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Everything starts from the label

By Felicia Bratu

We live in a world of recalls. Everyday, a product is taken off the market for different reasons. Some of these products are recalled because of incorrect labelling, missing warning labels, ingredients not listed on the labels, undeclared allergens, etc. Labels seem to have a very important role in the life of every product and not following the correct labelling requirements could be extremely expensive.


Make sure your labels are translated correctly

For products that are exported and imported, in most cases, the labels need to be translated. There are lots of companies that have faced embarrassing and also very expensive situations when minimizing the importance of translation and cultural differences.

Contact us for a free translation estimate of your labels

Last year, a sofa label translated inappropriately, shocked a family and also the entire world when their seven-year-old daughter discovered that the color listed on the sofa label was “n*gger-brown”. It seems that the blame lay with a Beijing-based software company whose translation engine hadn’t been updated in 10 years.

One of the Hershey’s products was launched in the Hispanic market labelled as “chocolate blanco con cajeta”. In Mexico, cajeta means condensed milk, but in other Hispanic cultures, the word is either inexistent or has a completely different meaning altogether.

Do not forget the cultural impact

The label design, colors and images are also an important part of any product. Colors or images might be interpreted differently by other cultures.

It seems that Gerber had a rough start in Africa because of the image used on their label. When the company started selling baby food they used the same packaging as in the United States, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Only later they learned that in Africa, because a lot of people don’t read, most of the companies put pictures on the label of what’s inside the container.

A packaging company with a green label was not very well received in Malaysia because of the meaning of the color green. Malaysians associate green with the jungle dangers and diseases.

Research for labelling requirements

When exporting products to foreign markets it’s important to remember that every country has its own labelling requirements. Not following the mandatory requirements could result in expensive recalls or shutdowns.

In 1994, a Wal-Mart store in Mexico was forced to shutdown for 72 hours because of not following labelling regulations requested by the Mexican government.

Coca-Cola around the World

Everyone has heard of the Coca-Cola Company. Its products are well known all around the world. The label’s red color is the same everywhere, but the other information on the labels is very different. This isn’t because the composition is different, but mostly because the labelling requirements vary from one country to another.

Check out our collection of Coca-Cola labels from around the World. Click on the image to see the entire label:


United States


Czech Republic


Mandatory languages on labels

Argentina : imported processed foods from the United States may be in their original package, and there is no need to translate the labels. However, a Spanish-language sticker label must be affixed to the retail package

Belgium : labels should be in both French and Dutch

China : all packaged food products (except bulk) sold in China must have labels in Chinese. The Chinese characters, symbols and numbers on mandatory labels cannot be smaller than 1.8 mm (0.07 inch) when the surface area of the packing material or container is greater than 20 cm2. Pinyin or foreign languages may also be used corresponding to the Chinese characters (except the name and address of the manufacturer of the imported food and the overseas distributor), but cannot be larger than the Chinese characters.

Colombia : labels must be in Spanish. For alcohol beverages the next statement is mandatory on all the products:

“El exceso de alcohol es perjudicial para la salud” (Excessive use of alcohol is detrimental to one’s health) – this must occupy 1/10th of the total area of the main label

“Prohíbese el expendio de bebidas embriagantes a menores de edad” (The sale of alcoholic beverages to minors is prohibited)

Czech Republic : all the information on the labels must appear in Czech (other languages may be used on the label as long as the necessary labelling information is also provided in Czech)

Canada : all mandatory information on food labels must be shown in both official languages: French and English.

Canada ‘s generic labelling law is the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA). This law outlines Canada’s basic labelling and packaging requirements for pre-packaged consumer goods. A pre-packaged consumer good is a product that is packaged in a container in such a manner that it is ordinarily sold to a consumer without being re-packaged.

Egypt : finished goods that are imported for retail sale, must have the product’s country of origin, the producer’s name and product description in Arabic in a clearly visible place on the packaging. Special regulations exist for some items, including foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and textiles.

Production and expiration dates must be clearly shown on the package. Information on the label cannot be easily erased, scratched or altered. Information must be written in Arabic as well, and weights and measures must be shown using the metric system. Dates are accepted in English, but the words “production” and “expiry” must be written in Arabic.

For meat or poultry, the statement that the meat “is slaughtered according to Islamic ritual” or “Halal,” must be included.

France : all labels must be in French (the use of French is mandatory on the labels, packages, and on the merchandise itself).  The use of foreign names is forbidden in place of existing equivalent French terms.

Hong Kong : the labels of all pre-packaged food are required to be in either English and/or Chinese (if both English and Chinese are used on the label, the name of the food and the list of ingredients shall appear in both languages).

India : labels should be in at least one of the languages: English or Hindi (Devnagari script). There should be a mark indicating whether the product has vegetarian or non-vegetarian content:

– for vegetarian products, a green colored-in circle inside a green outlined square, and

– for non-vegetarian products (including eggs and animal by-product gelatin), the mark is a reddish-brown colored-in circle inside a reddish-brown outlined square;

Ireland : labels must be in English or may be in English and Irish.

Japan : label mandatory information should be in Japanese. The minimum font size for labels is approximately 8 point for all characters.

Luxembourg : labels should be in French or German

Malta : labels are in Maltese or English

Mexico : labels on the products should be in Spanish prior to the product’s importation into Mexico. Mexico’s principal labeling law is the Certification and Labeling Decree of March 7, 1994.

Poland : labels require all mandatory information (with the exception of the importer’s name, address and lot number) to be in the same field of vision (i.e. the customer must be able to view the mandatory information without turning the bottle). The label language should be Polish.

Russia : all labels should be in Russian. The following Health Warning on alcoholic products is also required: “Alcohol is not for children and teenagers up to age 18, pregnant and nursing women, or for persons with diseases of the central nervous system, kidneys, liver and other digestive organs”.

Taiwan : labels should be in Traditional Chinese (except for brand names of imported alcoholic products, names and addresses of the foreign manufacturers, and any geographical indications)

Thailand : all the label information may stay in English. However, the warning statement should be translated in Thai.

For United Kingdom, even if the labels are already in English, it’s very important to pay attention to British English spelling (- i.e. colour, not color – must be used on all labelling)

Sources and more info about labelling requirements:

US labelling requirements:

Food Safety and Inspection Service (US Department of Agriculture)


EU labelling requirements:

“Customizing web sites for the global marketplace” – book

Felicia Bratu

Felicia Bratu is the operations manager of wintranslation, in charge of quality delivery and client satisfaction. As a veteran who has worked in many roles at the company since 2003, Felicia oversees almost every aspect of the company operations from recruitment to project management to localization engineering. She recently received certification as a Localization Project Manager as well as Post-Editing Certification for Machine Translation. Felicia holds a BSc. in Industrial Robotics from the University of Craiova, Romania.

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