Michael Adams Green Mountain Mustard and Gredio

Michael Adams, Owner
Green Mountain Mustard & Gredio

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How to design and print your food product labels

How to Guide: Printing Labels for Your Food Business

In June 2010, I produced my first large run with a co-packer. It went smoothly until I determined the net weight on my labels was not the actual net weight of what was in the jar.

Fail.

That’s what inspired me to write today’s post — all about food labeling requirements. What goes on your food label is one of the most complex tasks to complete when you’re starting your food business. There are legal requirements, font size requirements, weights, and more. Just grab the Excedrin bottle. Seriously.

That’s why it’s all sorted out for you right here, right now. Let’s get started:

There are three parts to your label:

1. Principal display panel – the part that faces the customer when your product is on the shelf

2. Right display panel – to the right of your principal display panel

3. Left display panel – to the left of your principal display panel

Let’s start with the principal display panel.

What goes on your principal display panel?

Company name & logo: this can be any size and color, but it needs to be identifiable because consumers have to find it on the shelf. When I was first starting out, our logo was huge — half the height of the jar. Then, when we redesigned our labels, it got much smaller. That’s because we wanted our product names (which are remembered by our customers) to steal the show. It’s different for every company, so make sure your brand is recognizable.

Product name: Does your product have a fun name like my mustards? Or do you simply want to say Horseradish, Peach Ginger, or Hot & Spicy? Describe your product, then identify it (see below).

Product identification: What do you sell? Even though you think it’s obvious, you’ve to got to explain what it is? Is it cookies, brownies, mustard, salad dressing, bbq sauce, etc. Don’t leave the contents of your bottle up to your consumer to figure out.

Product claims: Vegan, gluten free, non-gmo, organic, etc. What claims is your product making? Do you have documentation to prove your claims? Do not lie. Customers trust you when they purchase their product. If you lose their trust, you lose business. These can also go on the sides of your packaging, but consumers don’t typically rotate the product. That means you’ve got to shout it from the rooftops on the front of your label.

Net weight: Just because you have an 8-ounce jar doesn’t mean 8 ounces of product goes in it. For example, water is not the same weight as concrete. Get your net weight right so that you can weigh your filled product to make sure there’s enough sauce in the jar. Yes, you can be over by a couple grams, but don’t be under. That’s illegal because your deceiving the customer. You can find your net weight by filling your container and weighing it. Then, weight an empty container. Subtract the two numbers and you’ve got your net weight? Try to keep it to a nice round number, though – 9 oz, 3.5 oz. Makes the per ounce (or gram) calculations easier for retailers and customers.

What goes on your right display panel?

Nutrition facts

Ingredient statement

Place of manufacture: Who are you and where do you make this product? Include full company name, town, state, and zip code. You can include your street address if you’d like love letters, but it’s not required. Use the kitchen space here or your “warehouse”.

Phone number: Smart to include here if people have questions. We used to put our home number but that quickly got annoying. On our next reprint, we switched to a free Google Voice phone number. It’s amazing. Just get one to have it. You can screen calls, listen & archive voicemail anywhere, and the calls can go straight to your cellphone if you’d like. Another example is Grasshopper if you have a small team and want to have that “office” feel.

UPC Code (this can also go on your left display panel): There’s been a lot of talk about using recycled barcodes. Don’t do it. Yes, it’s cheaper. But, if you want to get into large grocery stores, they require your GS1 prefix (which isn’t unique to you if you buy recycled barcodes). Bite the bullet and register with the GS1. Up to 100 barcodes has a startup fee of $750 plus an annual renewal of $150. Get more information on how to get a barcode for your food product.

What goes on your left display panel?

Your left display panel is pretty much a blank canvas. But here are a couple things you can add to make it a bit more interesting.

How to use your product: When your product is on the shelf, the normal consumer has no idea what to do with it, or that you have these magical ways to use it. Let them know about recipe ideas, your personal favorites, and how they might actually use the whole jar or package and buy more – Yes – MORE!

