Food labelling can be a minefield. Quite rightly, there is a lot of information required by law to be included on all food labels. If something is deliberately incorrectly labelled, this constitutes criminal fraud – whether a food safety threat or not. Even when not deliberate, it can have terrifyingly heart-breaking consequences: remember the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who went into cardiac arrest on a flight after buying a Pret a Manger sandwich at Heathrow Airport in 2016? It’s important to state that Pret were not contravening any law by not including a full list of ingredients on their packaging in this instance. However, they have since changed their labelling.
If you’re developing your own food label, the Food Standards Agency has put together a really useful guide: https://labellingtraining.food.gov.uk/. There’s a lot to take in, you have the mandatories, the advisories and then the creative bit – the name and branding.
Reverse that order – brand, advisories and mandatories – and you have the order in which consumers will (or won’t) be attracted to your product. And so although you probably want to start with the fun stuff, you have to get the basics right first.
You must include the following on pre-packed foods:
- The name of the food
- The ingredients, in order of most to least
- Ingredients or processing aids causing allergies or intolerances (there are 14 key allergens)
- Any genetically modified (GM) ingredients. This doesn’t apply to meat, milk or eggs that come from animals that have been fed with GM products
- Weight or volume
- Storage instructions telling you the best way to keep the food
- A use-by date so you know how long you can safely keep the food in the recommended storage conditions. (The best-before date differs: after this date the food might lose flavour or texture meaning it’s no longer at its ‘best’, but that doesn’t mean it’ll make you ill.)
- Clear instructions on how to prepare and cook the food if necessary
- The manufacturer’s name and address
- The country of origin or place of provenance
- The alcohol strength by volume for beverages containing more than 1.2 % of alcohol
- Nutritional declaration
There are, of course, exceptions and special cases – and so it’s always best to refer to the government’s legislation.
Red, Amber, Green…
You’ll have seen the traffic-light system used on many food labels – this shows you key information and is usually on the front of the food packing. This is voluntary information and does not have to be shown. Most major supermarkets and many food manufacturers employ the traffic-light system – there are, however, some exceptions – cereal manufacturers, for example, can be reluctant to show just how much sugar there is in their products. There are calls for it to be mandatory.
Say my name…
Then there’s the name of the product itself. This will have a huge effect on whether people will buy it.
We’re all used to unusual food names – in fact, some of these probably wouldn’t make it through today’s legislation. Take, for example, the deliciously nutty and savoury Jerusalem Artichoke. It’s neither an artichoke, nor is it from Jerusalem. It is, in fact a type of sunflower and it comes from North America.
And talking of America, buffalo wings are so-called as they hail from Buffalo in New York and aren’t (just in case you’re not really following this) actually made from buffalos. They’re uncoated chicken wings, deep fried and then covered in a cayenne pepper and vinegar sauce along with melted butter. Oh, and if you’re in Buffalo, just call them wings. Buffalo mozzarella, on the other hand, is made from buffalo milk. Just to avoid any confusion.
Some more: buckwheat isn’t wheat (it’s not even related to wheat), water chestnut isn’t a nut and Bombay Duck is a fish. Sweet breads aren’t sweet or bread, Welsh Rabbit is also neither and the less said about Spotted Dick, the better!
Naming your product is hugely important – that’s what people will be buying. While it’s unlikely that your product name will end up in the vernacular like Marmite or become the de-facto label for your product – like Coke – you still want it to be memorable, to have meaning, to create an attachment with your consumers.
There are some really interesting names coming out of the vegan market at the moment: clever ones like No Bull Burgers from Iceland (which are, apparently, really good) and the Impossible Burger (which is so ‘realistic’ it’s impossible to imagine it’s not meat) are making headlines and opening doors to non-vegans.
Interestingly, though – when the product is simply called what it is – ‘meat-free’, consumers don’t buy it in their droves. The World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab conducted research in Sainsbury’s in the UK where sales of two dishes increased 76 percent when “meat free” was removed from the dishes’ names and replaced with a more appealing one.
To be a successful vegan or vegetarian brands, you need to convert (or at least persuade) the meat eaters – ‘meat-free’ means less of what they like, so don’t say it. Vegan food does have a tough time of it – in 2017, Brandwatch scanned over 15 million social media posts in the UK and the USA. The term ‘vegan’ was more than twice as likely to be used in negative contexts as ‘plant-based’.
There’s a lot of accidental vegan food around – how do you think sales of the following would be affected if they suddenly slapped a big VEGAN label across their offering: Hula Hoops, Fox’s Party Rings, Fry’s Peppermint Cream and the like. They’d probably not do so well. But they are vegan. (By the way – did you know that Frazzles – yeah, the bacon ones – are vegetarian?)
All vegetarian and vegan food must be labelled as such, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be the defining feature. People who don’t eat meat don’t need vegetarian or vegan front and centre – they’re more than happy to eat, say, lasagne with a (V) next to it on the menu rather than a vegetarian lasagne. In fact, meat eaters are 56% less likely to order if a menu item is contained within a contained ‘vegetarian’ box on a menu – and you want the meat eaters to eat veggie – it’s good for the environment.
Take a look at M&S’s Plant Kitchen – good presentation, tasty-looking food and it just happens to be meat-free. Or check out casual dining cool brand, Crussh whose menu is very nicely worked out and doesn’t sideline the non-meat-eaters at all.
There are thousands of new food brands launching in the UK each year – you will need to stand out. Make sure you do!