Labelling and packaging FAQs

18 FAQs people ask about labelling and packaging

  1. What information do we have to show on the label?
  2. How accurate must the information on a label be?
  3. Does the label of imported goods have to say where they come from?
  4. Are we allowed to label our goods as 'British' or 'English'?
  5. Do labels have to be in English?
  6. Do weights and sizes of goods have to be shown using metric weights and measures?
  7. What are the rules on weights when individual package sizes vary?
  8. What safety information must a label provide?
  9. Should the label include information about any standards a product meets?
  10. Does the price of goods we are selling have to be shown on the label?
  11. Are there any special labelling rules for particular kinds of product?
  12. What are the rules for food labelling?
  13. Are there any restrictions on how we design our packaging?
  14. Does packaging have to be made out of recyclable material?
  15. Do we have to recycle packaging on goods we buy?
  16. Can we get intellectual property protection for our packaging?
  17. If we buy packaging, are we responsible if the packaging does not meet legal requirements?
  18. Are there any special packaging rules for particular types of goods?

1. What information do we have to show on the label?

There isn’t a general requirement to show particular information for every kind of product. However:

  • retailers must display prices (see 10) and quantities (see 6)
  • you may need to include safety information for potentially dangerous products (see 8)
  • there are special rules for some products, such as food (see 11)

Any information you do include on the label must not be misleading (see 2).

You can find more specific information on labelling on the Trading Standards Institute's Business Companion website.

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2. How accurate must the information on a label be?

Broadly speaking, providing false or misleading information is an offence. This includes inaccurate information about the nature of the product, quantities or prices. Your customer might also be able to make a claim against you if, for example, they relied on the information on the label when deciding to buy the product.

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3. Does the label of imported goods have to say where they come from?

You are not generally required to label goods with their country of origin, though this is required for some products (see 11). If you do choose to show the country of origin, you must provide accurate information.

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4. Are we allowed to label our goods as 'British' or 'English'?

In general, you are allowed to label your goods as British (or English) — provided the label is accurate.

If you plan to export your goods, you should check that your labelling complies with any overseas labelling requirements in terms of country of origin.

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5. Do labels have to be in English?

If information is legally required — for example, for food products — then that information must be provided in English. The label can also include information in other languages as well.

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6. Do weights and sizes of goods have to be shown using metric weights and measures?

If you are selling products such as meat to consumers, you are legally required to label any package with the weight. In addition, you might choose to label other products with their weight or measure: for example, you might show the length of a roll of tape. In either case, you must use metric weights and measures. (There are a small number of exceptions, such as milk sold in returnable containers, which can still be sold by the pint.)

You can choose to show imperial measures as well on the label, but this must not be more prominent than the metric measure.

If you are selling to businesses, the requirement to use metric weights and measures is less clear-cut. However, most industries now use metric weights and measures as a matter of course, so your customers will expect you to do so.

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7. What are the rules on weights when individual package sizes vary?

If you are retailing packages that vary in size, you can choose to either sell by minimum quantity or by average quantity.

If you sell by minimum quantity, every packet must contain at least that amount.

If you are selling by average quantity, you must follow set rules:

  • The average quantity must be at least the amount you claim.
  • No more than 1 in 40 of the packs must be more than a specified 'tolerable negative error' (TNE) below the stated average. The TNE depends on the weight or size of the packages.
  • None of the packages must be more than twice the TNE below the stated average.

In addition, if you sell by average quantity, you must carry out checks to ensure that you are complying with the rules, and keep records of the checks. You must also mark the packages with your name and address, and can choose to use the 'e' mark to show that you are complying with the rules.

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8. What safety information must a label provide?

If you produce or supply potentially dangerous goods, you need to provide appropriate safety information. You might, for example, provide appropriate safety instructions.

In some cases, you are required to show safety information on the label. For example, if potentially dangerous goods are being transported by road or rail, the labels may need to carry appropriate safety information to ensure that the goods are handled properly.

There are also specific safety labelling requirements for certain products: for example, upholstered furniture, electrical goods and children's toys. You should take advice on the requirements for products you manufacture or distribute.

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9. Should the label include information about any standards a product meets?

In some cases, this is a legal requirement: for example, products such as children's toys must carry the 'CE' mark. Depending on the product, independent assessment may be required before you are allowed to use the CE mark. You should take advice on the requirements for products you manufacture or distribute.

Even where it is not legally required, you may choose to label your product with details of standards it meets for commercial reasons. Any such labelling must not be misleading: for example, you must not falsely claim that your product meets a standard.

