Producing a high quality product is the essential first step to succeeding in the sustainable food market. However, it is just that – a first step. Designing an eye-catching and effective label is vital to attract and inform potential customers about your products, and should be an integral component of your marketing plan.
AWA can help you to design a new product label – or update your existing designs – saving you both time and money. Our professional design team will ensure that your new label doesn’t just comply with all necessary labeling regulations, but that it really stands out from the crowd. What’s more, the service is free to farmers in the program.
A label is not just a marketing tool – it is also a legal document designed to provide consumers with key product information. Most labels must receive official approval before use. As designing a label can involve coordinating the graphic designer, label printers and state or federal inspector it can be a very time consuming process – especially if you are also farming.
Labeling assistance is just one of the many services Animal Welfare Approved provides to farmers in the program. We can help create attractive, professional labels for your certified products and guide you through the state or federal labeling approval process. And, as with AWA certification, there is no charge for this service for farmers in the program. For more information please visit the links to the right or contact Labeling Coordinator Emily Lancaster at Emily@AnimalWelfareApproved.org or (202) 618-4497.
Please note: this service is for meat products processed at a state or federally inspected facility. Dairy products, eggs and meats processed under exemption have separate labeling requirements which vary according to each state’s regulations. For further information please consult the appropriate state Department of Agriculture.
No one shops – or markets – in a vacuum
Many of us make the mistake of believing that that we don’t need a label, either because we assume high-quality products should “sell themselves” or because we feel that other marketing strategies are more important. But while a comprehensive marketing plan is essential to any business, the reality is that having a good product label is actually more important than ever. Label claims are the building blocks of food marketing and your label will dictate which claims you are legally approved to make.
Even farmers with limited sales are part of a much bigger and ever-changing labeling landscape. Shoppers who visit farmers’ markets are still likely to visit the mainstream grocery stores. And as public interest in ethical products grows, other food businesses both large and small are seeking to capitalize on this new and growing market.
Unfortunately, this is also leading to the increasing use of confusing and sometimes misleading ‘natural’ labeling claims in the marketplace, some which actually mean very little. For example, claims such as “Cage Free,” “Free Range,” “Natural” or “Naturally Raised” mean nothing in terms of environmental stewardship, animal welfare, or the nutritional benefits of the product – yet to the uninformed consumer they all sound ”green.”
So, if you’re a pasture-based farm, raising animals in a high-welfare system, how do you set yourself apart and ensure you are fully describing what you do? A good label, supported by the AWA logo, will help to educate potential customers about the wide-ranging benefits of your farming system and why your products are worth paying for. A well designed, attractive label will also differentiate your products and allow you to stand out from the growing crowd.
AWA Labeling Service
AWA can help you to create high-impact, professional label for your certified products – and help to ensure that your label complies will all necessary food labeling laws. Our labeling team will work with you to create a branded, farm-specific, attractive label that reflects your farm values and helps to set your products apart. If you already have a farm brand, we can help to incorporate it into a professional and powerful marketing tool (for examples of successful labels see AWA’s Label Gallery). As with AWA certification, there is no charge for this service for certified farms.
How to Prepare and What to Expect
Before You Call: Think about what you want out of your label. Read the section, “How to Make the Most of Your Label” and decide what elements you want to include. Other useful background information and resources include “Meat Labeling 101” (AWA newsletter, Fall 2010) and “Labeling for Farmers” (Stewardship News, Spring 2011).
Initial Consultation: We are here to help make designing a label as simple as possible. After an initial consultation about what you are trying to achieve, we will request some basic information from you to ensure compliance with labeling regulations and to help create the label you want.
Designing the Label: Under your guidance, we will work with our designers to create a label that meets your needs. We can also suggest a range of approved marketing claims that you can use on your label to expand and maximize its appeal. We will also work with you and your processor to determine how best to print your labels. Please note it is the farmer’s responsibility to print labels.
Submitting for Approval: Once you are happy with the design we will complete and submit the necessary paperwork to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for their approval, or assist in submitting the paperwork to the appropriate state agency.
Approval: Once your design is approved you are free to print and use the label on your products.
Feedback on AWA’s Labeling Service
“The task [of creating a private label] was a little overwhelming for me so I sought help from the staff at Animal Welfare Approved. Emily Lancaster and the rest of the AWA staff did an excellent job on design and worked through the process of submitting the label for approval.”
-Leland Gibson, Gibson Farms
“I’m in your debt for your going above & beyond anything you are ‘required’ to do and I am ever so grateful!”
-Rhonda Williams, This Lil’ Piggy Farm
“We at Hunter Cattle are very thankful for your hard work, and for how great the labels have turned out.”
-Del Ferguson, Hunter Cattle Company
A note on inspection type: most farmers who sell meat will have it processed at a state- or federally-inspected facility. If you do, your labels must be approved by the appropriate state or federal agency. AWA can assist with this process. Farmers who sell eggs and dairy products are also subject to labeling requirements which vary by state. AWA can guide you to the appropriate state contact.
For more information contact Labeling Coordinator Emily Lancaster at Emily@AnimalWelfareApproved.org or (202) 618-4497.
