August 21, 2014 Video Tips

As a small business owner with a food or beverage product, it can feel intimidating, and certainly be confusing, knowing the ins and outs of how to properly label your product. There are many labeling guidelines out there, with different specifications depending on your product type.

In the video above, Tara Heath, Senior Corporate Counsel and Director of Regulatory Affairs for Samuel Adams, helps break down product labeling for beginners. To help simplify the labeling process, we have also provided some general specifications you should be aware of:

Common FDA Guidelines for Food Labeling:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website is going to be your go-to place for information and guidelines for labeling your product.

Guidelines of the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide discuss label placement, graphics, nutrition labeling, health claims, and more. This document is the Holy Grail of food labeling!

While there are some exceptions for small businesses when it comes to labeling, if you don’t fall within this lucky category, you should submit your labels for authentication through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) eAuthentication Label Submission and Approval System.

Common Guidelines from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau on Beverage Labeling:

Firstly, be aware that you must submit your alcoholic beverage labels to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) before putting it on your packaging!

If you’re producing one of the world’s most consumed beverages—alcohol, you’ll generally have to incorporate the following criteria into your labeling:

  • Brand name
  • Name and addresses of bottler/packer/manufacturer/producer
  • Net content
  • Alcohol content
  • Presence of coloring materials
  • Other additives/agents (like sulfites)
  • Government warning         

Depending on the type of spirit you’re producing, labeling varies. There are different regulations for wine, beer, and distilled spirits.

Now that you know what should be included, be sure your labels are accurate.

Validate all the information on your labels:

Be sure to check that what you’re putting on your labels is true. For example, if you’re labeling your beer as a 12 oz. product, make sure it actually contains 12 ounces.

You don’t want to deceive your clients, but moreover, you don’t want to break the law.

Both the USDA and FDA set forth specifications about what certain packaging terms mean. To read up on these, check out The Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book and the Labeling Compliance Guidance.

In The Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, you will find guidelines such as labeling wording do's and don’ts. For example, “Cajun style” might be your mom and pop’s signature seasoning, but depending on its ingredients, formally calling your product “Cajun style” can get you in trouble! In order to use the term “Cajun style,” your product must include: onion/onion powder/dehydrated onion, garlic/garlic powder/dehydrated garlic, white pepper, red pepper, and black pepper.

The Labeling Compliance Guidance also sets forth standards and approvals for labels on your product with terms like “gluten-free” or “organic.” Similarly, you should think twice before using phrases like “good source.” For instance, if you say that your granola is a “good source of fiber,” the implication of this phrase is that there’s enough fiber in your granola to fulfill 10-19% of the daily value. To see if the language you are planning on using may have stricter implications than you may have thought visit the FDA's Food Labeling Guide to see if the language you are planning on using to market your product may have stricter implications than you may have thought.

And now, let’s move on to the fun part…

Make your labels fun:

Labels shouldn’t be boring! Although certain requirements for your labels may seem limiting, like the formatting procedures required by the FDA, there are creative ways to incorporate the required information into your planned packaging.

For instance, while the FDA encourages your Nutrition Facts to be created in Helvetica Black or Franklin Gothic Heavy, try to think of ways to incorporate this black and white element into an appealing packaging design.

In need of some inspiration? Put on your creative cap and take a look at jC’s sweet tea, Raaka Chocolate, or Brewla Bars packaging. Here, all the essentials are hit upon, but in such a way that consumers aren’t distracted from the appeal, taste, or look of the product.

Because of the nature of the food and beverage business, customer safety and satisfaction are very important to the success of your small business. In this business, one size fits all doesn’t apply; a chocolate maker and a craft brewer are not going to be following the same guidelines. If interested in selling a meat product, get ready for the list of requirements to lengthen even more! So, check out websites like the FDA, USDA and TTB to read up on requirements specific to the product you are producing. Be sure to include all of the labeling requirements you discover in the products and services section of your business plan. And always remember, if confused, better safe than sorry! 

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