Food and drink labelling requirements for the Middle East

food and beverage labelling arabic

How to meet the packaging requirements of the GCC, UAE and Saudi Arabia

  • Labelling products for international markets isn’t the most exciting part of selling overseas, but it is an incredibly important one! Get it wrong and it could cost you a significant amount in new packaging, or hefty demurrage costs at port- if there’s something prohibited by the relevant authorities on your products or missing information that’s deemed important for local consumers.

  • Of course, every market is different but when it comes to catering for the Middle East, we’ve identified five important considerations for preparing your labels and packaging for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Ink jet production and expiry dates on your product

When it comes to choosing between a product’s best before, use by, and expiration date, in the Gulf region it’s all very black and white – when does the product expire? The regulatory authority want to have transparency over when the products were manufactured and when they are no longer fit for consumption, so it is mandatory to include the production/manufacture date of the product on the label.

From a sales point of view many buyers or distributors will want maximum shelf life as most retailers will remove products for sale with less than 50% shelf life. Bear this in mind when targeting the Middle East, this isn’t a dumping ground for products with a short shelf life, in fact, this is usually a region you will have to make fresh stock for.

Now, remember that these dates must be ink jetted onto the product so they can’t be easily removed. There are limiting circumstances when placing these dates on a sticker is possible, but you shouldn’t count on this being the case and build into your production the ability to change or add these dates to your packaging.

Official documentation for product labelling claims

All claims on your labelling must be backed up and you must not be seen, by the authorities, to be misleading the consumer in any way!

Here are a few examples to get you thinking about your product and packaging, and whether you need to adjust the messaging to target the GCC region:

  • “Gluten free” – where is your certification to prove it?

  • “All natural” – can you prove this in your list of ingredients?

  • “Sugar free” – can you back up this claim to be exempt from excise tax?

  • “Low fat” – do you have evidence of this nutritional claim?

When targeting the Middle East, you need to make sure that you use appropriate information and nomenclature, especially when it comes to list of ingredients and product description, as there are certain things you can and cannot say or do. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • If “milk” is an ingredient of your product, you must include the animal that produced the milk in parentheses, such as cow, sheep, goat, etc.

  • Non-dairy “milks” cannot be referred to as “milk” in the GCC region. Instead, you must refer to them as “drinks” for example, almond drink, soy drink, almond drink, etc.

  • Product photos must also be accurate and not misleading to the consumer – it should look exactly like it does on the packaging

It is incredibly important for the Gulf region that any meat or animal protein contained within products is clearly labelled as halal. You must also use the correct halal logo from the country to which you are selling and ensure your products are approved by the certified notified bodies in the specified market.

In addition, you must make sure that the certifying body you use is approved for your product category. And remember, you must have all the correct documentation in place before you even send samples to the GCC region and register them there. 

Find out more about the Halal market here.

Localised Arabic labels

It is a minimum mandatory requirement for ingredients to be translated into Arabic on all food and beverage products being exported to the GCC region, however, depending on the final destination, there may also be a need to translate more information.

Saudi Arabia is the toughest market when it comes to Arabic labelling, so if in doubt, even if you’re not planning on selling there, then ensuring that your packaging is compliant with the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) will put you in good stead for being accepted across the rest of the Middle East. The SFDA are the regulatory body who controls food, drink and supplements being sold in the country. 

There are few things to consider when preparing your packaging for Arabic-speaking consumers:

  • Arabic reads from right-to-left, unlike English so if you’re planning on having both languages on your packaging be sure to bear this in mind so you don’t cover some vital information with the Arabic label

  • Nutritional information is now widely being translated into Arabic, however vitamins and minerals in products are not required to be included, unless you are making a specific claim (see above)

  • For supplements and other healthcare products, then sometimes English on the packs is enough, but be sure to check this against the documentation for each country you’re targeting

For more information, read on to find out how to label food and drink products for export.

If in doubt, follow the SFDA standards

Although they form part of the GCC, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have their own frameworks and standards for food and beverage labelling.

Some items are mandatory in the UAE and voluntary in the rest of the GCC, and vice versa. With this mind, it’s important to select the right framework for your needs.

When it comes to nutritional information, the SFDA framework is the most comprehensive as it covers all the requirements of both the GCC and UAE. To cover all bases, we recommend you follow the SFDA guidelines.

Traffic light labelling

If you’re not already aware, the GCC has recently introduced traffic light labelling for food and beverage products. The usage and requirements are almost identical to the UK, however, the “Energy %” is not required.

Right now, the traffic light system is still voluntary but could very well be mandatory in the future, so it’s a good idea to include it on your Arabic labelling.

Labelling Checklist PDF

We have created a labelling checklist with guidance notes for you to download and keep. This document is in an editable PDF format so you can make notes should you wish. We hope you will find this document useful and that it makes labelling products for the Middle East a little easier.

  • Although a large proportion of the world is still unable to travel due to ongoing COVID restrictions, the Middle East is recovering well and there are some fantastic opportunities for international brands to export to the region.

Our team specialises in helping businesses gain traction in new markets, particularly in the Middle East. We can help you with your labelling and logistical needs, general advice and guidance on how to break into GCC countries like the UAE, and can even find suitable  manufacturing partners for your business.