An In-Depth Look at the History of Food Product Labels

An In-Depth Look at the History of Food Product Labels

It’s hard to think of a world without product labels. Imagine rows and rows of grocery shelves filled with logo-less products. While it is challenging to picture grocery stores existing this way, most markets started with these label-less products.

In fact, the timeline of how product labels first started is quite complicated. To learn more about the development of merchandise labels, read our in-depth look at the history of food product labels below.

1906: Pure Food and Drug Act

When you look back at the origin of food labels, the government created these labels for consumer safety rather than marketing. Unfortunately, false advertising and fake ingredients plagued consumerism in the early 1900s.

To stop health reactions from falsely advertised products, Congress signed the Pure Food and Drug Act into Congress in 1906.

1913: Gould Net Weight Amendment 

Before the early 1900s, store owners almost always sold food products in bulk. However, when more and more markets began to sell individually wrapped cans and boxes of food products, this merchandise became hugely popular.

Since smaller packaged items provided newfound convenience to customers, store owners increased their prices to take advantage of this opportunity. However, as more businesses raised their prices, customers realized that owners filled packages with fewer food products.  

As a result, lawmakers created the Gould Net Weight Amendment. This amendment mandated that all food products include the net weight of their products on the outside of labels.  

1938: Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

As manufacturing became more complex and food production found new additives to include in its recipes, the FDA created new food labeling guidelines.

In 1938, the FDA stated that all food and cosmetic products now needed labels for any products containing artificial flavorings, flavor additives, or chemicals. These laws led to manufacturers producing more detailed labels to include product information.

1990: Nutrition Labeling and Education Act

It’s shocking for most people to realize the FDA did not enforce mandatory nutrition labels until 1990. While other previous regulations enacted required food products with allergens and health claims to provide nutrition labels, it was not until 1990 that the FDA legally began to enforce all food products to include a comprehensive ingredient list. Since this act, the FDA has enforced other label laws to alert customers to listings for added sugars, vitamins, and minerals.

It’s fascinating to see how manufacturing, packaging, and distribution have dramatically changed over the past century when looking at our in-depth look at the history of food product labels. These labels created essential food and safety standards that still protect consumers to this day.

Additional Resources:




High Fructose Corn Syrup




Clif Bars

Coca Cola



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