Designing a Canadian-Compliant Food Packaging: Olivia’s Croutons Case Study

Bilingual Canadian Food Packaging

Two years ago, the Vermont Company Olivia’s Croutons contacted us, because they were gearing up to export to Canada. They mandated us to develop and design their bilingual Canadian-compliant food packaging (content and design). There is a lot more to such a project than meets the eye!

This article presents everything that such a project entails.

If you need to read more on Canada’s food labeling regulations discussed here, you can refer back to our two articles on the topic: USA & Canada Food Labeling: 2016 New Regulations and Food Labeling: Differences between U.S. and Canada’s labels and nutrition tables.

Let’s look at the project, step by step:

  1. Ingredient list and allergens

The first thing we needed was the list of ingredients used. In Canada and the U.S., standards of identity exist for hundreds of products in many food categories. They define products and ingredients’ characteristics. For instance, in Canada, flour must be enriched flour. So if Olivia’s Croutons were not using enriched flour in their croutons, they needed to change their recipes for Canada. If they had used food additives, we also had to check if those were allowed in Canada.

Provided with the U.S. ingredient list, it was our role to do the research on standards of identity and food additives and make recommendations to Olivia’s Croutons.

We also provided them with the Canadian allergen mandatory declaration list, as it is different from the U.S. one.

  1. Food product name

The standards of identity may also have an impact on the names used by Olivia’s Croutons. If they wanted to use the word “bread” in their name or their ingredient list, they needed to check their “bread” ingredients. Indeed, the “bread” has a standard of identity, defining which products are allowed to be called “bread.”

We had to inform Olivia’s Croutons of the names they could use on their packaging.

  1. French translation

In Canada, unless you are a local manufacturer, in another province than Quebec, you must have a bilingual label.

The first critical step is to understand how much space there is on the package to accommodate the additional French text, which elements need to decrease in size, and which text or graphics to take out. French texts are roughly 30-50% longer than English texts. So this often means significant changes to your box design. But we find that it is crucial to start with this analysis, to avoid the additional step and incremental cost of having to redo the translation later.

All the label texts require professional translations. The translator needs to know the food industry, to use the correct food names, and be from Quebec, rather than from France. Indeed, especially in this industry, many foods have different names in France and Quebec. That is often due to English influence. For instance, tomato paste is “pâte de tomates” in Québec but “concentré de tomates” in France.

Additionally, the translator may have to check the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website to learn which synonyms for food additives are allowed, and which translations are accepted. Another client had “slaked lime” as an ingredient, and the translation for lime could be “chaux,” which is rather unappetizing. It sounds like a home building product. But “calcium hydroxide” is an acceptable synonym, and the agency allows two translations:  “hydroxyde de calcium” and “hydrate de calcium.”

  1. Nutritional information: The 100 g reports

As you may have read in our article on the Differences Between U.S. and Canada’s Labels and Nutrition Tables, there are differences in serving sizes for some foods and some nutrients’ daily values. And there are specific rules when it comes to rounding numbers for weight and % of daily values.

Concretely it means that we cannot use existing U.S. nutrition tables. Serving sizes and % of daily values may be different. We need each product’s 100 g report to know the weight of each nutrient for 100 g of food. Without that information, it is impossible to calculate the nutrients’ weight per serving size and percentage of daily value for the nutrition table.

  1. Serving sizes

Next, we must research the Health Canada’s database to find the serving sizes for Olivia’s Croutons products: stuffing and croutons. We will use those for the nutrition tables.

  1. Package dimensions

We also need the package dimensions. We’ll see later that we will use them in several instances.

  1. Building the nutrition tables: content and size

Now that we know the 100 g reports, the serving sizes, as well as the nutrients’ daily values used in Canada and the rules on rounding weights and daily values’ percentages, we can finally calculate the values for the nutrition tables. It’s time to grab our calculator.

We’ll also calculate the package surface area to define the mandatory size of the nutrition table.

  1. UPC codes

UPC codes are not mandatory in Canada. But, as you all know, distributors and retailers like to use them to track products. We can generate unique UPC bar codes for your Canadian products.

  1. Shelf-life

Canada has specific rules on where to position the “best before” and “packaged on” dates on your packaging. There are also rules on how to write dates. Consequently, Olivia’s Croutons needed to provide such information, and we needed to inform them how and where to do the date marking on their boxes. Note that such information is mandatory if your shelf-life is 90 days or less.

  1. Storage instructions

Storage instructions are required if storage conditions are not normal room temperature.

  1. Net quantity

Rules also exist for the net quantity statement. We must obtain the information in the proper measuring units.

  1. Claims: Health claims, gluten-free, organic, non-GMO

We are back in research mode. The package text provided by Olivia’s Croutons needs to be carefully looked at to identify anything that will be a claim, even things like natural or preservative-free.

As mentioned in our other article, we must check which cereals Canada considers as being gluten-free, what is allowed as “whole grain.” In the case of Olivia’s Croutons, the “whole grain” claim was forbidden due to the presence of white rice. For another client, it was because of the use of “masa.”

The wording of non-GMO statements is also regulated and must appear in a particular location on the package.

Olivia’s Croutons also needed to obtain the Canadian organic certification equivalence from their U.S. certification agent. The package can use the USDA or the Canadian logo, with the name of the certification body.

  1. Manufacturer’s information

On the Canadian boxes, the country of origin “Made in USA” was added. Note that such a statement is only mandatory for certain foods, but Olivia’s Croutons needed it to have access to grants.

  1. Designing the bilingual boxes

What’s left to do: putting all this information together in a nicely-designed bilingual package.

For several elements (name, nutrition tables, product net quantity, ingredients, manufacturer’s information), we must follow specific requirements when it comes to font size, weight, style, colors, as well as line spacing, borders, and background color. In particular, the ingredients and allergens’ lists have stringent rules when it comes to font, including how each entry is separated and the use of upper and lower case characters.

We are back with our calculator to define font sizes, for instance, as they vary depending on the package surface area!

Elements also have to be positioned in a specific position and order on the various display panels.

Finally, we must ensure that the graphic designer follows French typography rules (how words are hyphenated, where to place punctuation, etc.). These are subtleties that a U.S. graphic designer is unlikely to know.


I hope that I did not scare you away. However, this article demonstrates that food manufacturers cannot take the decision of exporting to Canada lightly and that there is a lot of work and a lot of knowledge that goes into designing a Canadian-compliant food packaging.

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