Your company story: Who makes the stuff? Why’d you start your company? Are you super-tiny? Let customers experience your company in a few words. And entice them to learn more by visiting your website. And pictures of the founders – or signatures – are a great personal touch.

Product claims: If you’d like to expand on your product claims or mention how you source ingredients, let your customers know. They’ll appreciate your honesty. Remember, lying doesn’t get you anywhere in the food business.

Social media: Are you on facebook, twitter, instagram, and pinterest? Put logos on your packaging or list your social media addresses. I personally just do the icons. And only put accounts you’re most active on. That way, when customers view your dead twitter account they aren’t turned off when the last update is from three years ago. And your profile picture is still an egg. And QR codes? Don’t do it. They’re ugly. And people aren’t going to whip out their smartphone to scan your code that goes to your website. That’s not useful to them.

Now, that you’ve got all the information, you may be wondering how this all comes together into something that doesn’t look like you made it in Microsoft paint? (PSA: don’t make your label in paint, MS word, or the like).

How to make your first label:

When I was starting out (technically way back in 2007 at a farmer’s market) I used ball jars from Wal-Mart and two address labels. The front label had my logo (Green Mountain Mustard). The back label had ingredients, town, and phone number. Illegal? You betcha. There was no net weight. Didn’t even know I needed one. It worked for the time being.

If you’re just starting out, printing labels off of your computer is perfectly fine.

I did for the first two years. I designed something in Adobe Photoshop. If you don’t have photoshop, use Microsoft Word. Even though I despise doing anything in Microsoft word now, it’s actually quite easy:

1. Find the label you want. There are thousands of sizes, colors, textures, waterproof, etc. The best play to buy labels online is OnlineLabels.com — way cheaper than Staples or Office Depot.

2. Download the corresponding template. Most labels correspond to an Avery design template. You can download label templates here. They come in either PDF or Microsoft Word formats. Open the file and get to work.

3. Design your label. There are a couple ways to do this. You can design your label in Microsoft Word using the text tools, colors, and clip art (not recommended) or you can import your logo and use the same text to format ingredients and all the other label requirements. Keep the same color scheme across your product line so it looks put together – even though you’re printing them on your home computer. Speaking of printing….

4. Print your labels. Simply go to file > print and fire away. It sounds simple, but printing is actually a bit more complex. First thing to determine is what kind of printer you have. Any inkjet printer will print labels at lower quality. They’ll also run and smudge if they get wet (That’s happened to me before, and it’s ugly). So much for giving your product as a gift, huh? The other kind of printer is a color laser printer. This prints higher quality – and higher resolution – labels. You can pick one up for a couple hundred bucks. It’s a great investment if you’re just getting started.

Now that I’ve covered printing your own labels, you may be thinking, ok – get to the good stuff. How do I go about getting legit labels? Like grocery-store-worthy labels? Here we go.

How to get your labels professionally printed:

So your selling enough product that your labels could be professionally printed? For me, that mark was comfortably being able to use at least 1,000 labels a month. Then, I could order in bulk to get my cost own with the printer. Why wait? Well, getting your labels printed can be expensive. Even if you go with an online vendor with “great prices” it can be expensive. So, let’s start with finding a label printer.

How to find a label printing company

1. Look locally

Simply search for “label printing company” and there’s bound to be a couple within 50-100 miles. Call them up, go see their facility, and meet the sales and production teams. Shaking the hand of the production manager at the company we use was definitely reassuring. (Ok, I’m a sucker for working with local companies).

2. Search for online providers

There are tons of online providers of label printing. Most work on high margins and charge accordingly. Price it out, shop around, and find the best price. Ask for a sample kit of different sizes, shapes, and materials. That way, you’ll be better educated when you talk to them on the phone about what you’re looking to do. Pro tip: don’t place the order blind. Pick up the phone. Save money – and your next headache.

3. Ask around

I found my current printer through personal relationships (see below), but my first print contact came from another food producers. I loved their labels and asked where they got them printed.

Just like searching for an ingredient supplier or a finding a co-packer, there are certain questions you should ask to find the perfect label partner for your food business:

What kind of printer do you have?

