International Labelling: How To Ensure Global Success

Global Success for International Labelling
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Ensuring Global Success for International Labelling

Your product label is the first thing potential customers see when they walk past your product in a store or browse your online shop. Unless they’re already familiar with your brand, the only information they have to make them want to purchase your product is the information on your package.

This post includes information on some key areas of international labelling. Read on to learn about:

4 Characteristics of a Successful International Product Label

International Labelling Requirements by Product Type

International Labelling and Brexit- The Elephant in the Room

International Product Labelling: What To Do When Things Go Wrong

How to Get International Labelling Right The First Time

We have also included all this information in a free downloadable ebook. Just click on the link below to download!

Did you know that at least 1/3 of product purchase decision-making is based on packaging? The same holds true when you expand into a foreign market or use products from overseas suppliers, so extra care is required to make sure your packaging holds the same consumer appeal and to ensure your business is fully compliant with local law.

The consequences of getting packaging wrong can devastate your business.

Here’s what can happen if don’t mind your Ps and Qs:

Compliance with International Regulations

Packaging isn’t just about branding. Regulations govern everything from the information your label must include to the size of the font used to convey that information. Your packaging must also meet language requirements, to ensure potential customers can easily find important information and can understand it.

If your packaging isn’t compliant with these regulations, your products can’t be sold in your target market. Instead, they’ll be stuck in a warehouse, going out of date or out of fashion while you scramble for a solution. Even unintentional translation errors can lead to the seizure of your goods.

Liability Issues

As unpleasant as having your goods stuck at the border can be, the potential consequences can be even worse if they make it into the hands of consumers with labels that aren’t correctly formatted and translated for the target market.

For example, you might have to recall your products. Even assuming you have insurance to cover product recalls, bear in mind that that coverage is generally limited to tangible, direct costs. Your business will still be on the hook for related costs like redistribution, bad PR, and loss of sales.

And what if someone actually gets hurt? Allergens in foods and cosmetics can have serious health impacts on susceptible individuals. Electrical devices, used improperly, can start fires. Regulations aren’t simply “red tape.” They are there to protect consumers. Noncompliance represents a risk to your customers and a major liability exposure for your brand.

Brand Reputation

Finally, product packaging that’s incorrectly translated or that uses inappropriate imagery for your target audience can have a negative impact on your brand’s reputation. For example, consider the case of Milka’s “Milka and Oreo” bar. When it was first introduced in the United Arab Emirates, the ingredient “chocolate liquor” was translated as “alcoholic beverages.” As the UAE is a Muslim country, this mistake was especially problematic. There was no alcohol in the chocolate bars, but the product was still recalled. As rumours spread, Milka’s reputation in the region was negatively impacted, as well.

Sales Impact

With all the potential consequences put together, there’s no doubt that a poorly done label translation can hurt your sales. Why take that risk?

The Four Characteristics of a Successful International Product Label

So, how can your company avoid these unpleasant consequences? There are four characteristics of a successful international product label. When selling products across borders, it is imperative that your labels meet each one of these standards:

1. Accurate Translation

Firstly, the words on your label must be accurately translated. Even seemingly insignificant errors can cause compliance issues. For example, we once removed a competing translation agency by pointing out to their client that they had translated “nuts” as the more ambiguous “noix” in French. Since “noix” can be understood as simply “walnuts,” this created an unacceptable level of risk for allergic customers.

Even if translation errors don’t cause compliance issues, they can still damage your brand. In general, people don’t like seeing their language butchered.

Unless, of course, the error is something unintentionally funny, scatological or risque. In that case, people will love it- for all the wrong reasons. Your product will live forever on the Internet, but perhaps not in the way that you intended.

If you’re in need of a laugh, we highly recommend you take a look at this selection of food packs that we did not translate – and then consider whether that’s how you would want your brand to be represented.

2. Compliance

Next, a successful international product label is one that is compliant with all applicable international and local regulations.

Since regulations can vary so much across different markets, producing compliant labels for multiple regions can be complicated. However, the potential consequences of noncompliance, as detailed above, make this aspect of international labelling non-negotiable for companies selling their goods internationally. If you can’t ensure compliance with the team you have, you must hire someone who can.

3. Cultural Appropriateness

If your international label is accurately translated and compliant with local regulations, you’re off to a good start. But those aren’t the only considerations. Your product packs also need to be culturally appropriate. For example, in cultures that place a heavy emphasis on modesty, you won’t want to illustrate your packaging with images of women in bikinis. The bottom line is simply that what’s offensive in one culture might not be offensive in another culture, and vice versa. No savvy international business wants to offend potential customers, so you need to have someone in the know review your packaging to spot any issues before your product hits the shelves.

4. Appealing to Your Target Customer

Not offending your target customer is a good baseline. But in a competitive retail environment, it’s still not enough. Your product also needs “shelf appeal.” The problem is that what’s appealing in one market may not have the same impact in another market. For example, cultural considerations impact how people perceive colours. Red is associated with good luck in many Asian cultures. In Western cultures, however, it often symbolises passion and danger.

