AWA Labeling Support
Once you are approved as an AWA farmer, AWA can guide you through the state or federal labeling approval process. Our labeling team will work with you to incorporate the AWA logo, ensuring a branded, attractive label that reflects your farm values and helps to set your products apart. For examples of successful labels see AWA’s Label Gallery). As with AWA certification, there is no charge for this service for certified farms.
For more information please email Labeling Coordinator Emily Moose or call (202) 618-4497.
Please note: this service is for meat products processed at a state or federally inspected facility. Dairy products, eggs and meats processed under exemption have separate labeling requirements that vary according to each state’s regulations. When incorporating the AWA logo, AWA may be able to provide design assistance for these products but farmers will be referred to the appropriate state Department of Agriculture to ensure compliance with state labeling requirements. For information about AWA’s branded egg cartons for Certified AWA egg producers click here.
How to Prepare and What to Expect
Before You Call: Read the section, “How to Make the Most of Your Label” and decide what consider whether your existing or planned label includes all of the elements you find desirable. Other useful background information and resources include “Meat Labeling 101” (AWA newsletter, Fall 2010) and “Labeling for Farmers” (Stewardship News, Spring 2011).
Initial Consultation: We are here to help you make the best use of the AWA logo on your products. After an initial consultation, we will request some basic information from you to ensure compliance with labeling regulations.
Integrating the AWA logo into your label: Under your guidance, we will work with a designer to ensure the best possible incorporation of the AWA logo in compliance with AWA’s logo use policy. We can suggest a range of approvable marketing claims that you can use on your label, as part your AWA certification, to expand and maximize its appeal. We will also work with you and your processor to determine how best to print your labels in keeping with AWA’s style and color guidelines. Please note it is the farmer’s responsibility to print labels.
Submitting for Approval: Once you and AWA’s label review team have approved the draft label, we will complete and submit the necessary paperwork to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for their approval, or assist in submitting the paperwork to the appropriate state agency.
Approval: Once your design is approved you are free to print and use the label on your products.
Feedback on AWA’s Labeling Service
“We at Hunter Cattle are very thankful for your hard work, and for how great the labels have turned out.”
-Del Ferguson, Hunter Cattle Company
“The new label we worked on with the AWA team did the trick—I sold 400 pounds of ground beef without blinking an eye at our local Green Market Natural Food store. We dropped it off yesterday and everybody says the label is just beautiful. We are absolutely thrilled – it’s working, it’s doing its job. We have a whole new market opened to us.”
-Suzanne Broussard, Dovetail Farm and Vineyard
A note on inspection type: most farmers who sell meat will have it processed at a state- or federally-inspected facility. If you do, your labels must be approved by the appropriate state or federal agency. AWA can assist with this process. Farmers who sell eggs and dairy products are also subject to labeling requirements that vary by state. AWA can guide you to the appropriate state contact.
For more information please email Labeling Coordinator Emily Moose or call (202) 618-4497.
As with processing, meat labeling is strictly regulated. Many food producers aren’t aware that accurate labeling is a legal requirement as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, 317.8 (a), which states that, “No product or any of its wrappers, packaging, or other containers shall bear any false or misleading marking, label, or other labeling.” This includes any statement, word, picture or design associated with the product. Understanding your legal obligations for labeling can help you avoid the consequences that may result from failing to comply with these regulations.
If a product is deemed misbranded, its manufacturer faces a wide range of penalties that can be imposed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). These include withholding (rescinding) the use of labeling; product retention (prohibiting shipment); product detention (prohibiting sale from anywhere in the chain of commerce); request for product recall, press releases, and/or fines; and criminal prosecution. In addition, the facility producing misbranded product faces the possibility of inspection suspension or withdrawal (source: FSIS Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products).
Truthful labeling is just one of many requirements that an inspected product must comply with to meet its legal obligations. Other required information may include: ingredients, safe handling instructions (if appropriate), weight, company name and address and the processing plant’s establishment number. There are also strict controls on the additional claims you can and cannot make about your food. See the FSIS list of commonly approved claims for more details.
AWA can offer support in incorporating the AWA logo into labels of certified products and facilitate approval of logo use. For more information please email Labeling Coordinator Emily Moose or call (202) 618-4497.
Why Are Labels Important?
No one shops – or markets – in a vacuum
Many of us make the mistake of believing that that we don’t need a label, either because we assume high-quality products should “sell themselves” or because we feel that other marketing strategies are more important. But while a comprehensive marketing plan is essential to any business, the reality is that having a good product label is actually more important than ever. Label claims are the building blocks of food marketing and your label will dictate which claims you are legally approved to make.
