March 2017

NFP Spotlight: Multilingual Packaging

It’s not uncommon to find English, Spanish and French (maybe more languages) on consumer packaged goods sold in the United States. Where do the FDA’s new Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) guidelines leave the state of language on packaging? Robb Kottmyer, Account Manager and Adaptation Design Team Leader at Gravity, and Kellie Best, Production Artist at Phototype, weigh in.

Has the FDA ever regulated anything about languages beyond English on packaged goods sold in the U.S.?

In terms of regulation, the FDA provides one template that brands can adopt if more than one language needs to be on the package. Yes, that’s ONE template. There’s a four-letter word for it, and it’s “hard.” Considering brands are already squished for space in one language, adding another language or two can get very interesting. But, within the U.S., only English is required.

… But not all products made or sold in the U.S. are exclusive to the U.S.

Exactly. Brands that sell goods in Canada have to comply with official bilingualism. While the details tend to vary by province, the big picture is that English and French must be equally represented on packaged goods, or it can get rejected at the border.

You bring up an interesting point about equal prominence. How does that play out, visually?

Most brands adopt a hierarchy of languages represented. For the Americas, it’s often English first, Spanish second, French third. For Canada specifically, that equal prominence of English and French can mean a few things, such as exact same typeface, size, text weights, heights or condense point. While there is a requirement around minimum text size and height, there are no regulations or limits around condensing a font. Since it can take more characters in French or Spanish to describe the same thing in English, brands often choose to condense the font of the other languages so it all fits. The skinnier type is definitely obvious. We always say, condense with care, and do your homework.

We’re talking mostly about the legal information and NFP, but what about the principal display panel and any claims?

It’s up to the brand. One of our clients has all required languages on the principal display panel for describing what’s in the package. The translations get tricky when it comes to making claims, though. The U.S. has different regulations around what can be “claimed” in terms of a percentage less or more of something. But while every brand wants to tout what makes their product great, the translation of that claim may not be significant to a non-American consumer and prompt them to purchase.

And then there's measurements...While any consumer goods manufacturer in the U.S. is likely using “grams,” let’s just say we are glad to be working with design and print instead of with food science to accurately convert metric to imperial measurements, and vice versa. That can be very challenging.

In your opinion, how do you think brands with multilingual packaging will adapt?

Get ready to print small and read small! Not really. Some of what we’ve read about adapting to the new NFP and wanting to stay on the safe side of compliance says to look to Europe. Brands in Europe have very strict regulations around what can even be in food products, and that trickles down to what’s communicated on the package. There can be some learning and benchmarking there for brands.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see brands with multilingual packaging adopt a “peel and re-seal” label option like many over-the-counter medicine products have adopted. But even that means new print dies, new forms, new designs, new timelines to get on the store shelf, and so on.

What advice do you have for brands, no matter where in the world their manufacturing or selling occurs?

Do your homework, and don’t take this all on yourself. The new NFP creates a domino effect beyond the legal and regulated information on a package, and having all supply chain partners speaking the same language (excuse the pun!) can save brands a lot of money and prevent a lot of headaches. It’s a large part of why we invest the time and resources to make sense of vague direction and creating best practices and standards, so our clients are in compliance. The hands-on help in the design process can yield a seamless print production, which means the product is on the shelf sooner.

Phototype is a 4th-generation, family-owned company that provides fully integrated graphic solutions to the consumer packaged goods (CPG), medical/pharma, retail, printing and converting industries. To learn more, contact us