Package Design Checklist – 15 Things You Should Put on a Food Package



Every product is different but this checklist covers most. Why a checklist? Because if your client is new to the game they will most likely forget or even be unaware of a few of these. But if you’re aware, you will save you both a lot of time from reworking a perfect design because you forgot to put one of these items on your package.

1. Nutrition Facts Panel

food package design nutrition facts panel
If it’s food, just assume you’ll need this. Start with my Nutritional Facts Panel Tutorial post. It has Illustrator editable PDF templates and lot of helpful links to the FDA. If you need FDA approved nutritional profiles created for your product, Food Lab is a good place to start. They can generate a nutritional profile based upon your ingredients or by analyzing the actual finished product.

On a food package the nutritional panel, the ingredients and the company identifiers (name, address, phone, etc) should be grouped together per FDA guidelines. The most important being nutritional facts panel and ingredients. Put the nutrition panel above the ingredients.

2. Product Nutritional Claims

food package design nutritional claims
These are often things like “high in vitamin C” or a “good source of fiber” but make sure you’re FDA compliant. That’s right, the FDA has specific rules on this. Not sure what you can claim or confused by the FDA regulations, then hire a FDA food label compliance consultant after you’ve developed your nutrition facts panel.

3. Ingredients

food package design allergy warning ingredients
This is self explanatory. You must list your ingredients from most to least. Sometimes you can do shortcuts like using the word “spices” instead of listing every single spice. This a way to help protect trade secrets and formulas. It’s very similar to using the phrase “natural flavors”. As a general rule, the ingredients go below the nutritional panel. That’s how the FDA likes it.

4. Certifications – Organic Certifiers, Fair Trade, Kosher, etc.

food package design organic certifiers
These are really easy to forget.  If you’re product is organic you’ll need the certifiers name and maybe logo. For Kosher you may be required to put the Rabbi’s logo. One client was using a copacker that was kosher certified by a smaller independent certifier and the rabbi required his complicated and ugly logo to be printed legibly on the product. We told the copacker there was no way we were putting his hideous logo on our product so the copacker dumped him and we split the cost of switching to the much more famous and recognizable OU Kosher who just make you put an unobtrusive U in a circle. Why should you seriously think about getting kosher certified? Studies show that it can increase sales by 20%.

5. Country of Origin

food package design country of origin
This may be required by law depending on country of origin laws for your specific ingredient. Olive oil has this requirement.

6. Warnings – Allergies and Proper Handling

food package design allergy warning ingredients
Is this product made on equipment that is also shared with peanuts or shellfish? If so, you better be clear about. Same  if it contains these ingredients. The big eight that cause 90% of the allergic reactions are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. You are responsible for making clear warnings about these foods of your labels. And yes , that means your package of honey roasted peanuts should say “contains peanuts”. Raw and partially cooked meat and poultry don’t need an allergy warning (unless it contains added fish) but it will need the USDA safe handling instructions.

7. Barcode

food package design barcode placement
An inch and quarter wide will ensure excellent scanability. You can generate almost any type of barcode using this free online barcode generator. But before you can generate a barcode you need a UPC code. Discourage your client from buying one from a reseller as most major retailers won’t carry a product that carries a UPC from a reseller. Tell them to get an account at GS1 US and pay the $750 for membership. They’ll get one hundred UPC codes for their membership which comes out to $7.50 per SKU – which is much cheaper than using a reseller. As for placement, be creative, but on shrink sleeve labels always place it on its side to align the bars  for lateral distortion

8. Volume and Weight

food package design weight
Always include US and metric. Per FDA regulation it should along the bottom on the front and about as big as you can put it without being ridiculous. Basically it should be as legible as all the other stuff on the front of the label. The FDA uses a comparative legibility standard for most label elements. Small labels have small stuff, big labels have big stuff.

9. Product Name

food package design product name
I don’t think you’ll actually forget this but it should be foremost in your head as this is one of the top three elements in the hierarchy of importance on a product packages. The other two are the taglines and the product descriptions.  A good rule of thumb is that if your name is aspirational or abstract, then the tagline should be literal or explain a feature or benefit. If the name is literal, then you should go abstract and aspirational on the tagline. A literal name and tagline is also fine. But don’t make both an abstract name and tagline or you’ll have everyone scratching their heads and wondering what it all means.