Even farmers with limited sales are part of a much bigger and ever-changing labeling landscape. Shoppers who visit farmers’ markets are still likely to visit the mainstream grocery stores. And as public interest in ethical products grows, other food businesses both large and small are seeking to capitalize on this new and growing market.
Unfortunately, this is also leading to the increasing use of confusing and sometimes misleading ‘natural’ labeling claims in the marketplace, some which actually mean very little. For example, claims such as “Cage Free,” “Free Range,” “Natural” or “Naturally Raised” mean nothing in terms of environmental stewardship, animal welfare, or the nutritional benefits of the product – yet to the uninformed consumer they all sound ”green.”
So, if you’re a pasture-based farm, raising animals in a high-welfare system, how do you set yourself apart and ensure you are fully describing what you do? A good label, supported by the AWA logo, will help to educate potential customers about the wide-ranging benefits of your farming system and why your products are worth paying for. A well designed, attractive label will also differentiate your products and allow you to stand out from the growing crowd.
Make the Most of Your Label
A food label isn’t just about complying with regulations: it’s also a vital marketing tool. Your label is an introduction to your farm and an opportunity to provide potential customers with information that will help them to feel good about buying your product. We all know that consumer demand for “ethical” food is on the rise, but what exactly are they looking for? And how can you prove that your product meets their expectations?
Understanding the consumer
A 2010 study by Context Marketing reports that in order to qualify as an “ethical food,” consumers felt the product must avoid harming the environment (93%), meet high safety standards (92%), use environmentally sustainable practices (91%), avoid inhumane treatment of animals (91%), and be produced according to high-quality standards (91%). The study also showed that 69% of consumers are willing to pay more for food produced to these higher ethical standards. So how can you communicate your ethical practices to your customer, and highlight the value of how you farm?
What are your values?
First, you need to identify your own “ethical values” and how they influence your business and farming. Write down a list of your core values and how these are reflected in your day-to-day farming. For example, are you concerned about high animal welfare and minimizing the impact of your farming on the environment? Are your animals 100% grass-fed or pasture-raised? Think about anything you do which makes your system different from other farms, particularly industrial or CAFO systems. Keep things positive and simple –messages which are clear, uncluttered and easily explained are most effective.
What do your customers want?
Next, try to consider what values or issues will be of interest or value to your customers. We already know that ethical consumers are mainly concerned about minimizing their impact on the environment, sustainability, high animal welfare and food quality. Is there any common ground? What key messages can you communicate about your farming practices that will match your customers’ values? What does your product do for your customers and/or the wider community?
A range of common values might include:
- High animal welfare standards
- Certified Organic
- Environmentally responsible
- Locally produced
- High quality/artisan
- Raised without antibiotics
- Raised without added hormones
- Breeds such as Angus, Longhorn, etc.
- Family farmed
- Natural/Naturally Raised (relatively meaningless)
Please see AWA’s labeling guide Food Labels Exposed (below) for information on additional terms and claims.
We can also suggest a range of approved marketing claims that you can use on your label to expand and maximize its appeal (see the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s list of commonly approved claims here). In selecting which claims to include in your label, it is important to consider the integrity of the claim. Consumer Reports has an excellent guide to labels that evaluates common “green” labels in terms of how meaningful they are. Remember that third party certification, such as Animal Welfare Approved, is a vital tool in proving that your meat, dairy or eggs really are produced to the highest welfare and sustainability standards.
Keep it real – and simple
Once you have identified shared values it is important to make sure that any claims you intend to use on your label accurately reflect your farm and comply with existing regulations. The AWA labeling service team can help ensure that your label is accurate and compliant.
Providing accurate information on your label is not just the law, it’s also part of your integrity. We’ve all read the various media stories about misleading labels, such as when Tyson was exposed for injecting embryos with antibiotics and yet marketed their meat as “Raised without Antibiotics.” Aside from being illegal – and potentially resulting in fines and legal costs – making false claims like this can seriously undermine trust in you and your products.
Focus your communication efforts on highlighting these core messages on your label, brochures and website. Telling your story is important, but remember, the front of your label is valuable “real estate” and clear, simple marketing messages are most effective. Try to keep detailed or complex explanations of how you farm or your philosophy as supplemental information, easily available to more interested customers (on the reverse of the package, in your brochure or on your website).
AWA can offer support in incorporating the AWA logo into labels of certified products and facilitate approval of label claims associated with AWA certification. For more information please email Labeling Coordinator Emily Lancaster or call (202) 618-4497.
AWA Guide to Food Labels
Download AWA’s Food Labels Exposed here. This version is evolving and will be continually updated to include the latest information.
Highlights of the guide include:
- A glossary of common food labels
- An explanation of how various claims are verified
- In-depth definitions and information on common misconceptions
- Where to find more information
Individual printed copies are available upon request. Please call (202) 546-5292 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request copies.