Packaging - For Product Safety and Consumer Appeal

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 Technical considerations | Packaging for consumer appeal | Marketing considerations | Labelling regulations | Nutrition labelling | Label design
"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 your package design.

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 it's durable life. It must also provides information on your product in compliance with federal food labelling regulations.

In this section information is included on packaging from both a technical and marketing perspective. Labelling regulations are outlined. Information on designing your label concludes the section. Click here for inforamtion on packaging suppliers.

Technical Considerations

Characteristics of a good 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 (eg. microwavable)
  • ability to withstand the stresses of distribution (eg. won't degrade or break)
In choosing packaging materials you must first consider what product protection is needed, (eg. light, crushing, dehydration, oxygen). The protection offered by a package is determined by the nature of the packaging material and the package construction. Packages may be flexible (paper, foil, plastics) and rigid or semi-rigid (eg. cans, glass, 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.

Packaging for Consumer Appeal

Characteristics of a package which make its use consumer friendly include:

  • environmentally friendly (reusable, recyclable, minimal packaging)
  • tamper evident or tamper proof
  • easy to open
  • convenient (sizes, resealable, etc)
Check with local, provincial and federal departments of environment to identify any packaging restrictions which may pertain to your product.

The following table compares the advantages and disadvantages of several packaging materials.

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
-not resistant to water, oil, grease
glass-does not react with food
-can be transparent or colored to protect from light
-can be heat processed
-printing not common (expensive), requires labels to be applied
-safety of product (due to breakage)
plastic-range of materials with a variety of properties (eg. 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
metaltin, steel or aluminum cans
-can be coated to prevent reactions with the food
-can be heat processed
-can be hermetically sealed
-can be lithographed
flexible foils

-can be plastic coated for strength and heat sealing ability
-good gas and moisture barrier in the absence of pinholes
-may be printable
tin steel or aluminum cans
-expensive and require expensive sealing equipment
-lithograph printing expensive, usually need additional label
flexible foils

-may have microscopic pinholes allowing gas exchange with environment

Marketing Considerations

Your competition
Before you decide on your package and label do some market research. Start by visiting stores that carry products you're interested in. Look at competitors' products. (And look through the other aisles while you're there. You just might find some new ideas.) Packaging changes constantly. What new innovations are there in tamperproof, recyclable, and reusable packaging? Trade shows are great places to learn about package and label trends. You don't 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: box, jar, bottle, plastic jug.

Your market will also determine 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 will expect to pay a bit more.

The way the product will be used may influence decisions about the flexibility, the overall size, the closure, and other such issues.

Availability and shipping costs are also a consideration. The weight of the container and special handling needs for mail-order products should be addressed.

Also think about store display. Shelf space is limited, and some grocers and retailers will 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, and distributors and talk to the container manufacturer about these issues.

Labeling Regulations - CFIA's Role

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

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for the administration of food labelling policies related to misrepresentation and fraud in respect to food labelling, packaging and advertising (Food and Drugs Act), and the general agri-food and fish labelling provisions respecting grade, quality and composition, (Canada Agricultural Products Act, Meat Inspection Act and Fish Inspection Act). In addition, responsibility for the administration of the food related provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, including basic food label information, net quantity, metrication and bilingual labelling was transferred to the CFIA from Industry Canada in 1999.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also responsible for the enforcement of all of the above requirements at all trade levels.

Health Canada is responsible for the administration of health and safety standards and the development of food labelling policies related to health and nutrition under the Food and Drugs Act.

For more information on labelling, check out the CFIA's Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising on the CFIA web site

What CFIA Does:

CFIA delivers 14 inspection programs related to foods, plants and animals across Canada. Their role is to enforce the food safety and nutritional quality standards established by Health Canada and, for animal health and plant protection, to set standards and carry out enforcement and inspection.

The scope of their mandate is vast and complex. Activities range from the inspection of federally-registered meat processing facilities to border inspections for foreign pests and diseases, to the enforcement of practices related to fraudulent labelling. They also verify the humane transportation of animals, conduct food investigations and recall, perform laboratory testing and environmental assessments of seeds, plants, feeds and fertilizers. They regulate the import, export and domestic movement of horticulture, forestry and plant products where they are regulated. They also work with exotic pest introductions and the control or eradication of quarantine pests. In a nutshell, they are Canada's federal food safety, animal health and plant protection enforcement agency.

