If your small food business ships product around the country or even around the world then you know how expensive shipping materials can be. And, with the holidays coming up, if you ship items then chances are you’ll be needing even more shipping boxes in the coming weeks. That’s why I wanted to make sure you were aware of Uline’s once-a-year Big Box Blowout (well, they call it the Super Carton Sale but I think Big Box Blowout has a better marketing ring to it!). You can save up to 39% off their over 1,100 different box sizes. Read more
Posts tagged ‘packaging’
Last month I wrote a post about the labeling requirements when it comes to claiming your food product is organic. As I pointed out, the organic label is not something you can slap onto anything and use unless you want to run the risk of having the USDA hand you a nice $11,000 fine. While you may know and understand the requirements, you need to make sure that any third parties you work with also understand the consequences of misusing the organic label. Why? Well here’s a short lessons learned story for you:
About a year after I started my small food business I hired a PR firm to represent me. If you’ve read my book you already know that the relationship did not exactly measure up the way I had hoped. However, what I forgot to mention was that during the course of our short relationship, the PR firm – unbeknownst to me – started marketing my company as organic in press releases. I had never claimed that my product or company was organic but they took it upon themselves to freely use the word organic. When I realized what was going on and called them in a panic they indicated that since my products used organic ingredients then they naturally thought thy could say the treats were organic. I had to explain to them that there were very strict rules about what can and cannot be considered organic and even if you use organic products you still have to certified by the USDA which, at that point, was not something I was willing to spend money to do. The PR firm apologized profusuely (though I was still charged for the work that was sent out) and I certainly realize that their actions weren’t malicious. They simply just didn’t know that they couldn’t say my company was organic. So my word of advice to anyone out there who works with a third party, be it a PR firm, a graphic artist, a marketing firm, etc, be sure that you sit down at the beginning of the relationship and explain to them how and why terms like organic or all-natural can and cannot be used.
Functional food is big business these days. Think about the last time you walked through a supermarket. You likely saw cereal that claimed to be good for your heart and juice that said it was full of antioxidents good for fighting free radicals. Even ads on tv claim that certain foods and certain brands can make you a healthier person. Before I get too far into the labeling requirements of functional foods, I want to make it clear that I don’t endorse this type of marketing. Unless you can clearly and scientifically show a link between what you’re making and how it will make someone healthier I think there are far better ways to market a product.
But should you want to start marketing functional claims about your food product, know that the FDA requires that there be scientific data backing up your claim. However, what many of the big food companies do is create a loose correlation between their product and an ingredient that has a known benefit. As this article in the New York Times pointed out two weeks ago, Quaker Oatmeal Squares claims to lower cholesterol. They don’t say that their cereal lowers cholesterol, just that oatmeal does and they leave it to the consumer to make the connection between oatmeal, their product, and a healthier life. (The New York Times then goes on to point out that Quaker Oatmeal Squares do not contain nearly enough oatmeal to have any heart-healthy benefits unless someone were to eat three bowls of it daily).
Legally what their claiming is not false but I’d argue that many functional foods are marketed in such a way as to mislead consumers. On the flip side, as a small food producer, one of your greatest strengths may lie in the fact that your product is likely not as processed or manipulated as the Big Brands. You could honestly tell someone that your popsicles are made with 100% real fruit and no added sugar and allow the consumers to decide whether they want an all-natural popsicle or one laden with high-fructose corn syrup that ‘claims’ to have functional benefits. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, consumers are getting smarter by the day and are taking a much closer look at labels and want to understand what’s in the food their eating. While legally you might be able to put a giant heart on your popsicle packaging and market it as heart-healthy the strongest marketing benefit of your product may be how you make your food (and how that’s different from Big Brands) or the ingredients you use (and how that’s different from Big Brands).
‘Natural’ is one of the hottest terms in the food world right now and it seems like every product is touting how natural it is. Interesting, natural – as well as terms like ‘free-range’ and ‘sustainably-harvested,’ are not regulated by the government. Most people associate ‘Natural’ with food that is minimally processed, free of synthetic preservatives and additives, and other articifical colros and flavors. Truth is, chances are that if you’re making your food products by hand (and choosing your ingredients with care) they likely fall under the broad ‘Natural’ definition.
Since there currently is no government oversight for this term, it is possible to label and market your product as ‘Natural.” Be forewarned though that customers who value natural products are generally (broad generalization!) astute label readers and there’s no quicker way to lose customer than by marketing your product as natural when your ingredient list indicates otherwise.
