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Do we really need to add French on my Packaging? (Canadian Packaging Woes)

Recently, a start up client wanted to know if she had to add a second language to her food labeling.


In Canada, we have two official languages, French and English but out here on the west coast, we don't often hear French being spoken so many start ups feel it's an unnecessary cost and hassle, despite it being the law.


Here's what I tell my clients when I get this question.


Where are you distributing your product? If it's going to be sold in local farmer's markets, out the back of your truck, trade shows, or mom and pop shops, you'll be fine without needing French but why limit your reach?


The moment a larger retailer approaches you or you approach them, they'll demand your packaging be up to compliance and you'll have to get the labels and/or boxes reprinted. That could mean thousands of extra dollars in re-design(s), translation fees, reprinting, and a waste of what existing inventory you already have on-hand.


The next question I'm asked is…okay but can we at least make the French really small compared to the English?


Unless you're planning to remain a small company and never grow beyond your province, you'll be fine but who doesn't want to grow their company? Why would you position yourself and your product(s) as anything less than ready to be a national brand?


To be fair, I do see a lot of smaller west coast labels skirting the bilingual regulations and opting for smaller and/or precious little French on their labeling and for the most part, they get away with it. The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), has been defunded to a point where they have far fewer inspectors checking labels these days but here's a little unknown fact. It's not your customers that will get you into trouble with the CFIA, it's more likely your competitors. Once you start getting noticed in the marketplace, it costs a disgruntled competitor no more than a phone call to to have you reported for compliance issue(s). Now you're on the CFIA's radar and they will do a full packaging audit and demand you change your packaging.


So here's the skinny on Canadian bilingual requirements.


All mandatory information must be in both official languages

  • Numbers are considered bilingual

For non-food products:

  • Product Identity

  • Product Net Quantity

  • Dealer’s Name and Principal Place of Business

For food products:

  • Common name

  • Net quantity declaration

  • Dealer name and address

  • List of ingredients (including food allergens)

  • Nutrition Facts table

  • Expiry date

There are a few cases in which you do not need bilingual labelling:

  • The identity and principal place of business can be in either English or French

  • Shipping containers that are not sold to consumers

  • Local products (sold in a local area in which English or French is the mother tongue for less than 10% of the residents)

  • Official test market products (temporary exemption)

  • Specialty foods

  • Products in which knowledge of the language is essential to its use (for example: books or greeting cards) can appear in the appropriate language (Non-food products only)

  • Information outside of the must-haves (for example: slogans or directions) does not have to be bilingual. That being said, it is strongly encouraged to include bilingual translations for this information as well!

Quebec has unique requirements for packaging regulations.

  • Every “inscription” on a product, its packaging, container, leaflet, brochure, or card supplied must be in French

  • If there are multiple languages on a product label, French must have “greater prominence” than the other languages

  • Toys or games that require the use of non-French vocabulary for their use are forbidden unless there is an equivalent French product available on the Quebec market (Charter of the French Language, Section 54)

If you are looking to develop packaging for the Canadian market give us a call we'll be glad to help.













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