July 12, 2014

3 Ideas for Nutrition Labels that Won’t Kill Your Package

3 Ideas for Nutrition Labels that Won’t Kill Your Package

Okay… we’ve tried to help you negotiate the new Food and Drug Administration’s regulations regarding nutritional labels in terms of what will have to change regarding food label design, and how to market your product honestly and yet alluringly. So of course, there might be yet another hurdle for food product manufacturers and package designers — the nutritional label that must be displayed on the front of the package.

If this means that the federally mandated nutritional label has to remain as is (the big, rectangular box with all of the information inelegantly printed in a Soviet-esque grid), then frankly… we’re stumped. From a design perspective, this doesn’t leave us with a ton of beautiful options. Should we go ahead and design our packages and product labels as we always would have and just slap the nutritional label alongside? Do we now design everything in such a way as to aesthetically cohere to the nutritional label? If we do opt for the latter, then won’t everything look, more or less, alike?

The New Nutritional Label Hurdle

While there are a few organizations that are really lobbying for standard FDA nutritional labels on the front of every packaged food item, there isn’t as yet any concrete plan to mandate such an action. What there currently is, is a concerted effort on the part of the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association to make front-of-package nutrition labeling voluntary via Facts Up Front labels. While the FDA nutrition label designs and contents are pretty much etched in stone, the Facts Up Front labels are a bit more malleable in terms of structure and what the manufacturer wants to include. So, although there will have to be information on the number of calories, saturated fat (though not trans-fats), sugars and sodium, the beneficial nutrient content doesn’t have to be displayed. In other words, if the food product has absolutely no fiber, vitamins or minerals, rather than having a box for the nutrients with a big, fat ZERO, the food manufacturer can just discreetly leave these boxes off of the package.

Marketing, Always Marketing

Clearly, processed food manufacturers would rather cope with the Facts Up Front labeling guidelines than the FDA guidelines. In addition to having more marketing wiggle room, the information itself can be made to correspond with the package and label design structure. We’ll go out on a limb and say that, from a design perspective that has absolutely nothing to do with social policy, we’d prefer to deal with the Facts Up Front guidelines. Naturally, that may not be our decision to make.

So, what will we do if we have to cope with the FDA nutritional guidelines on the front of the package? It depends upon entire package concept. Here are a couple that might work:

  • For jars and boxes, the nutritional label could go on top, where it would be noticed by the consumer upon picking up and examining the product, while being unnoticeable on the shelf.
  • For cans, bottles and bags (if labeling guidelines permit), a horizontal display grid using the same basic structure and typeface as the standard nutritional label (similar to what is used on elongated candy bars). The information could then be integrated into the design concept as unobtrusively as possible, in much the same way that the package volume and weight are.
  • Go completely avant-garde and make the focus of the entire design the FDA nutrition label. Use the FDA font, FDA color scheme (ha — black and white) and FDA grid and have it right above, below or alongside the actual label. BAM! We’re kind of loving this for drink design. Naturally, this will only work for one brand, but hey… we’ll sell it to the highest bidder.

We don’t have all the answers — we’re not even sure if we have any of the questions, frankly. We don’t know if these plans will even go into action. But if we look on the bright side [cue Monty Python’s Life of Brian whistle here], the nutritional guidelines could eliminate the need for superfluous wording on the front of food packaging, leaving room for gorgeous food label design concepts and lovely graphics; which is what we do best, anyway.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

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