Packaging and Labelling

The way you package and label your product is important. First, packaging protects it from physical, chemical and microbiological invasion.

The package also provides a medium for presenting advertising messages and other important information to the consumer.

And finally, the package is one of the greatest influences on a consumer's decision to try your product.

The Ideal Food Package

The perfect food package has all of the following criteria:

  • meets current legal requirements;
  • compatible with food;
  • protects against contamination from the environment;
  • controls the product's environment;
  • resists mechanical damage;
  • sanitary;
  • tamper-proof;
  • attractive;
  • convenient;
  • inexpensive;
  • lightweight;
  • environmentally sound;
  • functions as a preparation and/or serving vessel;
  • sells itself;
  • identifies the product; and
  • supplies the required information.

It's important to note, however, that not one food package available today meets all of these criteria. It's up to you to decide which are most important for your particular application and which can be compromised.

Regulatory Considerations

Regulatory issues around packaging are very complex, and you must consider them in detail with respect to each food product's unique needs and the properties of its potential package. The following is a brief summary of some of the regulatory issues you will want to investigate more closely as you examine your packaging options.

Packaging Materials

Packaging materials for food are regulated in Division 23 of the Food and Drug Regulations. The regulations are broad in scope and limited in specifics.

You can contact Health Canada with specific questions about the acceptability of food packaging materials or for a voluntary review. Packaging suppliers may also have additional information about the acceptability of packaging materials.

Standardized Sizes

Certain products sold in Canada are federally or provincially regulated with regard to the container size. One example is provincial dairy regulations, such as those in Quebec. Other common examples include products regulated under the federal Processed Products Regulations (PPR), such as many canned fruits and vegetables.

The federal Meat Inspection Regulations specify standardized sizes for a few products such as luncheon meat (retail consumer product only). Sizes for refined sugar syrups, peanut butter and wine are regulated under the federal Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations for retail products.

Before you commit to packaging, you would be wise to determine if the products meet standardized size requirements. If they do, they can only be sold in the units-weight or volume-as prescribed in applicable regulations.

Your choice of packaging materials may have an effect on whether the product meets standards of identity or standard container sizes. For example, tomato paste should meet standard container sizes under the PPR. If a tomato paste is packaged in a squeeze tube, it won't comply with the canned standard, and so it can't be called "tomato paste." The product will have to be identified as an unstandardized product such as "concentrated tomato extract."

Other Considerations

In certain cases, your choice of packaging could have provincial considerations. For instance, beverages in cans are prohibited in Prince Edward Island.

Provincial governments regulate environmental issues related to beverage containers. Not all beverages are regulated, only those that each province classifies. A common example is carbonated beverages. The requirements vary from province to province, with some requiring returnable, redemption (deposit and return) or recyclable containers.

The Food and Drugs Act and Regulations contain more information. Check your library for a copy, or on the Internet at You can also buy a copy from:

Renouf Publishing Co. Ltd. 5369 Canotek Road Ottawa, Ontario K1J9J3 Tel: 613-745-2665 Toll Free: 1-888-551-7470 Fax: 613-745-7660 E-mail:

Sourcing Food Packaging

Before you begin contacting food packaging suppliers, you should have a good idea of the type of packaging you need, as well as the dimensions and volumes required. Like food ingredient suppliers, packaging suppliers deal only with those customers that can fulfill a certain volume order.

Because of this, you may find it easier to source your materials through food packaging distributors. You could encounter a problem, however: these distributors usually carry only standard types of packaging. For generic packages, look in the Yellow Pages for distributors near you.

For more information, contact:

Packaging Association of Canada 2255 Sheppard Avenue East, Suite E330 Toronto, Ontario M2J 4Y1 Tel: 416-490-7860 Fax: 416-490-7844 E-mail:

RePack Canada Mississauga, Ontario Tel: 1-877-804-4841 E-mail:

Packaging Materials

You can choose from a number of packaging materials. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.


Metals provide excellent protection to foods, because no moisture or gas transmission can take place. Metals are:

  • inexpensive;
  • non-toxic;
  • strong; and
  • coated or plated so that they won't react with the food.

Cans are the primary type of food packaging produced from metals. They allow you to cook the food inside the sealed can.

The main metals used to make cans are steel and aluminum. Steel can't be placed in direct contact with food or it will rust. As a result, steel must be coated with tin, chromium or various polymers for acidic foods.

Aluminum, on the other hand, won't corrode when it's exposed to food. However, it is sensitive to chloride ions and acid in foods.

