Your product's packaging can help or hinder its success. From noncompliance with federal regulations to an unappealing product presentation, what is on the outside matters almost as much as what is inside the package.

Consumers today are better-schooled about what to look for on labels and packaging. For example, they examine ingredient lists in addition to information on the origins of ingredients, growing methods used, and who produced the item. Certain things should never appear on product packaging. Likewise, some information must appear, according to law.

Finding the right balance between beauty, functionality, and compliance requires a deft touch. The do's and don'ts of packaging can be dizzying.

Five Things That Should Never Appear on a Product Label

1. Misleading information of any type

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act empowers the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to regulate consumer commodities to ensure labels correctly describe the contents of packages.

Companies love to tout the amazing qualities of their products, and many brands walk a thin line between truth and wishful thinking when designing packaging for a product.

Avoid regulatory intervention by listing all ingredients, and avoid "slack filling" that misrepresents the actual amount of the product inside.

2. Unintentional comic relief (incorrect spelling, misleading data, and poor translation)

Laughable packaging goofs run amok on the Internet. Here are a few gems..

Packaging promoting criminal actions:

A bag of Fritos corn chips advertising a contest, stating, "You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside." Is the company advocating opening the chips without buying the bag?

Packaging that assumes we are all idiots:

  • Package of nuts with the following printed on it: "Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts." Unless, of course, you like the taste of plastic...
  • A bottle of rum admonishing users to "open bottle before drinking." Thanks for that advice; it is helpful after you've already had a few.

Packaging that is just sad:

  • A toilet brush telling users to "not use orally." That should include the addendum, "Especially after employed for intended use."
  • The Harry Potter toy wizard broom states, "This broom does not actually fly." What a way to ruin a kid's day.

Never forget the power of careful proofreading. Otherwise, a product becomes the butt of jokes.

3. Prohibited nutritional claims

Only certain health claims are permitted by the FDA for inclusion on labels and packaging. Those include...

  • Calcium benefits in reducing the risk of osteoporosis
  • Sodium's role in increasing hypertension
  • Dietary saturated fat and cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease.
  • The link between dietary fat and increased risk of cancer
  • The benefits of fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables in reducing cancer and heart disease risks
  • Folic acid and a reduced risk of neural tube defects
  • Dietary noncarcinogenic sweeteners and how they reduce decay

4. Intentional misrepresentation of a product as 'natural' or 'organic'

Wiggle room abounds regarding labeling a product as organic, all natural, or low fat. Consumers interested in natural and/or organic items need to know those products are labeled truthfully. Consumers want to forge a trusted relationship with a producer.

5. Information violating USDA or FDA labeling requirements

Packaging regulations of meat and poultry products specifically prohibit placing "chemical-free" on labels.

Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry, so labels stating "no hormones added" is permitted only when the statement "federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones" follows.

For beef, labels stating "no hormones administered" is only allowed if the producer proves no hormones were used in raising the animals.

Five Things to Include on Your Product Packaging

Eradicating bad packaging practices allows you to accentuate the positive attributes of a product.

1. Everything required by the FDA's labeling rules:

  • Identification of the product
  • All ingredients and sub-ingredients listed in descending order
  • Refrigeration or freezing needs for perishable products
  • "Use by" dates
  • Nutritional information
  • Storage recommendations
  • The manufacturer's, packer's, and/or distributor's contact information
  • FDA-approved colors used

2. Net contents in metric and US customary units

Both US customary unit and metric measurements must appear on most consumer products sold in the US. Pay attention to proper placement of those amounts as well.

3. All food allergens

Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), certain major food allergens must be listed on packaging, including:

  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat

4. Attractive presentation of the product

A study by researchers from the University of Miami and California Institute of Technology points out that a product's general appearance and visual appeal both attract consumers' attention and heavily influence their purchasing decisions.

What is on the outside does count—especially in increasing the potential sales of a product.

5. Environmentally friendly packaging

The use of biodegradable or recyclable packaging components appeals to many consumers. However, even when using less eco-friendly materials, reducing the amount of packaging pays off not only in lower material costs but also in appealing to consumers' green sides.

* * *

Packaging is the face a product presents to the public. Unless a product's packaging attracts sufficient consumer interest, what is on the inside matters little—at least in terms of profit.

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Five Things You Should Never Put on Your Product Packaging (and Five Things You Should)

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image of Amy Finn

Amy Finn is vice-president of Finn Industries, a folding carton and set-up box manufacturer located in Southern California.

LinkedIn: Amy Finn