Labelling is an important process in the
food processing chain and should not be
overlooked. The label is the first point of
contact between a consumer and the
producer. It is used to identify one
product from another and also to make
a decision over which product to
purchase. The label is therefore the
most important marketing tool for a
product. It should be attractive and eye
catching while at the same time being
informative. A dirty, confused, untidy
label will not help to sell a product.
Figure 1: Honey pots and labels in Bangladesh.
Photo Practical Action / Zul.
Small scale food processors should aim
to label their products with the best
label they can obtain or afford in relation to the value of the product.
The purpose of a food label
• To provide consumers with information on the product
• To advertise the product
• To distinguish the product from that of competitors (establish a brand)
• It is a legal requirement
What should I include on a label?
As a good starting point, remember ‘the less the better’. As long as you meet all the minimum
legal requirements for the particular food product and the country you are selling in, you should
not include too much more. If the label looks cluttered and untidy, it will give the product a
The following are legal minimum requirements in most countries:
• Product name
• Manufacturers name and address
• Date of manufacture and best before date (sell by date)
• Ingredients list (in descending order of weight)
• Net weight of product in the package.
The following are additional information that is optional:
• The brand – it is optional to include a brand logo, but in terms of marketing your product
and establishing your brand in the market place, it is important to define and include a
brand logo. That way the consumer will quickly be able to find your products and come
back to buy them
• Instructions for preparing the product
• Storage instructions or instructions on storage after opening
• Examples of recipes in which the product can be used
• An e number if the product is being exported to Europe
• A bar code.
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Types of food label
All food products should be labelled. The type
of label used varies according to the type of
product, the packaging container, individual
preferences and local availability of labels. The
most common (and cheapest) type of label is
the paper label that is glued onto the container.
Self-adhesive labels are also available but may
be more expensive.
Paper labels are made out of plain paper. The
information can be written by hand, or it may be
printed if this facility is available. The labels are
glued and applied to the containers by hand.
The best way to apply these labels is to have a
guide rail affixed to the work surface. The pile
of labels is placed face down beneath the guide
rail. The top label is glued and the container is
rolled over the label, with the top pressed up to
the guide rail. The container is then rolled over
a rubber mat, to firmly press the label onto the
container. Figure 3 shows a simple frame that
can help in this operation. Labelling equipment
is available to apply the labels more quickly and
to give a better finish.
Figure 2: A table used to fix labels.
Water soluble glues such as starch or cellulose
based glues are best for returnable containers,
allowing labels to be removed easily. Water
soluble glues can loose adhesion in humid
climates so non water-soluble glues, made from
plastic polymers, can be used.
Self-adhesive labels are already gummed and just
Selfneed to be stuck onto the container. Care should
still be taken to ensure the label is applied neatly.
Small labelling machines are available that can
apply the labels to the product. The type shown
in Figure 4 can apply 30-40 labels per minute.
Figure 3: A powered labelling machine.
Basic generic label design
If a range of products is being produced it is
possible to use a common label design that can
then be adapted for each product line. For smaller
producers this helps keep the design and print
There should be some standard artwork or brand
image and standard information on the
manufacturer can be included with a blank area left
for further information about the product to be
added at a later stage. The product can be
identified either by writing on the label or by using
stickers containing the relevant information.
Figure 4: labelling dried jack fruit in Sri
Lanka. Photo: Practical Action / Zul.
Important information to consider
The design of a label and the quality of the paper or other
materials that are used is of critical importance in promoting
the product. In general a simple, uncluttered image on the
label is better than a complex design. The brand name or the
name of the company should stand out clearly and if pictures
are used, they should be an accurate representation of the
product or its main raw material.
Colour can be used to produce either a realistic picture (full
colour printing) or blocks of one or two bold colours to
emphasise a particular feature. Care is needed when
choosing colours as they are culturally very significant and
have a direct effect on peoples' perceptions of the product.
For example, in many societies white is associated with
death, whereas in others, it is red or black. In some areas,
browns, ochre and greens are associated with 'nature' or
natural unprocessed products, with an image of health and
good quality. In others, bright oranges and yellows can either
mean excitement or cheap, low quality products.
Figure 5: Details of when the
fruit was produced and use
by date are written on the
back of the packaging.
In view of the importance of labels, producers should pay the
Photo: Practical Action / Zul.
highest price that they can afford to obtain the best possible
quality. Professional designers or graphic artists may be
located at universities, art schools or in commercial agencies
and these should be employed to produce a range of ideas.