This is important because it determines your printer’s capabilities. Do they print digitally? Flexographically? Boxes, labels, bags, etc? Some printers print more labels per hour which reduces your cost, but the printer’s overhead. That may ultimately mean a higher price, but only calling will find the answer for you.

What’s your minimum run for labels?

How many labels do you need? I usually print 20-40k labels at a time. With that being said, I’ve also had to trash labels multiple times because of spelling errors, name-changes, or rebranding my food business. Most label printers have label minimums as low as 100. But you’ll pay a pretty penny. Once you get into several thousand labels, you’ll see a nice price break. Then, the difference between say, 60,000 and 80,000 labels is negligible.

How much are start-up costs for brand-new label designs?

There may be art design fees, printing plate costs (only if you’re printing flexographically) and setup fees. Plus shipping and other miscellaneous fees. Make sure these are calculated into your per unit labels cost and ultimately your food product cost.

What’s your lead time for an order?

Don’t run out of labels. I’ve done it several times and it’s not exciting. Especially if you use a co-packer. Then, you end up labeling yourself and it takes hours because you don’t have access to a machine (we still don’t :p). Plan ahead – a couple weeks – for ordering more labels. That way, you’ll have plenty for your next production.

Who else do you print labels for?

Testimonials are the best form of marketing for any label printer (like the one below I wrote for Creative Labels of Vermont). Ask who else they print labels for, send them an email and ask about their experience, possible pricing, and if they have had any problems. If not, get a quote and start your own relationship. Plus, the list of their clients is a major source of credibility.

Will you help me through the label purchase process?

I got mote into customer relationship below, but if you’re a first-timer, label printing is straight-up daunting. You want to work with account managers who walk you through each step – from design to final printing. Because you don’t need to worry about it anymore. Your label printer does. Make sure you’ve got a great team to work with.

These questions, while obvious, are the ones you’ve got to ask. Many times, label printers are the “you get what you pay for” type. The best price doesn’t always mean the best quality. And quality is important. Your label is your first interaction you have with your customer on a store shelf. It shouldn’t look like crap, right? Right.

What you need to decide about your labels:

1. Size / How many

How big do you want your labels? Should they cover the whole container? Do you want a top and bottom label? A top label and a wrap-around label. Keep in mind, the more labels you use, the higher your costs become.

2. Shape

Rectangular? Rounded corners? Or how about a die-cut? A die-cut is a special shape that you pay extra for up-front. It could be an outline around a character, bubble shape, or hole in your label to show your product inside its container. Die-cuts make your product stand-out on the shelf and create a powerful brand message.

3. Number of Colors

A black and white label is the least expensive. As you start adding colors – or printing full color – the cost goes up. Think about this when designing your labels. One way to save money on label printing is to keep your design the same and only change certain characteristics. That way you avoid multiple plate charges and switch-overs (the time it takes from switch to printing another design).

4. Material

It’s mind-blowing to learn how many kinds of labels there are. There are solid color, white, textured (like wine labels), clear, thick, thin, UV coated (doesn’t deteriorate in light), matte, gloss, foil-printed. Craziness. Let your account manager know about what you’re putting the label on – the material, the temperature you fill your product, and what you’d like it to look like when it (maybe) goes in the fridge – no runny labels! This is where a sample pack is helpful. It allows you to see your printer’s capabilities and select the best material for your project.

5. Quantity

Quantity plays a big role in price. Every penny counts when you’re talking about product cost. That means if you can order thousands of labels, do it. Your price drops significantly – to the tune of 7 to 10 cents or more. I have ordered for the entire year at once and it’s been a good strategy. If you think you’re going to make changes to your labels, order less so you’re not stuck with old labels. They’ll just be piles of money in your basement.

A note about relationship building and customer service:

Even after all the questions get asked and the order gets processed, you want a relationship with your printer. They are a crucial partner to your success. Know who to talk to, chat with them at events. Why? They know everyone who is everyone is the local food scene. And I mean everyone. They’re connected like good wifi. For real. Relationship is the reason I switched printers.

