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.


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:

After defining what information to publish on part of the label, I’ll share how to get the labels printed too.

Let’s start with the principal display panel.

What goes on your principal display panel?

grocery store

Want your food in retail? You’ll need labels.

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.

Related Reading: The Hidden Costs of Working with a Co-Packer Revealed. 

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.

Nutrition facts and the ingredient statement are published on the right display panel.

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.

You Might Like This: 25-Step Plan to Making Your Food Company a Reality

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:

canned food

Labels are an essential part of your packaging and design.

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. Ill