Can Sizes

Metal cans come in a large variety of sizes, ranging in both height and diameter. Sizing is based on the American system, so it is read in inches. Two sets of numbers are given, the first set being the diameter and the second being the height. Within the set, the first number is stated in inches and the second is stated as 16ths of an inch.

Can Types

You can purchase either three-piece or two-piece cans. Because two-piece cans have only one seam, they are superior with respect to integrity and appearance. Unfortunately, they are more expensive, and only small sizes are available.

Sources of metal containers are listed in the Resources section of this guide.


One of the main benefits of using glass over other types of food packaging is that it is non-reactive with virtually all foods. As well, it contains the product totally, because it is impervious to moisture and gases.

Like metal, glass allows you to cook the food inside the container. It is also good from a marketing perspective-because it is transparent, the consumer can see the contents.

Not only is glass recyclable, but it is also often re-used by some food processors.

The drawback of glass as a food packaging material is that it is extremely fragile and very heavy, which adds to distribution costs.

The standard glass for food packaging is soda-lime glass. It can be formed into unique shapes and sizes. It can also be coloured for an attractive appearance or to screen out light that could cause unwanted changes in the product.

Sources of glass containers are listed in the Resources section of this guide.


Food packages made from paper can be formed into simple or elaborate designs, because it is flexible and easy to work with. Other benefits to using paper include:

  • light weight;
  • generally inexpensive; and
  • excellent surface for printing.

Because paper isn't waterproof, its structural integrity is limited. That is, when paper gets wet, it becomes weaker. As a result, paper is restricted to certain applications when used alone. To overcome this problem, paper is often coated with polymers or lined with foils.

Types of paper packaging include:

  • bags and pouches;
  • folding cartons; and
  • corrugated boxes.

Sources of paper containers are listed in the Resources section of this guide.


Plastics are ideal for food packaging because they are:

  • resistant to breakage;
  • relatively inexpensive;
  • corrosion resistant;
  • lightweight; and
  • waterproof.

Plastics can be produced easily in complex shapes, and they also possess a wide range of colours, or remain transparent.

Although plastics have come a long way since their introduction into the food industry, there still remain some drawbacks to using them for food packaging. For example:

  • they can bend, crush or crack easily;
  • some possess little heat resistance;
  • they pick up dust easily; and
  • some of the more complex laminates can be very expensive.

Plastics also don't have the excellent barrier properties of glass and metals, so they allow gases to pass in and out of the package. Plastics differ in how effective they are as barriers to the various important gases-oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapour. Selecting the right plastic packaging requires knowledge of how sensitive the product is to loss or absorption of these gases.

Types of Plastic

Plastics are often classified into two categories - thermoplastics and thermoset plastics.

  • Thermoplastics: These can be re-formed into a desired shape after being melted. This type of plastic is used to produce plastic bags, pouches, bottles, trays and cups.
  • Thermoset plastics: A thermoset plastic is very strong once formed, and will decompose before melting (that is, it won't re-form). This type of plastic is commonly used for bottle caps and can coatings.

Sources of plastic containers are listed in the Resources section of this guide.


Laminates combine the advantages of several materials into one. For example, one film may consist of paper, metal (foil) and plastic. In this case, paper is used for its low cost and strength, metal is added to prevent gas and/or light penetration, and a low-cost plastic is incorporated so the film can be heat-sealed.

Laminates can often be more costly than other packaging alternatives, such as metal cans or plastics.

Examples of laminates are Tetra Brik® drink boxes, potato chip bags, retort pouches and "ovenable" paperboard (paperboard that can be heated up to 400 F).

Sources of laminated films are listed in the Resources section of this guide.

Environmental Concerns

The Ministry of the Environment's Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) has the mandate to develop, implement and operate waste diversion programs. The Waste Diversion Act, 2002 (Bill 90), is now in effect. Visit the MOE website before you select your product packaging, get more information on environmental acts and regulations in Ontario.

In general, food packaging has a bad reputation with consumers. They see it taking up space in landfill sites and hear how it is using up valuable resources. It's not that they believe packaging isn't necessary, but rather they view it as excessive and over abundant.

As a result, you must choose the packaging for your products carefully. When you're sourcing, take into consideration packages that are smaller, thinner and use less material. By doing this initially, you can save yourself some time and money searching for a new package farther down the road.

Package Design

Your packaging must look professional in order to compete, particularly in the food business. It is the packaging that will determine a first purchase, while the quality of your product will bring repeat business.