Why I switched printers:

In 2010, I started with a company out of NY. I switched to them because of price. And we all know price isn’t the only reason we buy from people. But, they were inexpensive. Until the quality dropped and they were unable to print my newly labeled designs (you know the ones I almost lost $2,000 printing?).

I was in a time crunch. The labels needed to be printed, like, yesterday.

That’s when I remembered (ages ago) speaking with Zara from Creative Labels of Vermont (our current printer). She had been trying to win my business ever since the first jar of Green Mountain Mustard hit the shelf. And she won it in minutes after I contacted her in a bind.

“I need these labels rushed. My current printer says it’s impossible to print but I don’t believe him. Get it done by Friday and you’ve got my business.”

Within minutes, she not only said it was definitely possible, but she came back with a price I couldn’t turn down. The artwork was sent over and our labels were ready to print. At 6:30pm the night before printing, I forgot “refrigerate after opening”. After basically suffering a mini heart attack, it was fixed at no additional cost. Seriously.

Not only that, I was able to see the press proof the morning of – an actual label in my hands – for free. They’re 10 minutes away from my kitchen, so I save on shipping costs, too — but bottom line: Zara at Creative Labels of Vermont has done an amazing job of making me feel comfortable through the entire process, connecting me with tons of other start-up food producers, and investing in our relationship – regardless of how super-tiny my orders are.

Conclusion:

Labels are time consuming to figure out. That’s why, when you reach the point where you need to get labels printed, you should invest time into finding the right printer for your needs – even if it means making the switch to other provider.

I urge you to find a label printer with an eye on relationship building who has the same passion for making your product beautiful on the shelf. It’s vital to the success of your business.

Have more questions about food labeling requirements and finding a label printer? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll try my best to get answer to you!

**Disclaimer: Please use this advice as guidance to creating and printing your food labels. Consult your Agency on Agriculture & Markets to get your labels approved by your state authority before printing.

 

 

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38 Comments on this post

  1. AUTHORDiana

    on September 5, 2014 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Thanks for another great post!

  2. AUTHORIan

    on September 5, 2014 at 1:41 am - Reply

    Thank you. This article came at a perfect time.

    • AUTHORmichael

      on September 6, 2014 at 11:51 pm - Reply

      Glad it helped you out, Ian!

  3. AUTHORSandra Nakashima

    on September 5, 2014 at 2:50 am - Reply

    I love all your tips!

    • AUTHORmichael

      on September 6, 2014 at 11:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Sandra!

  4. AUTHORChristina Cary

    on September 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    Thank you for all the HELPFUL info, as always! How did you figure out your nutritional info to be put on labels?

    • AUTHORmichael

      on September 6, 2014 at 11:50 pm - Reply

      Hey Christina,

      I worked with someone locally initially, and then I switched over to Recipal.com for my seasonal mustards. Lev has built a great tool!

  5. AUTHORRichard Freyermuth

    on September 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I had good luck with Lion Labels in So. Easton, MA

    800 875 5300

    I worked with Moe Decelles

  6. AUTHORJason Bowne

    on September 5, 2014 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Michael,

    Can’t tell you how much this struck a cord with me. My partner and I are still in startup mode, but I’ve been “trying” to get packaging done for nearly 5 months.

    FIVE MONTHS!!

    One thing you didn’t mention which I think is worth its weight many times over is using crowd-design platforms to not only get professional quality design work for fair prices, but also the value of seeing many different design styles that you may not have/ “can’t” envision (because not many of us are natural “designers.” I used 99Designs several times for my project, and I’ve also hired freelancers off of Odesk.

    One of my biggest frustrations is that there is little-to-no “standardized” lead times. I would inquire with a packager/printer, get a quote, only to find out there’s 12-16 week lead times. Who does business like that?!? They kept saying “well thats the lead time from ‘our’ plant in Asia….” So I just went to the source.

    I will literally be placing our first packaging order today (for this product it is a standup pouch design, fully custom design/printed) with a company I sourced through Alibaba. It can be time consuming and often challenging, but find someone who gives you legit references and check in on them. The supplier I am ordering from I checked 3 solid references and each one gave glowing reviews.

