The first export border is the language barrier

What barriers will I come up against if I want to export my label?

Ton willems

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Say, you are manufacturer of baby food, a product you have been selling successfully in the Netherlands for several years. And now you want to export it abroad. You are thinking of Belgium and Germany, but are also considering Canada and Saudi Arabia. After all, there are plenty of opportunities out there.


The first hurdle you will have to deal with when you export your product is the national language of the destination country. The label of your product must be in this language. So how can you achieve this? Well, there are various possibilities
Google Translate

This is something you have probably experienced before. You come across, let’s say, a Czech comment on Facebook and use this tool to help you understand the text. But you find out that the reliability of this translation leaves quite a lot to be desired. The texts the tool produces are very confusing: “my sister with train to new benchmark run” is not really a sentence you can do anything with. This is due to the literal, one-to-one translation: there is no human brain involved to translate the words/concepts in their proper context. When you see the word “nuts” as a general term and have it translated into French, it will be translated as “noix”. However, only walnuts are referred to as “noix”, not any other kind of nuts, which are “fruits à coque”. Another example: depending on the spices that are used, a spiced meal can be a “repas assaisonné” (with mild herbs such as coriander and basil) or a “repas épicé” (with spicy spices such as chilli pepper and curry). A translation tool will not be able to make this distinction.

Engage a translation agency

When you choose a translation agency, you choose a paid tool that guarantees more professionalism where language is concerned. There are caveats here, however. Even though a translation agency will use translators who are specialised in a particular language, these experts do not necessarily have the knowledge required to translate a label into a foreign language. They usually lack expertise with regard to food technology.

A third point that should be noted when exporting a label is knowledge of the local laws. These may differ from one country to another. You may have found a translation agency with the relevant food expertise, but this does not mean that this agency knows all about the relevant legislation. For example, EU regulation prohibits suggesting that follow-on milk is a full substitute for breast feeding. It is important to be careful in terms of language usage and word choice. But it is also possible that, when you sell outside the European market, the rules are either stricter or more flexible. If your label does not meet the rules of the country you would like to export to, your product will be recalled. This means you cannot export the product, and that will have plenty of financial consequences.

So when you are exporting your product, give the translation of your label careful consideration.

A well thought-out approach pays off in the long run.


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