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Label PRomotion | What Is Labeling's Top Purpose: Promotion or Information?

What is the most important purpose of labels: promotion or information? Generally, this discussion centers on the verbiage contained in the labels, or in some cases, omitted from them. The latter situation prompted a major debate highlighted in a recent Washington Post story detailing issues about meat labeling at the Giant grocery store chain. The organization adopted a ubiquitous “USDA graded” label that didn’t provide such information as “choice” or “select” to identify quality.

In part, the article states, “What transpired at Giant and its sibling companies reflects what food safety experts say is a growing concern about food and supplement manufacturers misusing labels. The experts say that labels are supposed to allow customers to make more informed decisions, often granting a distinction of quality or making claims about health and safety, but they have instead turned into advertising vehicles…‘Food labeling has become an incredibly powerful marketing tool,’ said Bill Marler, a lawyer and food safety expert who regularly represents consumers in claims against food companies.”

Food and beverage labels stand at the center of the debate. According to the Washington Post, “Today, the food industry sells $377 billion worth of food labeled with the 35 most common claims, including “natural,” “organic,” and “carb conscious,” according to data from the market research firm Nielsen…[Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says], ‘Labels have become a battleground where companies use every trick they can muster, which is a problem because consumers tend to be naive.’…Food and beverage manufacturers disagree, insisting that labels reflect a desire to provide customers with better information about what they’re buying…‘The primary purpose for claims and nutrition symbols used on food labels is to provide positive dietary guidance,’ said Brian Kennedy, director of communications for the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., which represents hundreds of food companies.”

While it’s up to every product manufacturer to judge how they want to use their labels, following are a few guidelines to consider when it comes to what’s said on them:

  • Remember that social media is watching. Social media is sniffing out false and exaggerated advertising claims, in turn driving improved consumer education and discretion. Labels are part of that realm. Making promotional claims that won’t stand up to the truth test already has subjected major food and beverage producers to high-profile criticism about everything from heart health to the concept of “natural.” And, while naiveté exists in some quarters, rapidly-growing caches of product reviews and other social media information bases are making consumers much better educated about the do’s and don’ts when it comes to believing promotional claims.
  • Say only what can be proven in a definitive, substantial way. Calling something “carb conscious” is nebulous. Does that refer to overall carbs, net carbs, or something else? Is it referring to simple or complex carbs? And does being “conscious” mean low amounts…or great abundance? Not only will clear, total disclosures help keep manufacturers out of hot water credibility-wise, but in some cases they can provide fodder for positive PR. Based in large part on the transparency fueled by social media, there are ever-increasing opportunities to build trust and credibility simply by telling the truth.
  • Provide as much information as possible, while keeping it readable. As the Giant grocery chain has learned, less is not more when labeling meat. People want to know their meat quality. That said, make label information and disclosures large enough to read. Labels printed in tiny type can be highly frustrating to decipher. With QR codes and other tools that make it easy to link to digital platforms, manufacturers can state the basics on their labels, then provide details elsewhere for those interested in drilling down to greater depths.

When it comes to labels, it’s often wise to let the graphics carry much of the promotional load while keeping the verbiage straightforward and straight-talking.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is president of Lusky Enterprises Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. Since 2008, he has worked with Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printing company, as a content developer specializing in expert advice articles. Lusky presents common-sense ideas grounded in doing what’s real and right for managing and enhancing public image.

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