Food labelling

Food labelling: easing 'constructive tension'

By Sheila Barbour - 29 March 2011

The food label is the 'face' of most products. It is what people first see. It attracts their attention, persuades them to buy, and has to convey accurate messages about what the product is.

There are two forces at work here, which at first glance appear to conflict. On the one hand, 'sales and marketing' will want to focus on well-crafted claims about the characteristics that will most appeal to the consumer. On the other, labelling legislation dictates, often quite precisely, what can and cannot be said. The resulting 'constructive tension' can, in fact, be quite productive.

A closer look shows how labelling legislation can actually help the marketers. It creates a 'level playing field' with other products and it offers 'guide ropes' to help create product claims and messages that are legally acceptable and which consumers will recognise and understand. Research here at Campden BRI has shown that creating expectations in the consumer that the product does not then deliver is far worse than not creating them at all - a recipe for product failure.

So creating a legal label not only helps avoid the attention of enforcement authorities - and the associated financial and brand value implications that might ensue - it can also help in marketing a product to the best effect.

On the technical side, with the considerable raft of legislation and voluntary self-regulatory controls impinging on product labelling, it is all too easy to slip up. As our research for Defra published last year showed, even if a product hasn't reached the market, this can incur significant redesign and reprint costs.

If it is on sale, a full blown product recall/withdrawal may be required, in which case costs can quickly escalate. For example if a particular allergen* has been omitted from an ingredients list the cash costs of withdrawal and the damage to your reputation could well be far greater than any financial penalty that might be imposed by the Courts.

Alternatively, you could end up with a product that cannot justify its marketing position. For example, if you have decided to produce a nutritionally-enhanced product, you need to know much or how little it should contain for their labelling and marketing to be 'legal'.

Campden BRI's independent label reviews can help to forestall problems with such technical issues - as well as easing the constructive tension between the technical and marketing teams. Our expertise and independence is underlined by the regular government sponsored labelling surveys that we have conducted. We also run a course specifically aimed at marketing professionals involved with food labelling.

To discuss our Label Review Service or the, marketing terms course, contact Sheila Barbour on +44 (0)1386 842292 or email

*For a free factsheet on allergen labelling - send an e-mail to with the subject line: send allergencribsheet

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