    We are ordering 10,000 total units, same design in 4 different color schemes. It will be gravure printed with one-time setup costs (that every printer charges you) that were 20% of quotes I got from US companies. Unit cost is $0.15 a unit which includes shipping.

    No doubt it is a leap of faith on my part, and until I actually can scrutinize them with my own eyes I’ll have some small lump in the pit of my throat, but hey, this whole thing is a risk, right?!? 🙂

    If there is one thing I wish I had known starting out, it is just how long getting the initial packaging order in would take. I’m hopeful that for all the frustration that I love our packaging and we can fly through our 10k packages and need to reorder… like, next month (jk)!! 🙂

  7. AUTHORJanet Malone

    on September 7, 2014 at 1:33 am - Reply

    Thanks for this article! It’s very similar to my experience getting started. Started with creating a label in Microsoft with color that I discovered “bled”, so I had to go to all black printing until I started with a small local digital printer. I’m still getting very small quantities. I’ve been considering having my plastic bag supplier print on them instead of me hand applying all the labels. It’s fun to hear from other fellow “food business entrepreneurs”!

  8. AUTHORNeville

    on September 10, 2014 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Thanks for another excellant article on Labels. How do you solve the issue of printing Your Lot# and Best before dates on the label. Still a small company and each batch is roughly 276 units. Thanks & keep up the good work

    • AUTHORmichael

      on September 11, 2014 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Neville,

      We use a two-line pricing gun (like they use in retail stores). Top line is batch code and bottom line is the best by date. We sticker the bottoms of the jars. If you have some cash, you can invest in a date coder that stamps the top of the jar or the side of the label. However, you’ll need to account for the next room in your label design.

      Here’s a link to a pricing gun, if you’re interested.

      Hope that helps!

      Michael

  9. AUTHORDEEPAK BANYAL

    on September 12, 2014 at 8:32 am - Reply

    Very good article. Thanks for such a nice information. i am forwarding this article to my employees, hope they will pick some interesting tips from you. Thanks

    • AUTHORmichael

      on September 14, 2014 at 10:45 am - Reply

      Thanks, Deepak — glad you enjoyed it!

  10. AUTHOREbrah

    on October 17, 2014 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    What a resourceful blog! It has become a default reference for all my curiosities and planning before I pitch my product

    • AUTHORmichael

      on October 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Ebrah — so glad you’ve gotten something out of it!

  11. AUTHORErick

    on October 27, 2014 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    Hey Michael,
    I just got a court order from Michigan saying we need our street address on the label. Sources can be conflicting on this, but after this experience (had to pay $180 fine) I decided to play it safe and include the full address.

    • AUTHORmichael

      on October 27, 2014 at 8:06 pm - Reply

      Hey Erick,

      Thanks for the comment. Some producers have it – some don’t. Interesting you got a court order. If you look at national brands, there is hardly ever an address. I have about 10 jars of condiments in my fridge – only a couple have the street address….

  12. AUTHORanne

    on January 24, 2015 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    My husband and I process raw dehydrated kale chips. We currently use a plastic box and standard white matt label from online labels. We want to redesign the label, add a barcode and make it look more grocery store ready. What is the best inkjet label (glossy, waterproof, etc) to use for a more professional look?

    • AUTHORmichael

      on January 26, 2015 at 11:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Anne,

      Thanks for reading! When we printed at home, we used inkjet labels in a color laser printer. You’ll get pretty close to what you’re looking for, but the colors aren’t going to be as crisp (as the printer simply prints dots on the label). If you want your label grocery-store ready, I’d highly recommend professionally printing your labels, though. They look SO much better. Good luck!

    • AUTHORPaul Atteberry

      on August 7, 2016 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      I hate onlinelabels or should I say label “Maestro” always problems with printing.