Aesthetic preferences vary from one country to another, as well. Even the value proposition you present to potential customers may need to be rethought, revised and recreated. Creating labels with cross-cultural appeal can be a tricky business. There’s more to it than meets the eye. That’s why it’s often advisable to get help from a language services provider or consultancy with the expertise to get it right the first time.

International Labelling Requirements by Product Type

In addition to the general guidelines listed above, international labelling has to meet specific regulations and qualifications depending on the product type. We’ve included information on the following product types below:

1. International Labelling Requirements for General Merchandise

As with any sort of international labelling, each market has its own unique set of rules for general merchandise packaging. However, no matter where you’re exporting or importing from, there are some general requirements and best practices you should follow.

1.1. Language

Your product packaging needs to be translated into the official language or languages of the countries where it’s being sold. Depending on the circumstances, it may also be advisable (or even mandatory) to translate the label into some minority languages, as well.

Additionally, the translations must be accurate, both for compliance reasons and to maintain your brand image. Generally speaking, trademarks do not have to be translated as long as they are registered in the destination country in the same language used on the label.

1.2. Country of Origin

Most general merchandise product labels are required to include the country of origin. If you abbreviate, use common abbreviations that consumers will understand.

1.3. Declaration of Responsibility/ Name and Location of Manufacturer, Packer or Distributor

This is the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor.

1.4. Product Description

This includes the content of the package, the materials it’s made of, and the amount of product included. Use the measuring system of the country the product is being sold in.

1.5. Compliance Marks

Compliance marks signal that a product complies with a specific regulatory standard. For example, the CE mark demonstrates compliance with EU directives governing various product categories, like toys or electronics. You can’t sell these products in the EU without the CE mark.

After the Brexit transition period, items being sold on the UK market will need a UKCA mark instead of or in addition to the CE mark.

2. International Labelling Requirements for Toys, Electronics and Textiles

Some general merchandise products have other requirements, as well. For example, toys and other children’s items need to have tracking information to be sold in most major markets. They also need instructions and safety information.

Electronics need a CE mark and a WEEE mark in the EU (and will soon need a UKCA mark to be sold in the UK). The US has the FCC mark, and China has the CCC mark. Warning labels showing potential hazards are a common requirement around the world.

Textiles, meanwhile, need to be labelled with the type of fabric or fibre as well as care instructions. Care symbols should conform to the standards of the destination country.

Some general merchandise needs warning labels, but be sure to use the appropriate symbols. Different countries have different standard symbols.

For more details, see General Merchandise Labelling: An International Checklist

3. International Labelling Requirements for Food

The exact labelling regulations for food products vary from place to place. However, no matter what market you sell your food products in, your customers deserve to know what they’re putting in their bodies. It’s a matter of health. When it comes to allergens, it can even be life or death. As a result, there are some basic requirements your food labels need to meet, no matter where they’re sold:

3.1. Language

First of all, your labels need to be accurately translated into the languages of the markets where you intend to sell your products. For example, EU Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 states that “mandatory food information shall appear in a language easily understood by the consumers of the Member States where a food is marketed”. Other countries have similar regulations.

3.2. ‘Best before’ or ‘use by’ date

This should be in the correct format for the country you’re selling in.

3.3. Ingredients and Allergens

In most markets, packaged foods need to list ingredients and common allergens. The details of how they are listed and which potential allergens need to be included do vary from place to place. However, it’s best to err on the side of caution for the sake of consumer health.

Allergens and ingredients are required to be listed for prepackaged foods sold in the EU as per the Food Information Directive, which took effect in 2014. These will stay in effect in the UK for now. The details may change slightly in the future, but the recent activism that resulted in Natasha’s makes it seem unlikely that they will become any less stringent.

3.4. Origin

Many food products are required to list a country of origin. For example, country of origin labelling is mandatory in the EU for meat, fresh fruit, and vegetables, fishery products, honey, olive oil and eggs.

Foods covered by the quality schemes ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ (PDO), ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ (PGI) and ‘Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) must be labelled appropriately in the EU. The UK is working on replacement designations for products sold within its borders.

3.5. Nutrition Information

In the EU, nutrition information for packaged foods is covered under the Food Information Regulation, with the UK following the same regulations through the transition period. Packaged foods must clearly display information like energy, fat and carbohydrate content. The law requires a minimum font size to maximise readability.

3.6. Health Claims

People around the world are becoming more health-conscious, and sometimes food really is the best medicine. However, before you include a health claim on your packaging, you need to make sure that it’s legal to do so in your target market.

3.7. Organic and GM Food Labelling

Even if the food in question was farmed using organic methods, in many countries additional certification is needed to market it as such. Before you include the organic label on your packaging, check the regulations and make sure you have the appropriate certification. Rules regarding labelling of genetically-modified foods also vary from country to country. GMO labelling is mandatory in some regions, including the EU. In others, like the United States, foods made with GMO crops are not required to be labelled as such.

For more, see Food Packaging Translation: A Serious Business Indeed and Translating for the Food Information Regulation Direction.