The first and most important step you must take in designing your package is to establish the product requirements for:

  • the appropriate amounts in which you will sell the product (these may be based on adequate portion sizes, competitors' offerings or customer preferences);
  • volume and weights of the different sales amounts;
  • physical packaging attributes that help the customer use the product;
  • protective needs, including shipping and handling factors;
  • the appropriate shape of the packaging, not only for esthetic appeal but also for efficient shipping and stocking; and legal requirements.

Once you have determined the required specifications, the design of the packaging can be created to work within these boundaries.

Packaging design is part of your overall marketing strategy. You can either do the design yourself or hire a professional graphic designer. Professional help from printers will be necessary in order to create a package that has impact in the market. However, it is important that you are able to give the designer specific directions, because he or she won't be as knowledgeable about the target market as you are.

The more information you can give to the designer about your target market, package structure and desired image the easier it will be for him or her to create what you are looking for. You can get information about packaging design from trade magazines, trade shows, competing products and books on labelling. You can also contact:

Packaging Association of Canada 2255 Sheppard Avenue East, Suite E330 North York, Ontario M2J 4Y1 Tel: 416-490-7860 Fax: 416-490-7844 E-mail:

Factors to Consider Regarding Design

Here are some of the considerations you should take into account when you are developing your product design:

  • Determine the target market.
  • Establish the image or "personality" of the product based on the tastes and preferences of your target market: bold, elegant, practical, sophisticated, fun, etc.
  • Determine the most important features of your product to the audience (if too much information is presented, the design will be cluttered).
  • Determine where you will be selling the product and the associated distributor's regulatory requirements for the package, including labelling.
  • Determine the placement of the product in relation to other products, particularly competitors (your package must stand out against its background).
  • Colours convey meaning, and the meaning will be different in each cultural setting
  • Colours don't usually appear to be as bright or bold when the product is on the shelf. Be careful that colour "rules" used in other situations aren't being applied to the package design.
  • Symbols and shapes can often convey information more concisely than text.


High quality labelling, like packaging, requires research, planning and consultation from a variety of sources. As well, package and label design must be integrated. It's important that they both send the same message to the consumer.

Your ultimate goal is to produce a label that is educational and user-friendly. It should also adequately market your product within legal specifications. And, of course, your label needs to be an integrated part of your strategic marketing approach. (This is covered in more detail in Part 8: Strategic Marketing.

Before you create a label, you should know:

  • all the regions where your product will eventually be sold, and through which distribution channels;
  • information your customers would find helpful;
  • the colours and promotional appeals that are suitable for your audience (your designer can give you input on this);
  • how the label will be applied;
  • what labelling material is suitable for the product environment (that is, does it need to be freezer-proof? Shipping-proof? Smudge-proof?);
  • what the labelling budget is per unit; and
  • regulatory requirements for the product.

Once you have enough information to answer the above questions, you can approach a label designer.

Note that it is the manufacturer or distributor's responsibility to ensure that the label meets legal standards. In Canada and the United States, a unique set of specifications is required for each product, based on a combination of factors, including:

  • geographic region;
  • product class;
  • distribution channel; and
  • intended consumer.

For information about mandatory and optional labelling elements for products being sold in Canada, contact:

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Food Label Service Toll Free: 1-800-667-2657

Toronto 1124 Finch Avenue West, Unit 2 Toronto, Ontario M3J 2E2 Tel: 416-665-5055

Guelph 174 Stone Road West Guelph, Ontario N1G 4S9 Tel: 519-837-9400

The Department of External Affairs and International Trade provides information and advice on U.S. labelling requirements. It will review draft or prototype labels and provide comments and suggestions before you approach U.S. Customs.

You can also get copies of A Food Labelling Guide, published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, from the Foreign Affairs Canada. Contact:

Foreign Affairs Canada 125 Sussex Drive Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2 Tel: 613-944-4000 Toll Free: 1-800-267-8376 Fax: 613-996-9709

International Trade Canada will help with labelling requirements for the U.S. market and abroad. Contact:

International Trade Canada 125 Sussex Drive Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2 Tel: 613-944-4000 Toll Free: 1-800-267-8376 Fax: 613-996-9709

Ingredient Listing

In both Canada and the United States, all ingredients must be listed by their common name, in descending order of proportion. Ingredients for certain formulations of standard products aren't required, but these exceptions are different for each country.

In Canada, ingredient specifications fall under the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates requirements.

The size of the text and its position on the label are also regulated.

