International food packaging translation is a bit like following a recipe: it must include the necessary ingredients in the correct proportions and prepared in a certain way. These “ingredients” will vary by market, which is a lesson that European grocery giant Tesco recently learned the hard way. In this post, we’ll list the most significant components to consider when selling a food product in another country.
List of ingredients
This may seem like the most straightforward item on this list but naming ingredients can be complicated, especially when translation is involved. As reported by FOODnavigator.com, Tesco, which is based in the UK, was required to recall and reprint the labels for two products sold in the Czech Republic because of the way they translated “chocolate powder” in Czech. According to Luca Bucchini, the managing director of Hylobates Consulting, despite Tesco’s translation being correct, it was not acceptable per national regulations for the labeling of chocolate products. So, proper international food packaging translation requires not just linguistic knowledge, but also regulatory knowledge.
Many countries around the world require the same elements on a nutrition label, such as total fat, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein. But some countries require more elements than others. And accepted terminology remains at play, just like in a list of ingredients. It’s also important to keep in mind how the quantity of each element is listed, given that “daily values” are defined differently in different world regions. One example of contrasting nutritional declarations is that in the US, percent daily values of each nutrient are listed for the serving size shown on the package, while in the EU percent daily values are listed per 100 grams or 100 milliliters.
Regulations around claims such as something being a “good source” of or “low” in a certain nutrient (e.g., fiber, sodium) exist around the world. Exactly which claims are regulated, and how, will vary per market. There is likely also established terminology involved in these kinds of claims. Some of it may be legally required, while in other cases, it may be a question of using the most well-established and recognized terms. For example, “fat free,” “free of fat,” “no fat,” “zero fat,” and “without fat” are all FDA-approved designations for foods that contain less than 0.5 grams of fat per a specified serving. Some of these turns of phrase, however, may resonate better with consumers than others. An experienced translator with a marketing background and good knowledge of the food industry will know which language is both legally acceptable and most likely to appeal to shoppers.
If we stick with the recipe analogy, the physical characteristics of your food label can be likened to the instructions for how to turn a bunch of separate ingredients into a cohesive final dish. While the more culinarily talented among us may have good luck going off-script, when the stakes are high (as in international food packaging translation), following the recipe is imperative. Different countries may have different minimum font size requirements for certain label information, as well as a host of other rules around food label printing. Whereas, in the US, font size is oriented around the lowercase letter “o,” in Chile, it is based on the capital letter “H.” Chile also dictates that Sans Serif fonts must be used. If you are selling a food product in Québec, mandatory label information must appear in both French and English, and the English text cannot be more prominent than the French.
Just like looking up “chili recipe” will return dozens of results, each with its own unique take (beans or no beans? 2-alarm or 3-alarm?), international food packaging translation will involve particular terminology, quantity distinctions, requirements around claims, and format constraints. You’ll want the right team to ensure that you don’t end up with an expensive reprint or lawsuit, like Tesco did in the Czech Republic. In-market regulatory experts can be an important partner on that team, and another should be a qualified and experienced language service provider. Let us know if we could be the right partner for you!