Translating Your Food Supplement Packaging

Translating Your Food Supplement Packaging
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Are you are a manufacturer of dietary supplements, functional drinks, or any other food with added health benefits? Congratulations- the whole world is now your potential marketplace.

Over the last few years, health-conscious consumers have fallen out of love with the idea of “dieting” and started to embrace an all-over “healthy lifestyle”. The trend is set, and it’s already more than a fad.  People want “real”, unprocessed food, possibly organic and sustainably farmed and they’re not afraid to take supplements to achieve optimum nutritional balance.

As a result, functional and fortified foods, dietary supplements and nutraceuticals are growing in popularity. Meanwhile, technology makes it easier than ever to export abroad. Find out all you need to know about international labelling in this article on How to Ensure Global Success.

Preparing your food supplement product packaging for a foreign market goes beyond translation. It’s also about making it fully compliant with local food regulations.

The first important distinction is whether the country you’re exporting to has a pre-market evaluation or not. In the US, for example, no approval is required to market food supplements. Manufacturers and distributors are responsible for their efficacy and safety. Canada, on the other hand, has a quite stringent pre-market approval process.

Whatever the case, translating your food supplement package correctly is something you’ll want to get right first time. Product recalls can happen anytime and for a variety of reasons: lack of ingredient compliance, misleading claims or incorrectly displayed labels.

Although regulations are always complicated for the uninitiated, here are three important aspects to consider when translating your  food supplement packaging for a new market:

What is it exactly that you’re selling?

It may sound like a daft question but it’s a relevant one when we talk about foods with added health benefits. Depending on the market you’re targeting, your product may either have a specific set of regulations in place or simply be considered as a foodstuff.

Whenever there is a widely-accepted definition for your product, it will be much more likely that specific regulations will already be in place. That would be the case for dietary supplements and fortified foods, which have been around for a long time. In the US, for example, the FDA established specific definitions, rules and guidelines for them. The EU’s definition of dietary supplements, however, is less detailed. It includes vitamins, minerals, and “other substances with nutritional or physiological effect”. What exactly these “other substances” are hasn’t been defined yet, so each EU country may regulate them differently.

Specific rules and guidelines for dietary supplements may not always be in place. In Japan, for example, they are subject to normal food regulations.

Guidelines can vary greatly between regions and are often influenced by culture. For example, in China, herbal supplements are regulated as “health food,” falling into the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

On the other hand, for “functional foods” and “nutraceuticals”, there is no accepted definition so they tend to be treated like ordinary foodstuff.

What goes on the supplement label (and what doesn’t)?

When it comes to food packaging, the label plays the undisputed starring role. Regardless of the market, there will be certain aspects to look at before you even start to translate your label.


Ingredients will have to be translated into the official language of the country, which is not always limited to one. Finland, for example, has both Finnish and Swedish. In South Africa, labels should be in English and in one of the other eleven official languages. Also, you may want to consider adding a second language to the label to cater for specific linguistic minorities.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the so-called “E numbers” are only accepted inside the EU. If your product contains L-ascorbic acid, commonly known as vitamin C, code E300 would be accepted in the EU whereas in other markets the full name of the ingredient must be provided.

Order of the ingredients

Most of the time, ingredients will need to be listed in strict order of weight but in some cases, they must be listed in alphabetical order.

Warnings and statements

Depending on the relevant local regulation, these may be mandatory or optional. Examples are:

  • a warning not to exceed recommended daily allowance;
  • a statement regarding the origin of the ingredients;
  • a warning that the supplement should not be intended as a substitute for a balanced diet;
  • a warning about the potential risks associated with one or more ingredients.

Format of the label

Local laws may go as far as dividing the information into two panels or defining the minimum size of the font.

Translating Your Food Supplement Packaging Claims

Health and nutritional claims are a crucial part of the label. After all, that’s why food supplements are so popular! Also, they are perhaps the best example of how language and regulations are effectively tied together. As always, the words used are only part of the story. In some regions, even the images on your product label can be considered health claims!

When it comes to claims, small differences between one country and another matter a lot, but the one thing they all have in common is to forbid false or misleading statements.

A good example is a claim that a food or dietary supplement can cure, treat or prevent medical conditions. Despite Hippocrates’ view about food being our medicine, food laws all over the world will keep the two well separated.

To be on the safe side, make sure your claims adhere to widely accepted and current science. In some cases, regulations will help, by providing an official list of claims you can use, like the Register of Nutrition and Health Claims in the EU.

If you’re adding beauty claims to your food supplement label, there will probably be fewer restrictions. At the same time, you will have to make sure they are based on proven results, to avoid consumer rights issues.

Food packaging compliance can be complicated

In the process of translating your food supplement packaging for a foreign market, translation goes hand in hand with a perfect understanding of local laws. These laws do change. For example, in the United States, the FDA recently announced an effort to modernise food supplement regulations. They’ve also been cracking down on unauthorised health claims. Your company needs to stay on top of current laws everywhere you intend to market your product.

You may be tempted to do-it-yourself but you’ll be heading into a maze of rules, exceptions, guidelines and language-related problems right from the outset and maybe still having to face tricky confrontation with the local authorities afterwards.  So be wise before the event!  If you have any questions about the process of managed regulatory translation services, our team will be happy to talk to you about this and any other international packaging concerns you may have.