      • AUTHORmichael

        on August 7, 2016 at 10:09 pm - Reply

        Hi Paul,

        Yes – I’ve used it once and it’s not an easy tool. That’s why I just buy labels off them and print on my home printer when I need to. I also have a Dymo printer that has a pretty easy design software, but it’s only B&W. Good luck! — Michael

  13. AUTHORRaul Elliott

    on April 16, 2015 at 10:11 am - Reply

    Hey Michael,
    Really informative article about label printing and thanks for sharing this. These tips will help growing small business brands to make their process simpler by printing labels themselves.
    And adding street address in the label is also a good idea as it improves the brand trust among the customers and people looking at the pack label.

    • AUTHORmichael

      on May 19, 2015 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      Yes, that is very true, Raul. And in some states, it’s required to add the street address. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Michael

  14. AUTHORGerardo

    on June 16, 2015 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Hi Michael,

    I am new in the food industry and I am putting everything together to start producing my sauce and run some market test in the farmers market of South Florida. I´ve found your blog very useful and resourceful, gotta THANK YOU big time and I think you deserve a lot of respect for what you have been doing with Green Mountain Mustard and Gredio.

    I would like to now what unit cost would be average or rational for the packaging (container + label)…I know it depends on a lot of factors, but could you give me a ballpark estimate?

    Cheers,

    Gerardo!

    • AUTHORmichael

      on June 18, 2015 at 5:20 pm - Reply

      Hi Gerardo,

      Thanks for reading! Sorry for the delay in commenting – I’ve been packing up a lot of orders this week! Unit cost for packaging is pretty tough — for glass packaging, you’re likely in the $0.50 – $0.60 range if you’re just getting started. You can force this down pretty fast once you’re buying in bulk, though.

      Hope this helps!

      Michael

  15. AUTHORJen

    on July 14, 2015 at 1:59 am - Reply

    Michael,
    I’m in the process of redesigning my labels for my product and I’ve found your post to be very helpful but you forgot to mention what the font size requirements are. You mention it at the beginning of the post and I don’t see it anywhere else. Also for those of us who don’t have products that have sides do you know if that changes things?
    Thanks for all the helpful tips and information,
    Jen

    • AUTHORmichael

      on July 14, 2015 at 2:08 am - Reply

      Hey Jen – sorry about that! Font sizes on nutrition facts and ingredients are usually 7 or 8 pts. If you don’t have sides (ex. one label), all the information can go on one label — no need for “sides”

  16. AUTHORAmanda

    on February 12, 2016 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post. Do you plan to create your own packaging facility or co-packing is the way to go?

    Amanda

    • AUTHORmichael

      on February 13, 2016 at 2:46 am - Reply

      Hey Amanda – thanks for reading! We just opened up our own co-packing facility (packvt.com) so I’m making mustard out of there now. I’d look into co-packing near you – it’s much easier and a LOT less expensive than fitting up your own space. Hope that helps!

  17. AUTHORManuel Paez

    on August 31, 2016 at 1:47 am - Reply

    Hi guys my name is Manuel Paez and i have a successful business in Riverside, California (Simple Print Co.) we can do any type of label that you might need at a very low cost. Please email me for details.

    • AUTHORmichael

      on September 1, 2016 at 7:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Manuel,

      Is there a website people can view your labels? That would be helpful for people looking for vendors.

      Thanks,

      Michael

  18. AUTHORJason F

    on March 23, 2017 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Amazing post! Thanks for sharing this. It”s important to have a label that is easier to read and understand and Jklabels.com is the company who just provides that. We have been buying labels from them sisnce a long time now. They are amazing at their work.

    • AUTHORmichael

      on April 1, 2017 at 10:09 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your label printer, Jason!

  19. AUTHORpaykasa satis

    on April 13, 2017 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Great info, great website. Bookmarked. Thanks!

    • AUTHORmichael

      on April 29, 2017 at 11:22 am - Reply

      Great – thank you!

  20. AUTHORBrother Printer Support Number

    on July 27, 2018 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Great information provided by this post. Printing labels is really important for the businessman. Keep posting like this.

  21. AUTHOREmily Clark

    on May 2, 2019 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    That’s a wonderful piece of article and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing and keep up the amazing work.

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