Packaging and Labelling

Not only does packaging protect a product from physical, chemical and microbiological harm, it also provides a medium for presenting advertising messages, nutritional content and other important information to the consumer. Packaging can be one of the greatest influences on a consumer’s decision to try a product. Effective labelling ties the brand image of the product with the regulatory requirements of nutritional and product information.

Package and label design is discussed in Section 7 from the technical container requirements through to the graphic design process and the essentials of a good corporate brand. The regulatory requirements for food labels in Canada and the US are introduced.

Readers looking for more information on how to integrate package material selection with label design and the development of a logo and a brand for a new business are referred to the Food & Beverage Processing in Manitoba Reference Manual (Third Edition, 2017). Links to essential guidance documents and specific regulations are found here for ingredient listings, nutritional labelling, and health, nutrient content and allergen free claims.


Food packaging decisions are very important for three reasons. First, packaging protects the product from physical, chemical, and microbiological invasion. Secondly, packaging provides a medium for presenting advertising messages, nutritional content and other important information to the consumer. Thirdly, the combination of the package’s visual appeal and its degree of user friendliness, greatly influences a consumer’s decision to try the product.

Looking at these requirements in more detail, the package must:

  • Present the product to the consumer or end user in an attractive and desirable form i.e. reflect the quality of the product
  • Protect the product from physical abuse
  • Prevent chemical substances and microbes from coming into contact with the product
  • Not interact chemically with the product
  • Provide a suitable surface on which important information and graphics can be printed
  • Show good resistance to breakage or damage due to rough handling
  • Be environmentally friendly wherever possible
  • Add as little additional weight as possible
  • Be tamper proof where necessary
  • Be convenient to open
  • Be of appropriate size and shape to suit the customers' requirements
  • Operate efficiently on the production equipment
Packaging Materials

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to the various types of packaging materials (e.g. glass, plastic, flexible foil, etc.) that should be considered before designing the package. Variables to be considered include strength, weight, cost, permeability and suitability for merchandising in stores. In Canada, the Packaging Consortium (PAC) is a good source of supplier contacts for packaging needs, as are trade magazines. A number of Food & Beverage Manitoba members are packaging suppliers and distributors.

Package and label Design

Packaging is a key part of a marketing strategy. People are often attracted to a product, and then convinced to try it because of its packaging. The quality of the product inside the package will determine if repeat purchases take place.

Packaging includes the materials that are used to form the container for the food or beverage product, and the label which includes the printed information provided for marketing purposes and required by law. Label information can either be printed directly on certain types of packaging materials, or it can be printed onto a secondary material e.g. paper, foil, plastic, etc. that is then attached to the container.

There are four aspects of package and label design to consider:

  • Technical Requirements
  • Graphic Design
  • Corporate Branding
  • Labelling Regulatory Requirements
Technical Requirements of Package and Label Design

The first and most important step to package design is to determine the product’s requirements for the container:

  • Package size
  • Volume and weights of the different sizes
  • Physical packaging attributes which help the customer in using the product
  • Protective needs including shipping and handling factors
  • The appropriate shape of the container, not only for esthetic appeal but also for efficient shipping and placement on store shelves
  • The ultimate goal of label design is to produce a label that is educational, user-friendly and adequately markets the product within legal specifications.

Before designing a label, a company should know:

  • Regions where the product will eventually be sold, and through which distribution channels
  • Consumer information to be included on the label
  • Colours and promotional messages that appeal and are suitable for the audience in a specific market
  • Manufacturing step required to affix the label to the container (if not printing the label directly onto the container)
  • Labelling material options that are suitable for the product environment (i.e. freezer proof, shipping proof, smudge proof, etc.)
  • Budget for the label for both printing and application on a per unit basis

Universal Product Codes

Twelve digit, scanner readable universal product codes are now a standard term and condition of trade in the Canadian grocery, pharmacy and foodservice sectors. These bar codes contain product pricing and inventory information which is scanned and processed by the cash register, allowing the retailer to keep up to date product stock and sales information.

Before a company can begin using bar codes, it must create the numbers that will be represented by the bar code. GS1 Canada can issue product code numbers as well as advise on UPC usage and positioning on the package. GS1 Canada is a member of GS1, a not-for-profit organization which has become the leading supply chain standards organization. Codes issued in Canada are suitable abroad.