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10. Does the price of goods we are selling have to be shown on the label?

Retailers must display product prices clearly, either on the label or nearby (for example, with a price indication on the shelf under the goods). Similarly, restaurants and similar businesses must show product prices on their menus.

Where products are being sold to consumers, the price must usually include VAT.

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11. Are there any special labelling rules for particular kinds of product?

There are extensive labelling requirements for food products (see 12). There are also special labelling requirements for some potentially dangerous products (see 8).

There are specific labelling requirements for some other products. For example, shoes must be labelled with details of the materials used, and products made out of gold (and other precious metals) must be hallmarked. In addition, there are legal requirements to provide information for certain products - for example, the content of textiles - and this information is often provided using the label.

You should take advice on the requirements for products you manufacture or distribute.

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12. What are the rules for food labelling?

In general, food for retail (or sale to a catering business) must be labelled with:

  • its name and ingredients
  • an indication of its life (eg a 'best before' date). Highly perishable foods must be labelled with a 'use by' date
  • information on any special storage or use requirements
  • the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor

There are rules on how the nutritional content must be shown on the label, and restrictions on making claims such as 'low fat'. There are also rules on batch labelling (to make it easier to recall products if there is a problem). In addition, there are detailed requirements covering additives, and specific regulations for a whole range of different products and ingredients.

As food products are heavily regulated, you should take advice on the specific requirements for food you manufacture or distribute. For more information about food labelling regulations, go to the GOV.UK website.

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13. Are there any restrictions on how we design our packaging?

Packaging regulations require the volume and weight of packaging to be the minimum necessary, taking into account safety and hygiene requirements and 'consumer acceptance' of the product. In practice, this leaves you relatively free to design packaging that appeals to consumers, but you must avoid designing unnecessarily bulky or heavy packaging.

In addition, packaging must be designed so that it can be 'recovered' and to minimise environmental impact on disposal (see 14).

The design of your packaging must also take into account any existing third-party intellectual property rights (see 16).

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14. Does packaging have to be made out of recyclable material?

No, but packaging must be designed so that it can be 'recovered', and to minimise environmental impact on disposal. Recovery options include recycling, energy recovery (eg using a waste incinerator) and composting.

There are specific limits on the total amounts of heavy metals in packaging.

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15. Do we have to recycle packaging on goods we buy?

Legal responsibility for recovery and recycling of packaging waste falls primarily on businesses that put large quantities of packaging on the market — for example, by selling packaging or packaged products — rather than on their customers. Local authorities also have targets for recycling and composting.

As a customer, you are not directly required to recycle packaging. However, your trade waste is likely to be processed as part of a scheme to meet the obligations that local authorities (and businesses that put large volumes of packaging on the market) have.

Some customers choose to take more direct responsibility for the way their waste is handled as part of being a socially responsible business. For example, a restaurant might separate out bottles from other kinds of waste to make it easier to recycle the glass. Customers who purchase large quantities of packaged goods often work directly with their suppliers to reuse packaging.

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16. Can we get intellectual property protection for our packaging?

There are several ways in which the intellectual property involved in your packaging might be protected:

  • A truly new packaging invention could be patented.
  • A new design for the shape or appearance of the packaging benefits from automatic design right protection. You can register a new design for stronger protection.
  • Any text and artwork is automatically protected by copyright.
  • Trade marks can be registered.

In practice, unless you are a specialist packaging business, you are unlikely to invent a patentable new kind of packaging. Most businesses focus on protecting their trade marks, and if necessary taking action to stop other businesses using copycat packaging to mislead customers.

At the same time, you must take into account the intellectual property rights of other businesses when you design your packaging.

For information on the different types of intellectual property protection go to the Intellectual Property Office website.

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17. If we buy packaging, are we responsible if the packaging does not meet legal requirements?

Yes, if you sell packaged products, you must ensure that the packaging you use meets legal requirements.

In practice, many small businesses rely on their packaging supplier to ensure that the packaging is satisfactory. You might, for example, want to specify in your purchase contract that packaging must meet legal requirements. In some cases, there may be a relevant standard you could use as part of your purchase specification.

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18. Are there any special packaging rules for particular types of goods?

Special regulations apply to various types of goods, including potentially dangerous chemicals, medicines and food products. In general, special rules for particular products aim to ensure that the goods are safely packaged and that appropriate information is provided.

Your trade association should be able to advise you on specific requirements relating to your products. You may want to take advice on the implications for your business.