For further information, visit CFIA's website at, or contact your nearest CFIA office in Alberta:

Alberta North
Room 205 - 7000 113 St.
Edmonton, Alberta
T6H 5T6
Tel: 780-495-3333
Fax: 780-495-3359

Alberta South
Floor 1, Room 102
110 Country Hills Landing NW
Calgary, Alberta
T3K 5P3
Tel: 403-299-7660
Fax: 403-221-3296

Nutrition Labeling

Nutrition labeling refers to the standardized presentation of the nutrient content of a food. Found on food labels under the heading, "Nutrition Information", nutrition labeling includes serving size in household units and nutrients per serving. Usually energy (calories) protein, fat and carbohydrates are listed.

Nutrition labels, depending on your product, may be a good marketing tool. Consumers are increasingly interested in the health aspects of food, and want to make wise food choices. A nutrition label may swing their choice to your product. In the United States, nutrition labeling is mandatory.

In the United States, nutrition labelling is mandatory with the following exception. The FDA’s Small business Food Labeling exemption, passed in 1996, exempts businesses with annual gross sales of less than $500,000, fewer than 100 employees and products fewer than 100,000 units from listing nutritional facts on food packages. Normally nutrition labelling is required on all food items sold in the USA. This exemption allows small processors to get a feel for the market and the demand for their product before investing in expensive packaging modifications. Source: Food Distribution Magazine, March 1999 p.59

New guidelines for fat-free foods
The claim "fat-free" on a food label or in an advertisement for a food means that the food contains "less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving and per reference amount". The size of the serving on the label may vary by brand; however, the reference amount does not vary because it represent the amount of food customarily consumed at a single eating occasion. The new definition for "fat" is accepted internationally and gives a more accurate picture of the true amount of fat in foods. This will assist consumers in making food choices. Again, depending on your food product, including information on fat on your label if your product meets these guidelines, may be a good marketing strategy.

Universal Product Codes (UPC)
Whether or not you include a Universal Product Code on your product will depend on where you're selling. Many retail establishments will require that you have a UPC - a 12-digit, all numeric machine readable code that identifies the consumer package. For more information contact the Electronic Commerce Council of Canada. Universal Product Codes give a unique bar code to every product which makes product identification and retail inventory management simpler and more accurate. Most supermarkets prefer to use product scanners so if you anticipate sales in these places it would be wise to include a UPC in your packaging design.

Label Design

By now you've 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's one of your best advertising opportunities.

Naming your product
Of course, before you design your label you'll need a name for your product. There's a good chance you've already thought of a name. If so, it's a good idea to reconsider your choice and make sure it's right. 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: a farm or country inn, restaurant or state. 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's important to think of your market. If your product will be purchased primarily as 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 you intend your primary market to be specialty food stores, 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 in which 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 doesn't have. That personality is a strong selling point. It's one of the things that makes 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. Usually it carries 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. And if you have a family of products, this is 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 products whose labels appeal to you. Contact the companies and ask for referrals.

It's not a good idea to work with a designer who is already producing a label for the manufacturer of a competitive product. (And 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've worked so hard to produce. There's a lot riding on the success of your decision, so be sure it's based on all the factors not just on price.

Some designers will work for a flat fee plus expenses. Others will 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 will be 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 to create a contract that covers all of these issues and more. Typically, the fees for logo and label design range from $800 to $3,500. In some cases, designers may be willing to trade for their services; try suggesting that they use your product as a gift for their clients.

Working with your designer
Your designer will need to know the package sizes, the number of colors available for printing, and all the copy that must appear on the label.

You'll also want to discuss who your competition is and where you plan to sell your product. If your product is mass-marketed, the label will have 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 to 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 with the designer what you like and dislike about the existing label. You'll want to carry over some aspects of the 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.

The designer will show you sketches of the proposed design after your first meeting. You'll 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 artwork. If you don't 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's hard to choose which design you like best. If that's the case, consider showing the sketches to family and friends, in addition to any retailers, brokers, or distributors who are willing to give you an opinion. It's always a good idea to get other reactions. You're so close to the product that you may overlook some aspect of the design or presentation of information. It's 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-deck the information
  • Make sure the label will be 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
Adapted with permission from: PEI Food Technology Centre Information
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Rita Splawinski.
This information published to the web on July 5, 1999.
Last Reviewed/Revised on June 6, 2018.