GS1 Canada Website:

Graphic Design

Once the technical specifications of the packaging (both the container and the label) have been determined, the design of the packaging can be created to work within these boundaries. Graphic design is an integral part of the overall marketing strategy. Although many new business owners are tempted to design their own packaging, a professional graphic designer can create a design with greater impact for the product. However, it is important to be able to give the designer specific directions since they are not as knowledgeable about the target market as the business owner. The more information provided to the designer on the target market, package structure, and desired image for the company and its products, the easier it is for the designer to create a winning design.

Corporate Branding

For new businesses that are designing their package and label for their first product, the task typically also includes developing a logo, deciding on corporate colours and several other items that will collectively create a brand for the new business.

Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, whether selling to retail or to other businesses. An effective brand strategy can provide a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. Before a new brand is developed, it is important to have an understanding of what makes up a brand and the implications for a developing company.

Simply put, a brand is the company’s promise to its customer. It tells them what they can expect from the products and services, and it differentiates a company’s offering from its competitors. A company’s brand is the sum-total of all impressions that people have about the product(s) or company.

The foundation of a brand is the logo. A logo is used to bring the brand “top of the mind” with customers and potential customers, and ideally, it should also reinforce the unique features and characteristics of a company and its products. The website, packaging and promotional materials, all of which should integrate the logo, make up and communicate the brand. Each element of a brand must tie to the other elements to ensure quick recognition. Therefore, to develop an effective brand, each element such as colour, fonts, graphics and text should be carefully considered for uniqueness and recognition.

The company name will be one of the most-viewed elements that customers will ever see. It is extremely important that it looks consistent whenever and wherever it is seen. A company name can be depicted as a wordmark or a logo.

Labelling Regulatory Requirements

Canadian food labelling regulations are administered by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Health Canada is responsible, under the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), for the establishment of policies, regulations and standards relating to the health, safety, and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada. CFIA is responsible for the administration of non-health and safety food labelling regulations related to misrepresentation, labelling, advertising, composition, grade and packaging. CFIA is also responsible for the enforcement of the food safety and non-food safety regulations.

The following issues need to be considered when working through Canada’s labelling requirements:

  • Common Name
  • Net Quantity Declaration
  • List of Ingredients and Allergen Labelling
  • Identity and Principal Place of Business
  • Date Markings
  • Nutrition labelling
  • Bilingual Requirements
  • Irradiation
  • Sweeteners
  • Country of Origin

An important reference source for food processors is the Labelling Tool which can be found on the CFIA website.


Ingredient Listing

In Canada all ingredients must be listed by common name, in descending order of proportion. Ingredients for certain formulations of standard products are not required, but these exceptions are different for each country. In Canada, ingredient specifications fall under the Food and Drugs Act, and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.

Nutritional Labelling

An ingredient list simply lists the ingredients of a product in descending order. Nutritional labels are more technical and more detailed. They identify actual amounts of proteins, vitamins, calories, fat, etc. per serving.

There are two ways to generate nutrient values. They differ in the manner in which nutrient data are obtained:

  • Direct approach – measuring nutrient levels by product sampling and laboratory analysis
  • Indirect approach – using information from other sources such as generic product databases to determine nutrient values

In Canada, statements on labels relating nutritional content to diseases or health benefits are limited to those approved by Health Canada. Further, descriptive labelling terms and symbols such as a heart or the term ‘light’ have now been standardized as to their legally implied meaning.

The Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising is available online.


Canada's nutrition labelling regulations have been designed to provide easily understandable information about the nutrient content of food in a standardized format. This allows consumers to make informed food choices toward healthy eating goals.

Nutritional labelling is mandatory for most prepackaged foods and is required to be presented in a certain manner when it appears on a food label. The presentation options for the Nutrition Facts Table are available online.


Certain foods or types of foods hold either exemptions or prohibitions from displaying a Nutrition Facts Table. The table may be voluntarily provided for foods that have an exemption. However, when it does appear, the information must be provided in accordance with the Food and Drug Regulations.

Health, Nutrient Content and Allergen Free Claims

Health Canada conducts health claim assessments to ensure claims made for food products are truthful and not misleading. Scientific evidence is required to substantiate all health claims on food labels and advertising. Consult the health claims guidance documents on the Health Canada website prior to placing a health claim on the product label:


Check CFIA’s nutrient content claims guidance documents for specific requirements when making a nutrient content claim on a label:


Allergen control in the processing plant is critical to making the right statements about allergens on the product’s label. Check CFIA’s List of Ingredients and Allergens and guidance documents prior to including an allergy-free claim on the product label: