Every cookie and biscuit box needs a label. There’s no escaping it, it’s a legal requirement in every country. But don’t get caught out by hidden labelling costs and subscriptions which will eat your capital investment and your annual profit.
What does labelling mean?
“Labelling” is different depending on who you’re talking to; “food people” or “packaging people”. Packaging designers fall between the two and can help you navigate both worlds, but liability remains with you, so always check what they’re telling you, in case their information is out of date or inaccurate. (Even suppliers get it wrong sometimes, like that time I bought black food colouring that’s legal in the UK and Australia but not in the USA – it had only recently been added to the banned list).
Customers, retailers, food hygiene inspectors talk about labelling as the meaning of the content printed on the box, sleeve, packet or sticky label.
Packaging suppliers talk about the physical properties of labelling, i.e. actual sticky labels, printed card, types of ink, cut outs, foiling, embossing etc.
To help you work out the cost of your packaging, we’ll calculate the price of the boxes above.
Here are the list of costs involved for a printed box – but don’t panic, there are loads of ways to (seriously) reduce these costs:
|Designer – budget £2,000 for this, or design it yourself||£2000|
|300 boxes, plain card, no special finishes or lamination||£345|
|Nutritional Information and Traffic Lights (Nutricalc) (front of box nutritional snapshot)||£650 pa|
|Barcode (GS1)||£50 pa|
|Recycling Logos (OPRL)||£1800 pa|
|Organic Certification Logo (Soil Association)||£868 pa|
|B Corp||£1000 pa|
Over £7600?!?! Frightening isn’t it. But don’t despair, I’ll show you how to make cheap labels.
Below is my first biscuit box from 2017 and my 2023 biscuit box, and their purchase costs:
£1.51 per box?! (£452/300). That’s just for comparison, the minimum I would order these days is 2,000 boxes, which drops the price considerably. But the bigger difference in cost is time. My boxes arrive almost ready to pack. They pop open, I drop in the wrapped biscuits and close the box. My 2017 cupcake boxes came ready made in plain white or Kraft, (a brown eco-friendly looking option). Seasonally they’re also available in fun colours and relevant graphics. More importantly I can order one box, or hundreds, to match production volumes, which is a huge cashflow saver.
On the downside I have to fold every box, peel off a label, make sure it goes on straight and dispose of the sticky back sheet. If you’re starting out in the biscuit world, ready made cupcake and cake boxes are your best friend, along with sticky labels. They’re cheap, you can buy them in small numbers and if you make a mistake or change your labels, it won’t cost you a fortune in misprinted boxes.
After ordering hundreds of boxes and labels from different manufacturers, resellers and Amazon listings, these two suppliers became my regular favourites for consistency, product quality and customer service: www.cake-stuff.com and www.flexilabels.co.uk.
People will sell you anything you’ll pay for, regardless of whether you need it or not.
Here’s what you need:
|Designer – doodle it yourself then use an online service|
|300 boxes, plain card, no special finishes or lamination||£345|
|Delivery -look for special offers and longer delivery times for discounts|
|Nutritional Information and Traffic Lights – subscribe for one month, not a year|
|Barcode – you only need this for bigger shops|
|Recycling Logos – make your own, subscribe to newsletters for updates|
|Organic Certification Logo – this costs a LOT more than £868 per year|
|B Corp – this is a company wide choice, but you don’t need third party certification|
£440/300 = £1.47 per box (label costs). How to calculate your actual production costs is here. In the gift market, that’s an acceptable cost, plus the product and distribution costs. In the mass production biscuit market, that would be a fortune, but you can easily sell luxury, handmade, beautifully produced boxes of biscuits for £5 or more at retail, and around £3+ at wholesale. Setting your selling price is covered in the link above. My first dedicated Christmas boxes were thick cardboard tubes at £1.50 each, plus two sticky labels. They cost more than the biscuits inside them, but they always sold out.