As with processing, meat labeling is strictly regulated. Many food producers aren’t aware that accurate labeling is a legal requirement as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, 317.8 (a), which states that, “No product or any of its wrappers, packaging, or other containers shall bear any false or misleading marking, label, or other labeling.” This includes any statement, word, picture or design associated with the product. Understanding your legal obligations for labeling can help you avoid the consequences that may result from failing to comply with these regulations.
If a product is deemed misbranded, its manufacturer faces a wide range of penalties that can be imposed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). These include withholding (rescinding) the use of labeling; product retention (prohibiting shipment); product detention (prohibiting sale from anywhere in the chain of commerce); request for product recall, press releases, and/or fines; and criminal prosecution. In addition, the facility producing misbranded product faces the possibility of inspection suspension or withdrawal (source: FSIS Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products).
Truthful labeling is just one of many requirements that an inspected product must comply with to meet its legal obligations. Other required information may include: ingredients, safe handling instructions (if appropriate), weight, company name and address and the processing plant’s establishment number. There are also strict controls on the additional claims you can and cannot make about your food. See the FSIS list of commonly approved claims for more details.
AWA can help you to design professional food labels for your products and guide you through the mandatory federal approval process, at no charge. For more information contact Labeling Coordinator Emily Lancaster at Emily@AnimalWelfareApproved.org or (202) 618-4497.
Make the Most of Your Label
A food label isn’t just about complying with regulations: it’s also a vital marketing tool. Your label is an introduction to your farm and an opportunity to provide potential customers with information that will help them to feel good about buying your product. We all know that consumer demand for “ethical” food is on the rise, but what exactly are they looking for? And how can you prove that your product meets their expectations?
Understanding the consumer
A 2010 study by Context Marketing reports that in order to qualify as an “ethical food,” consumers felt the product must avoid harming the environment (93%), meet high safety standards (92%), use environmentally sustainable practices (91%), avoid inhumane treatment of animals (91%), and be produced according to high-quality standards (91%). The study also showed that 69% of consumers are willing to pay more for food produced to these higher ethical standards. So how can you communicate your ethical practices to your customer, and highlight the value of how you farm?
What are your values?
First, you need to identify your own “ethical values” and how they influence your business and farming. Write down a list of your core values and how these are reflected in your day-to-day farming. For example, are you concerned about high animal welfare and minimizing the impact of your farming on the environment? Are your animals 100% grass-fed or pasture-raised? Think about anything you do which makes your system different from other farms, particularly industrial or CAFO systems. Keep things positive and simple –messages which are clear, uncluttered and easily explained are most effective.
What do your customers want?
Next, try to consider what values or issues will be of interest or value to your customers. We already know that ethical consumers are mainly concerned about minimizing their impact on the environment, sustainability, high animal welfare and food quality. Is there any common ground? What key messages can you communicate about your farming practices that will match your customers’ values? What does your product do for your customers and/or the wider community?
A range of common values might include:
- High animal welfare standards
- Certified Organic
- Environmentally responsible
- Locally produced
- High quality/artisan
- Raised without antibiotics
- Raised without added hormones
- Breeds such as Angus, Longhorn, etc.
- Family farmed
- Natural/Naturally Raised (relatively meaningless)
Please see AWA’s labeling guide Food Labeling for Dummies (below) for information on additional terms and claims.
We can also suggest a range of approved marketing claims that you can use on your label to expand and maximize its appeal (see the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s list of commonly approved claims here). In selecting which claims to include in your label, it is important to consider the integrity of the claim. Consumer Reports has an excellent guide to labels which evaluates common “green” labels in terms of how meaningful they are. Remember that third party certification, such as Animal Welfare Approved, is a vital tool in proving that your meat, dairy or eggs really are produced to the highest welfare and sustainability standards.
Keep it real – and simple
Once you have identified shared values it is important to make sure that any claims you intend to use on your label accurately reflect your farm and comply with existing regulations. The AWA labeling service team can help ensure that your label is accurate and compliant.
Providing accurate information on your label is not just the law, it’s also part of your integrity. We’ve all read the various media stories about misleading labels, such as when Tyson was exposed for injecting embryos with antibiotics and yet marketed their meat as “Raised without Antibiotics.” Aside from being illegal – and potentially resulting in fines and legal costs – making false claims like this can seriously undermine trust in you and your products.
Focus your communication efforts on highlighting these core messages on your label, brochures and website. Telling your story is important, but remember that the front of your label is valuable “real estate” and that clear, simple marketing messages are most effective. Try to keep detailed or complex explanations of how you farm or your philosophy as supplemental information, easily available to more interested customers (on the reverse of the package, in your brochure or on your website).
Once you have decided what elements to include on your label, AWA can help you bring the concept to reality. For more information contact Labeling Coordinator Emily Lancaster at Emily@AnimalWelfareApproved.org or (202) 618-4497.
AWA Guide to Food Labels
Download AWA’s Food Labeling For Dummies here. This version is evolving and will be continually updated to include the latest information.
Highlights of the guide include:
- A glossary of common food labels
- An explanation of how various claims are verified
- In-depth definitions and information on common misconceptions
- Where to find more information
Individual printed copies are available upon request. Please call (202) 546-5292 or email email@example.com to request copies.