Universal Product Codes

Many retails and distributors now require 12-digit, scanner-readable universal product codes (UPCs). The codes contain product pricing and inventory information that is scanned and processed by the cash register, allowing the retailer to keep up-to-date product stock and sales information.

GS1 Canada can issue product code numbers within 48 hours. You can also get guidelines on UPC usage and positioning from the council.

Codes issued in Canada are suitable abroad. However, if a manufacturer's number is to be assigned in the United States, you must join the Uniform Code Council. This organization will also provide a list of reputable printers that can create film masters.

For more information, contact:

GS1 Canada 1500 Don Mills Road, Suite 800 Don Mills, Ontario M3B 1L1 Tel: 416-510-8039 Fax: 416-510-1916

Uniform Code Council Inc. 300-7887 Washington Village Drive Dayton, Ohio 45459 Tel: 937-435-3870 Fax: 937-435-7317

Nutrition Labelling

In 2002, Health Canada regulations made nutrition labelling mandatory on most prepackaged food for most manufacturers as of December 12, 2005. For small manufacturers (those who had gross revenues from food sales in Canada of less than $1,000,000 in the 12-month period prior to December 12, 2002, the transition period is five years. These companies will have to comply with the new regulations by December 12, 2007.

The "Nutrition Facts" table is intended to provide information needed by consumers to make informed food purchasing choices and to compare products. Under the new regulations, foods will be labelled with more complete, consistent and accessible nutrition information than was the case previously.

Previously, nutrition labelling was voluntary and the information wasn't always presented in the same way. Under the new regulations, foods will be labelled with more complete, consistent and accessible nutrition information, including:

  • the number of calories, and the amount of:
  • fat
  • saturated and trans fats
  • cholesterol
  • sodium
  • carbohydrate
  • fibre " sugars
  • protein
  • vitamins A and C
  • calcium
  • iron

The Nutrition Facts table will appear on most prepackaged foods, but some exemptions include:

  • Alcoholic beverages;
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables;
  • Raw single ingredient meat and poultry except for ground meat and ground poultry;
  • Raw single ingredient fish and seafood;
  • Food containing insignificant amounts of the 13 nutrients required in the Nutrition Facts table;
  • Food products sold only in the retail establishment where they are prepared or processed;
  • Individual servings of food intended for immediate consumption.

Foods lose their exempt status if:

  • Their labels or advertisements carry a nutrition or a health claim;
  • Vitamins or minerals have been added;
  • Sweeteners such as aspartame have been added.

Specific regulations for making nutrient content claims and how they are to be presented on food labels, also exist and should be reviewed to see if they pertain to the way you wish to promote your product. "Free" claims and words such as "very" low or "ultra" low, and "light" fall under these regulations.

Diet-related health claims, which relate to a food's ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and high blood pressure, are also being allowed for the first time in Canada.

Until the nutrition facts table becomes mandatory, products may comply with either the new nutrition labelling regulations or with the previous regulations.

Allergen Labelling, Certified Organic, "Best Before" Dates and other forms of labelling. The new regulations for nutrition labelling do not relate to other types of information on the label. For more information on these and other labelling regulations, please refer to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website. You can also e-mail your question to:

Lab Testing for Nutrition Content Claims

A number of laboratories test for nutrition content. A list of labs is included in the Resources section of this guide. The list isn't intended to be complete. For information about other labs in Ontario, contact the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Business Development Branch, at 1-888-466-2372.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends using an in-house or accredited laboratory that uses methods that have been validated for the food you want to have analysed. A list of accredited labs can be accessed through the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) website.

Other Points About Labelling

You should be aware of the following:

  • "Eco-labelling" (or Environmentally Friendly Labelling) falls under separate guidelines in both Canada and the United States.
  • Before you finalize the printing of labels, all the work should be proofread several times. Also, if you are unhappy with the design work, ask the designer or printer for changes.
  • Printers normally create print plates for label printing. Ask the printer if you can keep the plates when the job is completed. This will permit you to change printing companies without incurring the additional cost of creating a second plate.
  • There is usually a minimum order amount when purchasing labels or packages. Determining this amount before you order will help you to avoid over-purchasing to meet the minimum.
  • The cost advantages of bulk printing may be overcome by the cost of disposing of unused labels if you require a change. Keep this in mind when you order labels.

You can get an "informal comment" on label prototypes from governmental bodies in both Canada and the United States. However, these organizations won't issue a legal confirmation that a product label has met all regulatory criteria.

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For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 05 August 2005
Last Reviewed: 06 July 2011