A product's name and statement of identity are critical labeling elements that impact both marketing and regulatory compliance. Especially in the U.S., there are a host of strategic factors to consider when choosing the right product name for a new product.
Naming standards in the U.S. and beyond
Before diving into these key considerations, let’s look at the basic requirements for product names. In the U.S. market, a product name typically consists of two elements: 1) a “statement of identity” and 2) a marketing name:
When it comes to labeling food productions internationally, Codex Alimentarius guidelines state that labels should clearly describe the true nature of the food. The name should be specific rather than general. If there is an established national or Codex standard name for the product, that should be used first. If there is no standard name, use a commonly recognized or descriptive term that does not mislead consumers. Brand names or creative names can also be used along with the official name, and additional terms may be included near the product name to accurately describe the product's form, processing method or packaging, such as "dried", "smoked" or "reconstituted.” The goal here is for labels to prevent confusion and accurately inform consumers.
A holistic approach to choosing the right name
Now that we’ve outlined the basic requirements, here are 5 critical factors to keep in mind when developing names and identity statements for your product launch:
1 - Consider composition and classification. Make sure you understand your ingredients’ specifications, chemical structures, processing methods, and regulatory status. These elements can influence your product’s classification and how your product should be described—and ultimately, the names you’re permitted to use.
Example: Yogurt has a FDA standard of identity requiring certain amounts of milk products. A smoothie made with almond milk and no dairy ingredients would not meet the compositional requirements to be labeled a "yogurt smoothie." It would need an alternative name that reflects the product’s non-dairy composition.
2 - Know the rules. Research regulations that may restrict certain names. Watch for protected designations of origin, standard of identity requirements, and potential trademark issues. Depending on your product, these factors can either expand or limit your naming options.
Example: "Parmigiano-Reggiano" is a protected designation of origin that refers exclusively to cheeses aged in Parma, Italy. A cheese made in the U.S. couldn't use this protected name and would need to use a generic descriptor like "parmesan-style hard cheese."
3 - Prioritize clarity and integrity. Relatively minor technical oversights can occur in product labeling, and when they don’t pose a safety issue, they may not have significant regulatory consequences. But beyond technical compliance, breaches of trust can seriously damage the goodwill and trust you’ve established with consumers, regulators, and potential commercial partners—which can lead to diminished opportunities and potentially increased liability. So prioritize integrity by ensuring your product names are accurate and transparent.
Example: Calling a refined grain cereal "Whole Grain Goodness" could mislead consumers expecting a predominantly whole grain product. This breach of trust could both damage the brand's reputation and also trigger penalties for misbranding.
4 - Align with your brand. Choose a product name based on a comprehensive and competitive strategy. While several options might seem compliant, select the one that best aligns with your overall goals, brand identity, future product innovations, and long-term vision. This could range from technically descriptive names based on formulation to simpler, more evocative names. Often, among many possible solutions, the clear choice will stand out.
Example: A new plant-based milk brand wants to launch an oat milk product. However, the name "Oat Milk" is already widely used by competitors. After considering the potential benefits and risks, the brand decides on the marketing name "Virtue-Oats Almond-Less" to emphasize the brand's sustainability focus and differentiation from nut-based milks. While the common name "oat milk" also appears on the label as required, the marketing name reinforces the company's ethos and helps it stand out among competitors.
5 - Navigate complexity and blind spots. Evolving regulatory and market attitudes can make choosing the right product name inherently tricky. Your naming plans may be affected by ambiguous regulatory frameworks or shifting enforcement priorities. Staying up-to-date on the competitive landscape is also critical: for example, your naming options can be limited by existing trademarks or brand names for similar products. To help you navigate ambiguity and manage the risks that come with change, make sure you have a robust compliance strategy and seek expert regulatory support.
Example: A functional-energy bar brand notices that the FTC has issued warning letters to their competitors about misleading marketing practices. The brand chooses to hold off on a planned rebrand until it can better understand the regulatory considerations that may affect its positioning and naming options.
The bottom line: if you’re about to launch a product, a thoughtful, holistic approach to product naming is critical. And for brands already on the market, it’s never too late to revisit these foundational concepts to maximize compliance, efficiency, and trust.
Led a global initiative sponsored by the Head of Innovation to assess regulatory externalities affecting brand and product permissibility. Created a custom playbook to move the client from reactive to proactive and measurable actions.