These can then be discussed with the Bureau of Standards
and then a printer to obtain quotations before a final decision is made. Most printers require a
print run of several thousand labels and great care should be taken to check the design for errors
before printing, as these would be very costly and time consuming to correct during production.
Legal aspects of food labelling
In some countries, food producers can be prosecuted if their label is incorrectly designed. It is in
the processors' interest to involve the local Bureau of Standards at an early stage of label design
to ensure that the label meets all local requirements.
There are general labelling requirements that describe the information that must be included on a
label, but in many countries there are also very detailed laws concerning some or all of the
• specific names that must be given to different types of ingredients
• ingredients that are exempt from the law
• the use of words such as Best before and Sell by
• the declaration of alcohol content in spirit drinks
• locations of the name of the food, the sell-by date and the net weight (they must all be in
the same field of vision when a customer looks at the label)
• the visibility of information and the ability of customers to understand it (including the
relative print sizes of different information)
• claims and misleading descriptions, especially about health-giving or tonic properties,
nutritional advantages, diabetic or other medicinal claims
• specifications of the way in which certain words such as flavour, fresh, vitamin etc. can
This is a complex area, which varies from one country to another. Professional advice should be
sought from the local Bureau of Standards to ensure that local standards and regulations are met.
The Codex Alimentarius (FAO/WHO) report on food labelling gives information on the legal
requirements and food standards.
Example of a typical label
Date of manufacture
and best before date
Brand name and logo
Date of manufacture:
Best before end: 04/08
Mango, salt, turmeric,
sunflower oil, mustard
seed, fenugreek seed,
Ingredients list in
descending weight order
454g 1lb e
Net weight and
European e mark
Figure 6: Details on a food label.
Definition of terms used in the Codex standard of labelling
For use in Date Marking of prepackaged food:
Date of Manufacture means the date on which the food becomes the product as described.
Date of Packaging means the date on which the food is placed in the immediate container in
which it will be ultimately sold.
Sell-bySell-by-Date means the last date of offer for sale to the consumer after which there remains a
reasonable storage period in the home.
Date of Minimum Durability (“best before”) means the date which signifies the end of the period
under any stated storage conditions during which the product will remain fully marketable and
will retain any specific qualities for which tacit or express claims have been made. However,
beyond the date the food may still be perfectly satisfactory.
UseUse-by Date (Recommended Last Consumption Date, Expiration Date) means the date which
signifies the end of the estimated period under any stated storage conditions, after which the
product probably will not have the quality attributes normally expected by the consumers. After
this date, the food should not be regarded as marketable.
Ingredient means any substance, including a food additive, used in the manufacture or
preparation of a food and present in the final product although possibly in a modified form.
Label means any tag, brand, mark, pictorial or other descriptive matter, written, printed,
stencilled, marked, embossed or impressed on, or attached to, a container of food.
Labelling includes any written, printed or graphic matter that is present on the label,
accompanies the food, or is displayed near the food, including that for the purpose of promoting
its sale or disposal.
Suppliers of labelling machinery
This is a selective list of suppliers of equipment and does not imply endorsement by Practical
This website includes lists of companies in India who supply food processing equipment.
Bhavani Sales Corporation
Plot no 2/1, Phase II
Ahmedabad 382 445
Tel: +91 79 2583 1346/2589 3253
Fax: +91 79 2583 5885/2589 3253
Unit No. 4, S.No.25 A
Opp Savali Dhaba, Nr.Indo-Max
Nanded Phata, Off Sinhagad Rd.
Pune – 411041
Tel: +91 20 65706009
Fax: +91 20 24393377
P-25, Connaught Place
New Delhi 110 001
Tel: +91 11 2336 8171
Fax: +91 11 2336 8171
Rank and Company
A-p6/3, Wazirpur Industrial Estate
Delhi – 110 052
Tel: +91 11 7456101/ 27456102
Fax: +91 11 7234126/7433905
References and further information
Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labelling
Codex General Standard for the labelling of pre-packaged foods.
Appropriate Food Packaging Fellows P and Axtell B (2002). ITDG Publishing.
Guidelines for Small Scale Fruit and Vegetable Processors Fellows, P (1997). FAO
Agricultural Services Bulletin 127, FAO, Italy, Rome.
How to Label your Products Sri Lanka National Design Centre, 1989
This book is designed and produced for handicrafts makers who wish to expand their
sales, both within Sri Lanka and in export markets. This publication describes simple and
clear ways to label products and show your company’s name in the market place.