Label PRomotion | Keywords Can Make, Break Reputation

As consumers become much more savvy about ingredients, product manufacturers would be well-advised to “come clean” about their claims—including the use of certain label keywords. Attempts to deceive or split hairs about health and quality claims are increasingly being scrutinized by the blogosphere and beyond. Companies caught making untrue or lame claims on their labels will be called to task more than ever before.

A consumer protection agency no less than Consumer Reports is jumping on the truth-in-labeling bandwagon. A recent report notes, “So don't look for butter in Mrs. Butterworth's or expect oranges in the Tang. Instead, look past the pretty pictures and seek the truth in the ingredient list.Another labeling pitfall is buzzwords. There's a reason snacks are called potato crisps instead of potato chips. The FDA requires a 'chip' to be thinly sliced potato—but a 'crisp' can be made from dried potatoes with cornstarch, sugar, and soy lecithin.”

Bottom line, say what you can prove on the label and leave out dubious claims. A healthy bottom line may be at stake.

What are some commonly seen label terms and images that bear re-evaluation in light of closer scrutiny by both mainstream and social media?

Made in the USA

Is the product wholly made in the USA of constituent parts originating in the USA? Or is it assembled in the USA using foreign elements, ingredients, and the like? As consumers get ever-more-savvy about truthful labeling, manufacturers need to be truthfully transparent.

Don’t hide behind disclosures in tiny type. And don’t link the label to a digital site that provides a bunch of disclaimers and/or explanations. If it’s born, bred, and built in the USA, say so. Otherwise, disclose what is/isn’t US-based (e.g., assembled in the US from foreign ingredients).

With the rising popularity of buying products made in the USA, including the “buying local” movement that promotes local community-derived items, it may be time for overseas-centric manufacturers to bring it all back home, in part for positive PR purposes.

A holiday report on CNBC pointed out, “Products made in the USA can have special appeal to holiday shoppers who also want to support local producers…Forget packed malls and big-box chain stores brimming with sleepy bargain hunters. This holiday season, a modest shopping phenomenon is brewing in Fort Wayne, IN. … During the recent Thanksgiving weekend that included Black Friday, hundreds of local shoppers gathered in downtown Fort Wayne to buy from small merchants offering a variety of gifts, including flavored popcorn, apparel, and nail polish. The unique twist? Every small business participating in the retail fair featured ‘Made in USA’ goods almost exclusively.”

Natural

At least according to consumerreports.org, the term "natural" is wearing thin: “This ubiquitous claim is essentially meaningless. It does have a definition for meat and poultry, but it has to do only with how the meat was processed, not how the animal was raised. For everything else—cereal, snacks, you name it—it has no standard definition whatsoever. And manufacturers can, and do, use it on all sorts of processed foods, including products made with high-fructose corn syrup or genetically modified ingredients.”

It may be time for a new term. As the word “natural” becomes more adulterated, and as the consuming public becomes more aware, manufacturers using the word may find themselves the subject of negative, or at least suspicious, reports.

USDA Organic

According to consumerreports.org, the term "USDA Organic" is a winner for food products. Notes the organization, “This easy-to-spot seal means that at least 95% of the ingredients in a given item are certified organic—for example, they're produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers, most synthetic pesticides, or genetically engineered crops. And meat that's certified organic comes from animals raised without antibiotics or genetically modified feed. The Dept. of Agriculture has no organic standard for fish.”

This stands in contrast to the oft-used “free-range” term for poultry. Consumerreports.org notes, “‘This label is so sad,' says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of our Center for Consumer Safety and Sustainability. 'It invokes images of happy, free-grazing animals, but in fact producers only have to allow them some access to open air for an unspecified amount of time each day—even if it’s only 5 minutes.'”

American Heart Assn. Heart-Check mark

The American Heart Assn. Heart-Check mark is one of those icons that looks good but may not tell the whole story. Emphasizes consumerreports.org, “Foods are allowed to bear claims about heart health if they meet certain standards such as minimal saturated fat or set percentage of whole-grain ingredients. But make sure you also check the nutrition facts.”

In some cases, the organization asserts, “heart healthy” products such as fruit juices can in fact contain high levels of sugar and other ingredients that may warrant caution. Just as with “Made in the USA” claims, manufacturers would be wise to steer clear of using these types of icons if the products contain ingredients that, upon further scrutiny, many would deem unhealthy based on quantities. Otherwise, your product may find itself at the center of undesired scrutiny by a social media or mainstream media-based publisher.

Make label claims that are clear and irrefutable. Your buyers—and reputation—will thank you for it.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is president of Lusky Enterprises Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. Since 2008, he has worked with Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printing company, as a content developer specializing in expert advice articles. Lusky presents common-sense ideas grounded in doing what’s real and right for managing and enhancing public image.

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