Tips and Requirements for Gourmet Coffee Label Design
Making an effective gourmet coffee label takes more than writing some flowery language about flavor profiles. What do you need on your label to meet food regulations? What can you add to the label to make your brand of new coffee more attractive to consumers? How do you get these labels onto your containers?
Here’s what you need to know to plan the look of your coffee products, whether you’re entering the segment or you’re simply updating your line.
What Do Coffee Labels Need to Meet Government Regulations?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees product and nutrition labeling in the United States. FDA regulations for product labeling revolve around information on the Principal Display Panel (PDP) and the Information Panel (IP). The PDP covers the front of the package, or 40% of the side of a round container, while the IP is usually printed on the back.
There are three pieces of information required on the PDP: the brand name, the common name (or product name) and the net quantity.
The brand name and common name are part of the statement of identity. The common name should describe exactly what’s inside the container. This includes descriptors like “whole coffee beans,” “ground” and “decaf.” If your product is artificially flavored, this must be noted in the common name. For example, you could use the name “Artificially Flavored Ground Coffee.”
The net quantity is written as net weight for solids and fluid measurement for liquids. This must be stated in both metric and customary units. Either measurement can be listed first, but most companies choose to list the measurement that makes sense for the product. For example, a bag containing 12 oz. of ground coffee will list the ounces first, while a liter bottle of coffee will list the metric measurement first.
The IP requires an ingredients list and contact information for the producer or distributor.
The ingredients are listed in order from highest weight to lowest. Water must be listed in the ingredients if it’s included after processing. For example, bottled coffee or coffee concentrate must list water in its ingredients. However, whole bean coffee doesn’t because water isn’t in the final product.
You can find more specific information on allowable names and label formatting in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Volume 2.
Do You Need an Acrylamide Warning for Coffee Sold in California?
Under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, known as “Proposition 65” or “Prop 65,” any product containing any of the 900 chemicals listed in the act have to carry a warning. Exceptions can be made for trace amounts that don’t pose any health threat, as well as chemicals that are naturally in the food product. However, in practice, proving a product is below this threshold is difficult.
Acrylamide is a carcinogen formed in many foods during high temperature cooking processes, including roasting. After a lengthy legal battle in the case of “Council for Education and Research on Toxics v. Starbucks,” coffee’s acrylamide content was not exempted from Prop 65. From that point on, all coffee sold in the state had to carry the statement “Warning: Coffee contains acrylamide, a chemical known by the State of California to cause cancer.”
The suit continued over the next decade, with an appeal eventually reaching California’s superior court. The judge made a summary judgment that acrylamide in coffee does not pose a health threat, making it exempt from Prop 65. Due to this exemption, a warning is not required on coffee packaging as part of California’s labeling requirements.
Buyers of gourmet coffee often look for beans that are organic or are produced in a manner that gives fair treatment to workers. There are three main certifications that can be used on coffee labels: organic, Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade.
Under USDA Organic rules, coffee can be labeled 100% organic if it’s pure coffee. If up to 5% non-organic ingredients are used, like flavorings, it can be labeled “organic.” “Made with organic coffee” can be used if the product is at least 70% organic coffee. Water and salt don’t count toward this total. You can read more about USDA organic rules here. When using other organic certifications, like Oregon Tilth, their logos cannot be more prominent than the USDA logo.
UTZ Kapeh is merging with the Rainforest Alliance. This process started in 2018, leading to a new cooperative standard in 2020. You can find out how to recertify your coffee under the latest Rainforest Alliance rules here.
Currently, there is no certification for “direct trade” coffee, which is bought directly from coffee growers. Fair trade coffee is certified by organizations like Fair Trade America. In some cases, you may not need to go through the certification process for your company to use their logos, as long as you’re buying from certified suppliers.
Other Useful Label Printing Information
Today’s coffee industry is filled with producers both large and small. Generally, the smaller the production is, the more information is included on coffee labels. Large coffee producers, like those known to be grocery store staples, keep information to a minimum. This allows them more flexibility when it comes to what goes inside the can. On the opposite end, local specialty coffee roasters will list the country of origin, roast type and tasting notes.
You may want to consider these additions to your coffee packaging to help your customers buy a cup of coffee they’ll be happy with.
Country of Origin:
While this isn’t a foolproof indicator of coffee flavor, it gives the buyer some idea of the flavor profile. “Single origin” means a coffee comes from a single producer, crop, or region within a country.
Roast/Best By Date:
Fresher coffee tastes better, but freshness varies depending on packaging. Coffee in an unsealed bag goes bad quickly. A sealed coffee bag can keep fresh for weeks, while a nitrogen-filled sealed container can keep coffee fresh for months. Unless you sell your coffee almost immediately after roasting, a best by date is more useful for consumers than a roast date.
Recommended Brewing Technique:
Coffee can be ground into different sizes to fit a variety of brewing techniques. Espresso works best with finely ground coffee, cold brew with coarse ground coffee, and drip brew with medium ground coffee. Flavor profiles may target specific brewing techniques, but there’s no rule that a whole bean espresso blend can’t be ground for use in a drip coffee maker or vice versa.
Roasting isn’t standardized, which means one company’s light roast may be another company’s medium roast. This has prompted some coffee roasters to eliminate roast labeling entirely. However, this may be useful as a general guide for customers who are already familiar with your coffee.
This is useful for customers who aren’t familiar with the aroma of the coffee before purchase. You need to decide if you want to aim for specific language used by tasters, or something more general that is easier for regular coffee drinkers to understand.
Food Labeling for Your Products
CTM’s Print and Apply label applicators have print engines that make it easy to add roasting and best by dates. They also let you use a single generic label for your product line, adding roast information for specific products.
We offer printing systems with label machines built for a variety of round and rectangular containers. However, if you’re bagging your coffee, your best choice is our integrated loose loop printer labeler. It provides print and apply capability to odd or unusually-shaped packaging, so you get accurate coffee bag label placement on every individual unit. If necessary, the operator can bypass the print engine for pre-printed labels.
Coffee Labels for Businesses of All Sizes
Whether you need to label cans, bottles or bags, CTM Labeling Systems has the machines you need to get the job done right when it comes to coffee label requirements!
Contact us, and we’ll get you in touch with your local distributor who will work directly with you to set up labeling stations that fit your packaging and production system.