4. International Labelling Requirements for Sports Foods

Sports foods, or foods marketed to athletes seeking to maximise performance, are regulated under the same code as regular foods in the European Union. With that said, health claims are a particular source of concern on sports food packaging. It’s important to be aware of local regulations that govern how much you can or cannot say about the benefits of your sports food product.

For example, in 2014, Lucozade had to pull an ad that implied that drinking Lucozade instead of water could improve athletic endurance. The claim in the ad was that “Lucozade hydrates and fuels you better than water.” Unfortunately, for GlaxoSmithKline, which owned the brand, the Advertising Standard

Authority had only authorized the company to claim that” carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions enhance the absorption of water during physical exercise.”

The ASA decided that Lucozade was overselling their health benefits, and the advert was pulled.

Depending on where you’re selling your product, there may also be specific verbiage requirements. For example, sports foods marketed in Australia and New Zealand must say “‘formulated supplementary sports food’ and ‘Not suitable for children under 15 years of age or pregnant women: Should only be used under medical or dietetic supervision’. For more information, see our Background to Sports Food Labelling Regulations.

5. International Labelling Requirements for Food Supplements

Food supplements are a rapidly-growing industry as people around the world seek out healthier lifestyles. The potential international market for food supplements is huge. However, the regulations governing these products vary widely depending on where they are sold.

For example, in the United States, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that supplements are safe and effective. However, some caution is still required when it comes to product claims on the packaging. Specific health claims that make the supplement in question sound like medicine can attract the attention of the US Food and Drug Administration. As a result, most supplement packaging includes a statement that the product is not a drug and not intended to treat any health conditions.

In other countries, like Japan, dietary supplements are simply considered foods. In China, herbs are classed as “health food.” And since overarching EU regulations on dietary supplements are somewhat vague, each EU country may regulate them differently. Regardless of the market, there are five crucial elements to food supplement translation packaging:

  • Language: Supplement labels must be translated into the official language or languages of the country in question, and possibly minority languages as well.
  • Ingredients: must be listed using the correct terminology and in the correct order for the target market.
  • Health claims: As already noted, some markets are more permissive than others when it comes to what your product can actually claim to do. In some countries, regulations on health claims extend to include the images on your packaging.
  • Warnings: Specific warning statements or cautionary statements may be required for certain products in certain markets.
  • Label Format: By mandating standardised label formats, regulators ensure customers can find the information they need about the supplements they are ingesting quickly and easily. To this end, everything from the layout of the label to the font size may be regulated.

As you can see, food supplement regulations can vary significantly between markets. Additionally, the laws can and do change over time. To avoid potentially costly mishaps, you need a team of experts who can attend to all of these different elements.

International Labelling and Brexit- The Elephant in the Room

Now that the EU is no longer part of the UK, how will that affect international labelling requirements?

It’s difficult to say for sure without knowing what trade deals will be negotiated before the end of the transition period. However, there will certainly be some changes and possibly some extra headaches for companies that sell goods in both the UK and the EU.

The best thing to do is to remain vigilant for changes in labelling laws that could affect your business. Stay agile and be prepared to change the way you do things if necessary.

International Product Labelling: What To Do When Things Go Wrong

Mistakes happen, and when they happen, they can be costly. If your products are stuck at the border or warehouse due to a packaging error or issue, we have a relatively cheap and simple solution: compliant multilingual overstickers.

Multilingual Overstickers: An Easy Compliance Solution

Instead of wasting valuable time trying to repackage your valuable merchandise, or simply writing it off, you can cover the offending label with an oversticker displaying the correct information. Just like that, your product can now make its way on to store shelves or your online e-commerce site, as intended.

Overstickers can also be a cost-effective, efficient choice for companies who are testing out new products or markets but aren’t quite sure if they want to commit.

For more information on our multilingual overstickers, see What To Do If Your Products Get Stuck at the Border.

How to Get International Labelling Right The First Time

As you can see, getting international labelling right is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your company’s success in every market you enter.

Your process for translating and producing international labels needs to include:

  • Input and review from someone with in-depth, preferably first-hand knowledge of the target market and culture.
  • Transcreation, if necessary, to ensure your message is meaningful and appealing to the target market.
  • Translation, with a focus on ensuring accuracy and quality.
  • Art and design review to ensure that your international labels are easy to read in the target language and will have the desired aesthetic impact.
  • A compliance review by someone who knows the applicable regulations inside and out.
  • Focus group testing with representatives of your target audience, if needed.

With so many moving parts, how can you be sure you’ll get it right? This is where hiring the right translation agency can make a tremendous difference. The best agencies offer so much more than just translation. They offer one-stop shopping:

  • Accurate translation with top-notch quality control.
  • Design help, to make sure your packaging looks appealing no matter where it’s sold.
  • Transcreation, for when the original message needs to be recrafted for a foreign audience.
  • Compliance specialists to take on the burden of ensuring your packaging complies with all the laws in your target market.
  • Full-service international labelling consultancy to assist you with solutions every step of the way.

At K International, our teams of project managers, language professionals, designers and compliance experts are here to ensure that your packaging delights customers while supporting the relevant label legislation – the first time and every time, in 250 languages.

If your company is looking for international labelling solutions that maintain compliance while driving sales, contact us today to learn more!

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