Several weeks ago I posted about the jail time one baker received for mislabeling his products. With potentially life-threatening food allergies as well as customers’ own dietary preferences, labeling is a critical piece of a food business that you need to take seriously. While most important for any business that packages their food products, labeling in this case can also refer to restaurant menus that list out ingredients or any other time or place where customers may want to know what’s in the product you’re selling. In addition to the risks that mislabeling (even if accidentally) can cause to your customers and your business, even misuse of popular terminology in your advertising can came back as a big financial headache! This week we’ll look at the some of the regulations surrounding labeling your food products as containing functional benefits, calling your product ‘Natural,’ or claiming that it’s ‘Organic.’
Last Friday I mentioned that my company had been interviewed for an article by a big-time entrepreneur magazine but I didn’t say which magazine. My bad apparently because I got a lot of questions about it. The article, which featured green packaging, ran in Inc. Magazine and a copy of it can be found here.
Between Tax Week and then the posts last week about eco-friendly packaging, I didn’t have a chance to mention this news article. According to news reports, a North Carolina man has been sentanced to 9 years in prison for mislabeling his bread as ‘gluten-free.’ The bread was sold at the State Fair and local flea markets and the labeling caused several people who suffer from celiac disease to become sick.
Obviously, labeling is not something to take lightly! I’m working on a series of articles about labeling requirements that will run sometime in May but in the meantime if you have any questions about your food product labels please contact your local health department. The risk is just too great not to!
This picture on the Cream City Ribbon website is enough to make you do a double-take. What a colorful birds nest! Cream City Ribbon, based inMilwaukee, creates a line of eco-friendly and, what they bill as, biodegradable* ribbon. CreamCityRibbon can also accommodate organic and recycled ribbon custom orders. Made from responsibly-grown cotton, the company has taken pains to produce beautiful, vibrant ribbon printed with soy-based inks that will accentuate any packaging. From a food safety standpoint, their ribbon is certified by the US Department of Agriculture for indirect food contact so that means the ribbon can be added to your packaging but can’t actually touch any of the food that is being sold for consumption.
*Cream City Ribbon backs up their biodegradable claim with the following information on their website: An article in the Journal of North American Benthological Society (March 2007) reported that cotton fabric strips and fallen leaves decay in the same way and time frame when exposed to the same environmental conditions. Since Cream City Ribbon® has no cross threads, and is bonded with a water-soluble adhesive, it is reasonable to assume that it would decompose faster than a similar-sized strip of woven cotton.
Labels can make or break a product. A beautifully-designed logo goes to waste if it isn’t out in front of your customers which is where labels can come into play. A label on any type of box or bag will help customers identify you company and they’ll start to associate that logo with your delicious goodies. While at first you may choose to simply print your logo on stock labels you purchase from an office supply store, when you’re at the point where you’re selling more and more products it makes economica sense to have the labels professionally printed. If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly option you definitely need to check out Label Impressions.
A southern California company, Label Impressions are on the forefront of eco-friendly labels. Did you know that there are tree-free labels that feel like silk but stick like traditional labels? Did you know that you can make scratch-and-sniff labels? Honestly, the options they have available are a little overwhelming but the good folks at Label Impressions can walk you through all of the choices so that you can find a lable that’s good for the environment and in line with the brand image you’ve developed.
Regardless of the type of food business you run (or want to run!), there are numerous times when you may need a bag for your products. Cellophane bags are a great way to showcase your products and help preserve freshness but their impact on the environment is less than ideal. Complicating matters is the fact that if you want to use a cellophane bag you need to find one that is FDA-compliant for food contact. So does an environmentall-friendly FDA-approved cellophane bag exist? Wouldn’t this be the worst Earth Week post ever if I simply said no!?
NatureFlex is the answer for food entrepreneurs who want to show off their wares in beautiful FDA-approved cellophane bags but want to limit their carbon footprint. Available in a variety of sizes and shapes for all types of food, NatureFlex cello bags are made from wood pulp from environmentally-managed sources and the bags are naturally biodegradable and can be composted either at home or in via industrial methods. And just because the bags are eco-friendly doesn’t mean food businesses have to give up any quality. These bags look and feel almost exactly like tradiational cellophane bags and are heat sealable too!