Written on 11 May, 2021

Whether you are a producer of food and beverages, toys or pharmaceutical products, thinking strategically about your product packaging will play a vital role in the smooth running and expansion of your business.

Your packaging represents your brand, helps form a connection with your customers, and provides them with vital information, and needs to meet certain essential legal requirements. With this in mind, it’s important that you fully understand the target market and its local culture and any potential sensitivities before picking the colour scheme, the tagline, the images and even the name of your product. Furthermore, international and local laws might dictate what needs to be included on your product label and in what languages.

So what might need to be translated on your product packaging?

The information that needs to be included on your product packaging differs according to the product, but there are a few common things that might need to be translated, including:

  1. – Your product name and tagline
  2. – List of ingredients
  3. – Health and safety information
  4. – Allergens and nutritional information
  5. – Usage instructions

Professional translation of your product packaging can help you navigate some of the cultural, legal and language barriers you may face.

Laws around labelling

What information can be included on your product labels is largely governed by the legislation specific to your industry and the country in which you are selling your products. Make sure that you have done careful research before you get your packaging ready, so as to fully comply with the local laws and regulations.

For example, the EU requires nutritional information about your food product to be on the front of the package, but this is not the case in the US. Also, as per EU regulations, mandatory food information should be in a language easily understood by the consumers of the region where the product is being marketed.

Similar rules apply to packaging for medicines and pharmaceutical products too. According to Article 32 of the EU Medical Device Regulation (MDR, 2017/745), “Manufacturers shall ensure that the  (medical) device is accompanied by the information set out in Section 23 of Annex I in an official Union language(s) determined by the Member State in which the device is made available to the user or patient. The particulars on the label shall be indelible, easily legible and clearly comprehensible to the intended user or patient.”

You also need to identify the languages your product information needs to be in, since different countries have different set languages. For instance, for certain specific products, the EU requires labels to be translated into 24 languages.

In December 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered a ruling that the information about the functions of a cosmetic product, the requisite precautions and ingredients had to follow the language requirements of the Member State where the product is marketed and cannot simply be listed in a separate catalogue.

Marketing content on your product packaging


Original: ‘Finger-lickin’ good’
Chinese translation: ‘We’ll eat your fingers off’


Marketed its ‘Pinto’ model in Brazil, where ‘pinto’ is a slang term for ‘tiny male genitals.’


Original: ‘Turn it loose’
Spanish Translation: ‘Suffer from diarrhoea’

The above examples clearly highlight why you need to carefully research how your product name and tagline will be perceived in your target market before you put them on your packaging. Ensuring the translation is both accurate and appropriate will prevent million-dollar campaigns from having to be scrapped and will save companies from having to invest further time and money on fixing the negative image created by these translation blunders. Professional translation agencies will offer you a service called ‘transcreation’ for all your marketing texts, including those on your product labels.


Transcreation means adapting a message from one language to another without losing its intent, style and context in translation. When a slogan is transcreated, for instance, it carries similar implications and evokes the same emotions for the target audience as it did in the original language.

Transcreation requires the original text to be translated accurately, keeping in mind other factors like culture, humour, context and local dialects. Your marketing material will not have the desired impact if the content lacks the understanding of local cultures, beliefs and values.

Layout and design of content on your product labels

Your product packaging may include several elements, such as text, images, symbols, icons and diagrams etc. It is important that these are displayed accurately and in line with the regulations of the target region.

A professional graphic designer can help you with the various design elements, but even they might need further support from your translation partner for translated texts in languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Hindi where the script, character size and orientation might differ completely from the original language. Companies such as Surrey Translation Bureau (STB) offer a DTP (desktop publishing) service alongside translation to help typeset the translation into your artwork.

Using a professional translation partner to translate your product packaging

Given the wide implications of any mistranslation of your product information on the packaging, it is imperative that your translation agency offers you the following:

  1. – Translation done by native speakers,
  2. – who have specialist knowledge of your industry,
  3. – and understand the cultural, political and language constraints of your target country.

You should also make sure the agency you work with has professional accreditations and industry standing to give you further peace of mind.

At STB, we have been working on translations for product packaging for over 35 years now. We pride ourselves in our extensive research and use of specialised and qualified native translators. With a stringent quality control procedure in place, your labels will always display accurate and appropriate information, whatever language they are in.

Written by Marya Jabeen

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