10. Product Tagline

food package design tagline
As mentioned above, a tagline is used to explain the products features, benefits, or usage and/or to increase emotional involvement with the brand through aspirational or motivational statements. How effective is a great tagline to a brands emotional impact?

Here’s a few famous examples:

“Just Do It” – Aspirational and Motivational

“It’s The Real Thing” – Authenticity Statement and Differentiator

“The Quicker Picker Upper” – Benefits and Usage

11. Product Description

food package design description
Spell it out. It’s easy to forget that everyone else won’t have the advantage of being the creator of the product and the insight that’s been gained from thinking about it for the last nine months. Don’t get too clever or abstract with your packaging. Product descriptions are often literal like “dry spice rub” or “chrome polish” but they can also be evocative like “germ destroyer” or “skin resurrector” but no matter what you must have it. Don’t ever assume a consumer will know what your product is by just looking at it.

12. Brand Story

food package design brand story
This refers both to the literal (a short story explaining the products origins and unique differentiators) and the conceptual (the total brand experience as they interact with the product). All great packaging starts with a well defined brand story so don’t skip this step and go straight to designing. Really, I mean it.

13. Directions

food package design product instructions
Don’t assume that someone knows how to use your product. Do you mix it with water or milk? Can you boil it? How about microwaving? If so, for how long and at what power? However you use it, please take the time to explain it. This is also a good place to introduce up-selling and cross selling ideas. Why just add a quarter cup of milk to the packet when it can be a quarter cup of Pleasant Valley Hills Dairy 2% milk?

14. Contact Information

food package design address contact
Always include a physical address. Phone and web are optional but a smart thing to include if you can. This generally goes below the ingredients which goes below the nutrition facts panel.

15. Trademarks – TM or R

food package design trademark
You can use the TM even if you haven’t formally filed for a trademark at the USPTO. The TM symbol is a public declaration of intent to use a name or phrase in commerce. However it’s against the law to use registered (R) unless you actually have a registered trademark. To go from initial trademark filing to becoming registered could take one to three years, but you can start using the TM now so just put it on.

If you need an experienced product package designer to make sure your product grabs the consumers attention with eye-popping graphics, call me at 831-566-3046 or try email.

File Under: Food Package Design Tips – Food Package Guidelines

9 comments


  • Rondi

    Wow, these are real helpful. I have an interesting question though: I have to make an assorted bag which can contain random flavors of ice cream pops 12 picked at random (all have single wraps). What we don’t want to do is limit the outside bag to having to list all the flavors since we know it’s going to be random. Is it then possible to have a a general nutritional facts (2 popsicle serving) on the outside, and on each individual wrap have the ingredients? Or do the ingredients have to be listed on the outside as well?

    November 14, 2012
    • Clay Butler

      You’ll need to have the ingredients on the outside as well. Consumers should be able to access all the nutritional information without opening the package. I would create one ingredients list that would include all the options like this: Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors (may contain one or more of the following: orange juice, artificial grape, lime juice, and natural apple flavors)

      November 16, 2012
  • I agree with Clay. You do need to list them all on the outside of the bag. Its amazing how many people forget this type of information on their packages. I work with a folding carton manufacture – a few weeks ago a box came off the line. In the box were burger pattys… it didnt say how many the box contained.

    April 26, 2013
  • Great post and Thanks for this information..

    July 8, 2015
  • I just ran across your blog/website yesterday Clay and can’t believe the amazing amount of invaluable information you share. I’ve been looking for a resource like this for years! Thank you and may your generosity be returned a hundred fold.

    November 5, 2015
  • I have been a printer of packaging for over 15 years and have never came across something so useful and informative. These are the same questions I get asked all the time by folks bringing new products to market or re-branding. I know there is a lot more that you have to consider when designing graphics but this is a great resource to start. I will be sending this link to many of my customers. Thanks for the outstanding work. Darrin

    March 23, 2016
  • I agree with Clay. You do need to list them all on the outside of the bag. Its amazing how many people forget this type of information on their packages. I work with a folding carton manufacture – a few weeks ago a box came off the line. In the box were burger pattys… it didnt say how many the box contained.

    June 25, 2016
  • The points you have posted are very essential for designers. I thought that every designer must keep these things mind

    July 28, 2016
  • Tina Quattrucci

    Question: do you have any information about placement of the USDA Meat icon regulations.

    June 2, 2017

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