Internationalising Food Packaging

Better Languages logo

Food packaging translation is an important part of our work. As more and more businesses look to international markets to spread risk, and grow.  It is therefore only natural that there is a lot of interest in internationalising food packaging.

Like most areas of translation work, the field is highly specialised. We always use professional translators who are native of the target language. This is for both translation and independent proofreading, as well as checking and signing off finished artwork. It is easy to receive great translation, and for things to go horribly wrong at the artwork stage.

Here are the top 5 packaging problems we tend to find on artwork:

1) Missing text:

This is easily done if you are cutting and pasting text. There is a special risk if there are different segments of packaging with a number of translated sections. Our translator will read the translated text against the original so as to ensure that nothing has been left out.

2) Style errors:

Designers normally like everything to look consistent, but this can give problems with translation. Just a couple of examples:

a) Capitalisation:

Its quite trendy in English to have lower case on titles. However,  this can look very strange in some languages. For example German has much more capitalisation than in English, routinely capitalising lots of common nouns.

b) Number formats:

These can vary language to language. Even in English there are important differences between the US and the UK. A good example is date format. The UK puts the day first, then month, whilst the reverse is the case in the US. This could cause serious problems for products with a short shelf life. You need to use the correct date format. If the wrong format is used, it will confuse the consumer. You could also have to withdraw “in date” products from sale because of incorrect labelling.

3) Mixing languages:

OK, so you need 17 products in 27 languages (yes its a real example, which included both Kazakh and Arabic). As the artwork team were adding sections of text, we had issues with extraneous text. The wrong  languages appeared, with text all mixed up. This was an artwork error rather than a translation issue, as our translations were correct. This was easily spotted and corrected by the translation team. However, the artworkers hadn’t noticed. This is easy enough with Kazakh and Arabic, which look very different, but what about similar languages? For example, Czech and Slovak are very similar Slavic languages. Only a native will spot the difference.

4) Accent errors:

This is quite common, especially at small font sizes. Some languages can be very fussy about use of accents and special characters. Again, careful checking is really important.

5) Text running together:

We’ve especially had this on product titles, where it is common to have both a marketing description of the product, and a legal name. When artworkers are not linguists, it is very easy to have the two running together without clear separation. We had fun with this with Hungarian, because there was a lot of text to fit in a small space.

6) Corrupted script:

This is a common problem with right to left languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Farsi. Most design programmes work left to right, and will corrupt script of right to left languages. Workarounds exist, but can be complex to use. We can typeset right to left languages in the Middle Eastern version of Illustrator, (or any other major design programme), and then provide the text in an outlined EPS format. Not sure whether your design house can cope? The simple solution is for us to prepare, check and sign off the artwork.


OK, so that’s six not five, just testing that you are still reading. This is a small introduction to a complex topic. I hope you have found it useful. If you would like to read more we have a dedicated page about food label translation.