What Makes Great Labels for Food and Drink Products?

7 April 2022

The food and drinks sector has always been a highly competitive industry, and market research giant Nielsen recorded 4,195 new product launches in the UK in the first half of 2020 alone. Countless offerings compete for consumer attention in retail stores and hospitality venues. Effective marketing can make or break a good product – and it all starts with good packaging and labels for food and drink.

Huge efforts go into product development and manufacturing processes before a finished result is ready to market. Whether it’s a prepackaged ready meal, a gluten-free muffin or dairy-free ice cream, it’s important that the key information about ingredients, nutrition and allergy warnings are communicated. Prominent communication on packaging ensures that the end consumer understands what has gone into the product and can make an informed choice. This includes new regulations for complete ingredient lists with clear allergen labelling on Prepackaged for Direct Sale (PPDS) foods, known as Natasha’s Law.

food label printer

But effective labelling, especially for food products, is about more than merely conveying facts. It’s about connecting with the target audience to entice them to choose the product over a competitor’s offering. Marketing, advertising and psychology all play a big part. According to Fast Print, “most consumers never really think about product packaging in a conscious way, but you can be certain that your subconscious mind is constantly analysing every piece of product packaging it comes into contact with and secretly deciding whether or not you should make a purchase.”

So, let’s take a closer look by asking five key questions about what makes a successful food label:

1.      What messages should the label communicate?

The packaging and labels for food and drink are the first direct interaction the consumer has with a product. The label must embody the main product and marketing messages in the absence of any other information. What sort of product is it, and when is it meant to be consumed? Which type of consumer is it aimed at? What does it taste like? How is it made, and what are the ingredients? Whether it’s a paleo lunchbox, a vegan chocolate cake or a craft beer, a successful label must be printed with content that allows it to speak for itself.

Conversely, if the core messages are not clearly communicated via the label and packaging, an excellent product may not be chosen by retailers or end consumers. Therefore, the lack of sales could be the result of a poor product label despite having a quality product.

2.      What should the product look like?

The overall visual brand appeal must be properly considered in terms of colours and fonts, images and illustrations. Choose the right combination for the target audience, and your product will have a much higher chance of being seen and, in turn, purchased by them.

The key is to engage the target market – they need to recognise what the product is all about and that it is meant for them. Whether it’s a bold fun design about healthy snacks for kids’ lunchboxes, clearly labelled nut-free cakes or no-alcohol drinks, or imaginatively packed food subscription boxes, the overall appearance and feel of the product is the vital element to it being correctly understood.

cleary presented food packaging example

3.      How do you choose suitable print materials?

It is also essential to consider how labels for food and drink will be printed and how it will feel when handled by the consumer. Does it give the right impression of the product when displayed on store shelves or in self-service food display cabinets? One food and drinks industry researcher goes a step further: “Sensory concepts can be used by designers to create packaging with colours, fonts, images, and shapes that complement the food and drink contained, stand out on the shelf, and are congruent with the brand message,” she suggests, citing taste, flavour, texture and appearance as sensory properties to inform product information.

There are many options for label printing, including gloss, matte, and metallic stickers. Embossing and foil blocking can give an opulent luxury feel, or uncoated paper that can be recycled can be used for an eco-aware target audience. Speak to a designer or print supplier to precisely understand the full range of options and customisations to exactly meet your labelling needs.

4.      How important is copywriting?

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t mean content is no longer king. The trouble with food labels and packaging is that there usually isn’t a lot of space for words. So not only do you need to know how to produce compelling creative copy, you need to be efficient with the word count.

There’s no doubt that good copywriting will help sell a product, especially if words and images complement each other in perfect harmony. It’s an art as well as a marketing science to produce compelling copy for product packaging – and unless you’re an expert at it, it makes sense to call in the professionals.

food brand packaging range consistency

5.      Why do you need brand consistency?

If you are launching a product range or family, or creating one label now but planning to widen the range in the future with, say, more flavours, it is highly recommended to have brand consistency across all the labels.

What elements of your label design should be consistent across the range? Consider the overall colour scheme at the outset, including colours that you can use for new additions. Also, consider keeping the layout and structure of the label design the same across the range, reinforcing the sense of familiarity. “Planning out your colour strategy from the beginning is a great way to ensure colour consistency and ensure there are no variations in colour or surprises when you get to print,” explains one international packaging designer.

For more information regarding colour theory and how it can provoke emotions and influence decision making, visit this Canva article.

Finally, achieving brand consistency doesn’t have to be restrictive – the idea is to create commonality to ensure a professional look and feel of the product that builds reassurance and trust amongst the target demographic. Balancing the legal requirements for labels on food and drink to display nutritional contents and the design and branding to be compelling can be complex but ultimately essential to entice, inform and persuade potential customers.

Annie Button is a Portsmouth based writer specialising in business, branding and career development, and has written for various online and print publications.