44 nations separated by over 200 languages?
Updated: Jan 26
Chris Ryder, University of Reading
We've seen that there are some notable differences between regulators' and consumers' approach to health claims across the countries we have been investigating. That may be manageable when you're marketing in one particular country and are familiar with all the cultural and linguistic implications of what you are saying on your food labels – but what about when you want to market something across multiple European countries?
One of the challenges that manufacturers face is that a particular language is not spoken in only one country. It's clear that cultural aspects play a role in the opinions of consumers on health claims, and there's no reason to think that this wouldn’t apply just because two countries might share a common language. Would it really be possible to re-use, for example, the same French wording in Switzerland or Belgium that is used in France? Our research implies otherwise, and more would have to be done to examine these specific contexts to be sure.
An even greater problem may be that some countries are multilingual in themselves, meaning that, even if you re-write your health claims in different languages on your packaging, some consumers will be able to read all versions. What happens if your wording in one language doesn't quite match that in another? A consumer who could read both is likely just to be more confused, which is not helpful, and goes against the very aims of the legislation behind health claims.
In addition, there is the matter of the limited physical space that you have on some packages. We talked to a manufacturer of chewing gum, who pointed out that repeating all the information about the health benefits of their products in three or four languages was simply impractical - their packaging is tiny!
One suggestion we heard was to write everything in one single language, such as English, which is spoken as a second language by many people across Europe. While this might level the playing field to a certain extent, the trouble is that there would still be concerns about how different cultures and people with different linguistic backgrounds interpret identical wording in English – our research has shown that there is no reason to think that they would do so in the same way. Not to mention the fact that not everyone does speak English across Europe!
The Business Hub that we are creating is one way that food manufacturers who are marketing to multilingual audiences may be able to get some insight into the different ways in which their health claims are interpreted in each case. More information about the English prototype of this Hub will be coming soon, but, by developing this into a multilingual tool, we are hoping to provide food manufacturers with a way of drawing comparisons between the attitudes of speakers of different languages across different countries.
Are you a speaker of more than one European language who has noticed differences in the wording of health information on food labels across languages? Get in touch with us using the Contact Us link above, and don’t forget to Sign Up to the blog to receive notifications whenever we post something new.