Is there TMI on your product’s label?

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Labels perform three functions on your food or beverage product

1. They call out to your customer, identifying the product, proclaiming value propositions and influencing buying decisions


2. They foster brand loyalty and trust so the consumer will purchase them again and again.


3. They comply with mandatory legal requirements about your product.


When it comes to the last function you don’t have a lot of choice as you must comply with your country’s Food Codes or Standards, and rightly so as the consumer needs honesty. However, the voices you use for the other two are entirely up to you. Take time to consider what effect those voices have you consumer at point of sale, during consumption and when forming a relationship with your product.


On a recent trip to England, I booked a full schedule of conferences, trade shows and meetings. Every hour counts on a trip like that and I also wanted to study food labelling trends in the UK, get my English snack food fix visit and my family in the New Forest. Thankfully, Waterloo Station has two Marks and Spencers stores on its concourse so the two-hour train journey was the opportunity I had been looking for.


Both stores were jam packed. Footfall on Waterloo Station concourse is colossal. In the larger store the queue was long and the choice was almost too great, but I had made inside with all my luggage and it would be bad from to push past other shoppers out of the door, this was England after all.  I needed a drink, some protein, something salty, carby and crunchy.


The Haul –


Pure citrus juice

Regional cheese

Regional delicacy


I had already committed to the brand – Marks and Spencers only sells Marks and Spencers products  – yet there was a great deal of information on all the labels, far more than I could have absorbed in a crowded store with a train to catch, or even in a suburban supermarket with no other pressing engagements.

By the time the train passed Winchester Station I felt more uncomfortably intimate with the products. I was able to judge their characters – very well brought up but a little too needy. The labelling had fulfilled the three functions all right, but given that the brand is not competing with anything else within the retail store it all seemed a bit too much and made me start to question my own choices.

Let me show you what I mean: part one.


This product fit my buying criteria perfectly;  I needed some vitamin C, I wanted something a little different from OJ, clementines are a slighlty exotic but also familiar – I knew I like them and the price was right, under AUD 5 for 1.5 litres. The spout is resealable so the product could be used again if I don’t finish it in one sitting. (have you seen the conveniences on British trains?)


I used the juice to wash down my customary Melton Mowbray pork pie to reduce the risk of traveller’s scurvy, and then settled in to study at the packaging. This was a hard-working label. This is the text from just one side of the carton



“All the juicy gossip:

Sun-kissed Spain – in particular Valencia – grows more citrus fruit than any other country in Europe,”

Notes:  this product is soon to become extra exotic post Brexit – will the cost rise?

“Thanks to cool nights and hot days tempered by the Mediterranean breeze, we pick the two best clementine varieties, Clemenvilla and Clemenules, to make this bright, vibrant juice. This juice is made with carefully selected ripe and juicy fruit, picked in the sunniest spots. We squeeze it, lightly pasteurise it then package it, so you can enjoy the best, freshest-tasting juice around”

Notes: Blimey. So much to take in.  It made me wonder if my own choice criteria were sufficient as there is so much information that I didn’t influence my buying decidion. Could I rate this product’s resume? Am I qualified to choose this juice, horticulturally and process-wise? These qualifications are a response to bad press about juice companies buying un-traceable, foreign concentrate. However, what is so bad about that from the average punter’s perspective? It has a better carbon foot print, doesn’t it? The water weight of the juice is reduced; therefore, it takes less fossil fuel to transport it, and that is a good thing, no? TMI can lead to over-thinking a brand’s value proposition, so be careful not to send the consumer on that journey.


The Clementine juice tasted great, did the job I bought it for and kept in the fridge for the next three days, a quality I knew M&S would deliver, so why did I need to know so much else once I had made that buying decision? The M&S marketing department went in all guns blazing on this product range, they are not beginners, so there must be a good reason and that is probably the fierce and bloody competition in British retail.


Ask yourself: What will competition be like in your product’s retail environment and will your label give your product the edge? Ask your technical food consultant to do the research and your graphic and brand designer to deliver what you need I that environment.




Prawn Cocktail Handmade Crisps

I dream about proper prawn cocktail crisps. In the 1970s the Prawn Cocktail was the most sophisticated starter conceivable, we didn’t know the secret was in the dash of Worcestershire sauce and squeeze of tomato ketchup in the mayonnaise based Marie Rose Sauce. Prawn Cocktail is the essential British crisps flavour experience. Full English Breakfast and Hedgehog varieties are merely gimmicks.


There was a less expensive, non-handmade, product for sale in M&S. All crisps were non-handmade pre-2002 so I knew I liked them, but something made me choose the premium product at GBP 2.99 for 150g. I think it was Fear of Missing Out rather than the many, many value propositions on this product’s resume.


They certainly looked the full bottle, they had the right salty, sweet, umami, sour and fruity fragrance and they crunched. What else did I learn?


“Made using BRITISH POTATOES specially selected each season so we are always using the best variety Our potatoes are then thinly sliced with their skins on and HANDCOOKED in small batches to give a delicious and crispy snack.”

Note: all the typography is from the label delivering are many voices and intentions. Hand cooked – these are handcooked, did everybody hear that? What can that mean? Does someone fish them out of the hot oil with their actual hands? No, of course not, it means that they are processed in batches of up to 50 kg with a trained operative deciding when the cooking process is complete and tending to each crisp with a long-handled rake which they hold in their actual human hand. So what? Well, potatoes are not blanched or washed prior to frying in the handcooked, or kettle, process, unlike the continual or vacuum fryer process. This means the crisps are thicker and starchier and therefore crunchier and are supposed to give a more intense potato flavour. It was interesting that the key value proposition is a human person on the end of that rake, not the chemical and kinetic reactions between the starch and the oil, because that is dull and not emotive.  But what about the partial dehydrating process that precedes the frying? Did someone blow on them or wave them under a heat lamp? And who validated the procedure? When should I care which processes were automated and which hand-done as long as the quality assurance procedure is tight? Don’t make your customer over-think.


Variety is Heraclea

Notes: do I prefer, like that variety? Do I need to make a choice? Is it crunchy?



A mid-century style graphic confirmed “Tastes of the British Isles”

Notes: That could be taken as a political statement in these Brexit times. Do consumers really make snack choices based on that kind of thing?  Ask yourself: is there a political angle I need to take in to consideration when choosing what to put on my food product label?


However, all this promised me a “delicious crispy snack” – and that was all I needed to know before I became too exhausted to open the packet.

I should have shared this pack with four other people, in order to take in 8% of my reference intakes of salt and 12% of fat (5% in saturates) but to be honest, I reckoned I deserve to snaffle them all by myself after reading all that information. And I did.


As a food technologist and as an ordinary consumer, I couldn’t help but wonder but how much of this information on these products was redundant?


I had already decided to buy from those segments in M&S and there was no way I could have read all of this information in this small print in the crowded aisles of the Waterloo Station Concession stand. So why as I reading it now? Perhaps the label hustles hard to engage me even post-purchase, and perhaps that what it really takes to keep market share in the cut-throat world of retail.


When considering how much information to include on your new food or beverage product label work with a technical food consultant to make sure you are hitting your legal compliances and giving your brand architect and graphic design team enough to work with. Click through to learn more about Grow Consultancy labelling services.