How to Get the Minimum Labels that are Legal and Sell
Start with the legal minimum. I’ll not list the specifics here, because they could change in the future, but here’s the official documentation: https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/packaging-and-labelling
Names, Ingredients and Nutritionals, Best Before and Batch
How you name your product, where the name and weight appears on the box and how legible it is, is all covered in the documentation above. Follow it exactly, until you have a list of items to be placed on your box.
Don’t panic when you read phrases like “QUID calculation,” “place of provenance” and so on. It’s all pretty straightforward. Read through the list, write down everything you can, like your address where you make the biscuits, your country etc.
For nutritional details, ingredients lists and anything requiring a calculation, there’s a tool for that:
WARNING: do NOT use free online nutrition calculators or calculators designed for health and fitness.
I use Nutricalc, it’s a UK based food compliance data provider. You can subscribe for just one month, enter all your ingredient details and they’ll provide you with instand graphics and text for your packaging. Ingredient list correctly formatted in the right order, percentages, nutritional values, QUID calculation if you need it and traffic lights.
The traffic lights are an abbreviated set of nutritional values, using a colour coding scheme to help people make healthy choices in the UK. If you’re making cookies or biscuits, just assume everything is going to be red. I’m OK with that. My customers don’t buy biscuits for their vitamin content. The traffic lights are also not required in most shops. It’s the bigger supermarkets who might require them.
Every box needs a Best Before or Use By date. Get the words Best Before or Use By printed on your box, then leave a space to enter the information during packing. That way you can write the date on or apply a sticky label. Old supermarket label guns are the low cost way to quickly add lots of dates instead of hand writing. At higher production levels you’ll need a box printer or continuous inkjet printer.
Batch dates are optional and used for compliance records, as long as you can trace your production date, i.e. if your shelf life is one year, then the production date is one year before the Best Before date.
The simplest batch date is the date of production, but always differentiate the batch date with a code of some kind. I got a lot of queries about my biscuits being out of date when I printed Best Before – Batch then wrote 21/03/24 – 22/03/23 underneath. People read “Best Before” then scanned the dates from right to left, read the batch date and complained. Now my batch dates look like this: A220323. The “A” doesn’t mean anything, it just stops people thinking it’s a best before date.
Tell people how to recycle your packaging at home. Your packaging supplier can tell you if it’s recyclable, but make sure you specify recyclable at home, i.e. through domestic bins and local councils. Some suppliers will tell you it’s recyclable, but they leave out the part where it’s only recyclable in one of half a dozen industrial facilities when delivered by the ton, pre-sorted by laser scanning. Good suppliers will automatically provide a specification in writing.
When you can afford it, you can use a service like OPRL, to manage your recycling traceability and provide consumers with easily recognisable logos. If you’re starting up, keep it simple and use free logos from sites like Pixabay.
That’s it, you should be legally covered.
With a list of items to position on your box, you can start to plan your design around the items, impressing the customer, showing off your product and your brand, safe in the knowledge that it’s legal. Doodle all these items on a print out of a template of your box (which you can get from online printers), then send it to a low cost designer, like you find on Fiverr. All they have to do is replace your doodles with professional looking imagery, add in the legals (which you supply) and you’re done.
For peace of mind, when you get the proof back from the designer, send it to your Environmental Health Officer, or whoever does your local food hygiene inspection. Ask them to check it for you. They might highlight an issue, but always check what they tell you against the legislation from the website above too. They’re a great help, but they’re also human.
Everything Else is Optional
All the other items on the list are optional but the next one to go for is a barcode. This opens up more opportunities for selling. Any medium or large shop will only stock a product if it has a barcode to scan. There are cheap services online for barcodes but I’ve tried even the most “highly recommended” but in the UK, you’ll have the fewest headaches with a GS1 barcode. They’re the UK industry standard and will make your life simple. Register, give them money and you’ll get barcodes. It’s very simple and they’re accepted everywhere. The barcode comes as a downloadable graphic you or your designer can copy and paste onto your box. Each unique product needs its own barcode, so 3 flavours of cookie needs 3 barcodes.
Lastly, don’t forget the food safe inner wrap, the packaging that actually touches your product (see Cookie Bags and Wrappers).