if different than normal room temperature storage conditions).
Two digit bilingual symbols for the date must be used with year listed first, then the month (ie JA for January, SE for September) followed by the day (02 or 29).

Net Quantity Statement
Must be declared in metric units on the principal display panel. Net quantity is by volume for liquids, weight for solids, and count for certain foods. The following metric symbols are considered bilingual and should not be followed by a period: g for grams, kg for kilograms, ml for milliliters, L for litres.

Bilingual Requirements
All mandatory information on food labels must be shown in both official languages (i.e. French and English) when sold outside the local government area with the exception of name identity and address, which may be in either French or English.

List of Ingredients
Pre-packaged, multi-ingredient foods require an ingredient list, listed in descending order of proportion by weight in the food. Ingredients and their components must be declared by their common names.

Universal Product Code or Bar Code
The bar code is a 12-digit, all numeric, machine readable code that identifies the consumer package. A unique bar code is given to every product making product identification and retail inventory management simpler and more accurate.

GS1 Canada
Suite 110, 720 - 28th Street NE
Calgary, Alberta T2A 6R3
Phone: 403-291-2235

Label Review Service
CFIA officers are pleased to assist you in applying the labeling regulations to your product, or in reviewing your food label to ensure it meets the regulations before you incur printing expenses. Contact the office nearest you for further information:

Calgary Office

Edmonton Office

Package Considerations
Characteristics of a good safe package from a technical viewpoint include:
  • compatibility with the product, processing and storage conditions
  • product protection from chemical, physical and biological sources of deterioration
  • suitability for the intended final use of the product (e.g. microwavable)
  • ability to withstand the stresses of distribution (e.g. will not degrade or break)
In choosing packaging materials you must first consider what product protection is needed, e.g. light, crushing, dehydration and oxygen. The protection offered by a package is determined by the nature of the packaging material and the package construction. Packages may be flexible (e.g. paper, foil, plastics), and rigid (e.g. cans, glass, plastic) or semi-rigid (e.g. cans, some plastic containers).

As a starting point you can look at what your competition is doing with their package and consider some of the basic pros and cons of common materials. Discussing your requirements with suppliers of packaging materials, packaging specialists and food scientists can help you make your technical packaging decisions.
Paper– generally low cost and readily available
– can be coated or laminated to improve impermeability to liquids, gases and vapors
– can provide rigid outer wraps or boxes
– opaque and excludes light
– printable
– not resistant to water, oil, grease
Glass– does not react with food
– can be transparent or colored to protect from light
– strong
– can be heat processed
– brittle
– transparent
– heavy
– printing not common (expensive)
– requires labels to be applied
– safety of product (due to breakage)
tin steel or aluminum cans

flexible foils
– can be coated to prevent reaction with food
– can be heat processed
– can be hermetically sealed
– can be lithographed

– can be plastic coated for strength and heat sealing ability
– good gas and moisture barrier in the absence of pinholes
– may be printable
– expensive and requires expensive sealing equipment
– lithograph printing expensive, usually need additional label

– may have microscopic pinholes allowing gas exchange with environment
Plastic– range of materials with a variety of properties (e.g. oxygen transmission, moisture barrier, opaque or transparent)– when laminated or co-extruded to give special properties may not be recyclable
– printability depends on material used
– heat sealability depends on material used

Consumer Appeal

“It’s all in the package,” is a favorite expression of marketers. To sell your product, you must attract and inform the customer. Unless someone has the opportunity to taste your product, the only chance you have of convincing a consumer to purchase is through your packaging. Tour any supermarket and note what catches your eye, and why. This will convince you of the important role of package design.

Look at the Competition
Before you decide on your package and label do some market research. Start by visiting stores that carry products you are interested in. Look at competitors’ products. Look through the other aisles while you are there. You just might find some new ideas. Packaging changes constantly. What new innovations are there in tamper proof, recyclable and reusable packaging? Trade shows are great places to learn about package and label trends. You do not want to reinvent the wheel. You want to use existing containers, boxes, tins and bottles in new and exciting ways.

Your Market
Consider the consumer. Your market research has identified your target consumer. You need to keep this profile in mind when you design your package and your label. The package should relate to the product. The consumer should be able to tell what the product is, based on the type of package, be it a box, jar, bottle or plastic jug.

Your market also determines the package. If your product is sold primarily as a gift, it may require a slightly different presentation than a product sold primarily in a food store, alongside mass-marketed products.

The packaging should give consumers an idea of the cost of your product. If you have a slightly higher retail price, your packaging should reflect that. It implies that the product is a specialty item, and consumers should expect to pay a bit more.

The use of the product may influence decisions about the flexibility, the overall size, the closure and other issues. Availability and shipping costs are also a consideration.

Also think about store display. Shelf space is limited and some grocers and retailers have requirements for your product. If your package deviates from the standard shelf height for products like yours, you may find it hard to get your product into certain stores. Talk to retailers, grocers, distributors and container manufacturer about these issues.

The characteristics of a package which make it consumer friendly include:
  • environmentally friendly (reusable, recyclable, minimal packaging)
  • tamper evident or tamper proof
  • easy to open
  • convenient (sizes, re-sealable, etc.)
Check with local, provincial and federal departments of environment to identify any packaging restrictions that pertain to your product. Contact numbers can be found in the blue pages of your phone book.

Label Design
By now you have given some thought to your product package and size, and to mandatory labeling requirements. What about the design of your label? The label helps to convey the personality of your product. It is one of your best advertising opportunities.

