July 31, 2004
Olive oil presents some unique labeling problems. Producers need to create an informative, artistic label which includes the legal requirements for their area . The label should be applied squarely on the bottle with an adhesive which doesn't give up half way through the distribution channel. In addition, once opened, oil spills shouldn't bleed into the label, turning the product into an eyesore. Many producers bottle special varietal or "nuevo" oils or date their product, which requires printing more expensive small runs. All of these problems have a solution.
Label Art: In the spirit of the trend toward more artistic wine labels, winning olive oil labels at the Los Angeles County fair had colorful, simple, but forceful graphic elements. Color labels are more expensive but are necessary for producers who want to stand out on a supermarket shelf. O Olive Oil's simple but colorful graphics clearly stand out and have carried them into many retailers. Smaller producers who sell mostly at local specialty stores and farmer's markets may be able to get away with a less sophisticated "home made" looking label.
Most producers should opt for a professional graphic artist who can create labels which fit into their corporate identity package. If you are creating just a few labels for a wedding or special event, ready made graphics are available on the internet. Beware that most artwork is copyrighted and permission should be sought before "borrowing" it. We have created a variety of decorative label designs that can be customized for uses such as wedding favors, corporate gifts, or gift store items. Because they are pre-designed, we are able to print small quantities economically.
Flavored oils such as lemon or basil flavored oil are new to many customers. Many olive oil producers are adding pictures or graphics which highlight the ingredient. Although there is no federal law against it, COOC members sign an agreement not to label flavored oil as extra virgin to follow International Olive Oil Council standards.
Label Text: Most legally required label information is enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Their website has a variety of information about nutrient and calorie declarations (see site), as does the North American Olive Oil Association which answers many questions about labeling imported oil. Organic claims are now enforced by the USDA California has laws governing appellation.
Adding more text to your label has advantages and disadvantages. Flavored oils or dippers often benefit from serving suggestions or recipes. Too much text can clutter the label. One solution we use for private label customers at the Olive Oil Source is a horizontal format. Areas heavy in text wrap around to the back of round bottles so they don't detract from the logo.
Label Stock: Small producers or those bottling bulk oil for a special occasion can make a label on their home computer with standard Avery labels but there can be problems. Labels made with the more common home ink jet printers will smear if handled with wet or sweaty fingers. Standard label stock is not impervious to oil so once opened, oil drips tend to make for a greasy look. For small runs at the Olive Oil Source we use heat fixed inks on oil-proof stock using our decorative designs or customer supplied artwork. For larger runs we use commercial printers who have special stock for a label which stays clean.
Applying the label: If you have a small run and cheap labor, labels can be hand applied. Many companies cost out label application at about 35 cents each if done manually. Label machinery can get the cost much lower. Label application machinery can be hand operated or totally automated. The Olive Oil Source sells a small manual machine which will apply pressure sensitive labels on a roll to a variety of round and square bottles. It makes for accurate placement and can apply front and back labels in one motion. A fast operator can label up to 30 bottles a minute.
Automated equipment for bottling lines can apply labels as fast as your bottle filler can feed it. Equipment can be configured to apply glue to paper labels or apply pressure sensitive labels, both typically in rolls. Paper labels are slightly cheaper but we notice they can sometimes fall off on market shelves leaving your bottle naked. The Olive Oil Source represents foreign and domestic label machinery manufacturers and we can configure equipment to your specifications. Most California producers are too small for automated bottling equipment and will go manual or use the services of companies who own such equipment.
Next month: bottle filling equipment
For information about private label olive oil and label purchases, call Susan Sullivan at 415-461-6267 or email
For information about bottle labelers call The Olive Oil Source.