According to a recent survey, 55% of respondents say they “often” reference product labeling to get an idea of a given food’s nutritional content. With that in mind, it’s clear that food and beverage labels can play a key role in convincing consumers to make a purchase. But sometimes, your efforts to entice a customer might actually backfire. Designing your label to purposely include confusing or misleading information could cause you to lose out later on. In today’s post, we’ll take a look at some of the most confounding terms commonly found on food labels — and how you can avoid the potential fallout associated with these terms.

What Are the Most Confusing Terms Used in Food Label Design?

Although these terms are widely used, that doesn’t mean they’re always appropriate for every product — or for your brand at all. Because customers may not always know the true meanings behind these terms, it may be best to weigh your need for promotion and branding with accuracy and transparency. Here are some terms you may want to think twice before using.

  • Natural: Sure, it sounds good… but what does it actually mean? As it turns out, no one is completely sure. That’s because the FDA guidelines surrounding this term are a bit vague. While the agency does say that foods marketed as “natural” should not contain any artificial ingredients that are not normally expected to be found in that particular food, they don’t really say anything about how pesticides or pasteurization can’t be used during production or processing. Basically, all it means is that the manufacturer didn’t add dyes to the product that weren’t already present or expected to be present. “Natural” doesn’t indicate a thing about nutritional value, either. Many companies can therefore claim that their product is natural, but it’s sort of lost all meaning due to the loose regulations surrounding it. If you really want to stand out for your commitment to ingredients directly from the earth, you may want to seek out additional certifications to include in your packaging and labels for your business.
  • Light: The term “light” can have a couple of different meanings when included on packaging and labeling. A product with a “light” designation has to contain either one-third fewer calories than the amount found in the classic version of that product OR have 50% less calories from fat than the original has. Contrary to what customers are inclined to think, this designation doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is low-calorie or low-fat; it simply has less of one of these two things than another version of the same product has. Although there are regulations surrounding this term, the regulations themselves leave consumers a bit vulnerable to being misled. If your product truly is low-calorie or low-fat — or you simply want to promote other nutritional values that aren’t typically found in products within your niche — you will want to try designing your label with these factors in mind, rather than relying on another ubiquitous-yet-ambiguous term.
  • Organic: Products labeled as “organic” means that the brand is doing great things for the planet… right? That’s what many consumers believe. In fact, a recent survey found that 82% of global respondents think organic seals indicate a product is free of pesticides and chemicals, while 68% thought those products would be better for the environment. But organic guidelines may actually allow for certain harmful chemicals to be used, as long as they are derived from natural sources. What’s more, the FDA has nothing to do with organic designations; the USDA and the National Organic Program do provide regulations for businesses and farmers to follow. But brands who advertise organic practices or ingredients might not actually be designated as 100% organic. When designing your label to reflect your organic initiatives, go the distance and ensure you can confidently say your business is completely organic, rather than relying on so-called “green washing.”

When designing your labels for food products, you may choose to use these terms — or you might want to explore possible alternatives to avoid confusion. To learn more about best practices for food labeling, please contact us today.