Naming Your Product
The name of the product should tell consumers what it is. The name is the product’s identity. Like its design, it helps to define the personality of the product.

Many specialty products are named for the person who created the recipe or for the place where the product is manufactured. These names help to lend a personal touch to the product and establish its personality. That is part of what lends charm and uniqueness to specialty food products.

Here again, it is important to think of your market. If your product is primarily a gift, you may want to consider using a location in the name. That would make it a nice souvenir for travelers to keep or give to friends. If your primary market is a specialty food store, an offbeat name that shows a bit of innovation may be in order.

Try out some names on your family, friends and anyone else willing to give you an honest opinion. Gauge the response to each.

Label Copy
Think about ways you can build on a sense of place and personality in your label copy. Leave a panel open to tell a little about who produces the product or where it comes from. It gives your product a personality that a mass-market product does not have. That personality is a strong selling point. It is one of the things that make specialty products appealing to consumers. Also include information on how to use the product. That information helps to broaden your appeal to a less sophisticated audience, who may not know exactly what to do with a certain type of seasoning, sauce or condiment.

Hang Tags
Also consider hang tags as an additional selling device. A hang tag is the tiny tag that hangs off the neck of many bottles. These usually carry recipe suggestions that add perceived value to your product and help to personalize it. A hang tag is also another way to increase the use of the product and to establish a connection with the consumer. If you have a family of products, this is also a place to cross promote.

Designing Your Label
Getting help from a graphic designer or a design firm is strongly recommended. A well designed label makes your product easier to sell to consumers, retailers, mail order catalogs, brokers and distributors.

Look for a designer or firm that has produced labels or package design. To find a designer whose work you like, walk the aisles of markets and retail shops and jot down the names of product labels that appeal to you. Contact the companies and ask for referrals.

It is not a good idea to work with a designer who is already producing a label for the manufacturer of a competitive product. In any case, most reputable designers would politely refer you to another designer or firm if they felt that working on your product would harm their relationship with their current clients.

Select a few designers and arrange to meet with them and to see a portfolio of their work. Discuss fees and expenses. Then determine whom you feel most comfortable working with.

Your decision should be based on your response to their portfolio of work, your feelings about how well you would work together and the proposed fee structure.

Remember, this is an important relationship. Your designer must produce a label and logo that will capture the essence of the product you have worked so hard to produce. There is a lot riding on the success of your decision, so be sure it is based on all the factors, not just on price.

Some designers work for a flat fee plus expenses. Others work for a fee plus royalties. The latter is sometimes an easier arrangement for a smaller producer as it allows you an initially lower fee for the design of the label and the first printing. If the product sells well and you reprint the label, the designer is paid a predetermined royalty, based on the print run.

There are creative ways to negotiate fee structures. Be honest about how much you can afford and let them tell you if they can work within your budget. Get a contract that spells out who retains the rights to the artwork and whether royalties are to be paid for future printings. Be specific about the press run and the royalty agreement. The graphic design industry has guidelines intended to help you and the designer create a contract that covers all of these issues and more.

Working With Your Designer
Your designer needs to know the package sizes, the number of colors available for printing and all the copy that must appear on the label.

You also want to discuss who your competition is and where you plan to sell your product. If your product is mass-marketed, the label needs a different look than a product available only at gourmet food stores or retail shops. You may need two different labels for the same product if you have two very different markets. Have your designer go to the market to see what other products look like and get a better sense of where your product will be sitting on the shelf.

If you have an existing product and want your package redesigned, take the package with you so that you can discuss what you like and dislike about the existing label. You may want to carry over some aspects of the existing label into your new design so that consumers can quickly identify your product on the shelf. The same is true if you are introducing a new addition to your family of products. You should build on the brand identity you have established with consumers. If they recognize some familiar aspect of the label, they may try your new product out of brand loyalty.

You can expect designers to show you sketches of the proposed design after your first meeting. You will meet to discuss the sketches and then the designer will revise the ideas and present you with a final sketch for approval. Then, they will commission artwork or produce the finished product. If you do not like the proposed designs and revisions, and feel you can no longer work with the designer; you can opt to terminate the relationship by paying him what is called a kill fee. But, if you have carefully and thoughtfully done the preliminary work of interviewing, looking at portfolios, and checking references, this should not happen.

Sometimes it is hard to choose which design you like best. If that is the case, show the sketches to family and friends, retailers, brokers, or distributors. It is always a good idea to get other reactions. Remember, you are so close to the product that you may overlook some aspect of the design or presentation of information. It is also a good idea to show a copy of the proposed design to the printer to ensure that he can reproduce the design without any problems or additional charges.

Before you print your labels: A final checklist
  • double check the information.
  • make sure the label is easy to apply to the container. Try one to make sure it wraps and sticks without effort or wrinkling.
  • check trademark notations, where applicable.
  • make sure all legal label language is included.
  • have a new set of eyes read all of the copy before you ship the final artwork to the printer.
  • be sure to have your label reviewed by a CFIA inspector.
For information on packaging and labeling suppliers visit Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development website at

Other Documents in the Series

  Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Preface
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Introduction
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Starting Out
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Business Planning
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Business Considerations
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Food Processing Regulations
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Facilities
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Product Development
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Processing and Packaging Equipment
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Packaging and Labeling - Current Document
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Distribution and Sales
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Promotion
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Financing
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Sources of Assistance
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Additional Resources
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Kathy Bosse.
This document is maintained by Jennifer Rutter.
This information published to the web on June 1, 2005.
Last Reviewed/Revised on April 30, 2018.