Why are shampoo labels more often than not in English & French?
January 22, 2013 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Now my guess is that it's so they can sell the same thing in both the U.S and Canada but why does this seem to be unique to shampoo and not other products commonly found in the supermarket like detergent?
posted by zeoslap to Shopping (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It goes along with the American stereotype of fancy high-end beauty products being French. Put French ingredients lists on your shampoo and you look more high-falutin' and sell more bottles.
posted by asperity at 8:33 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is the shampoo company you are looking at based in Canada?

I live about 2 1/2 hours from the boarder here in the midwest and it's actually pretty rare to find duo-labeled products... even shampoo. So it may be location-to-you specfic.
posted by edgeways at 8:39 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

other products commonly found in the supermarket like detergent

Those are generally written in Spanish and English, and the idea that beauty products=French and cleaning products=Spanish has always bugged me. If anyone has an explanation for that that doesn't make me feel bad inside, I'd love to hear it.

For what it's worth, I've noticed that this happens more in products sold in large cities (NYC and Chicago being my major data points) than in products sold in less populated/immigrant-rich areas (like Georgia and Florida where my family lives).
posted by phunniemee at 8:41 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In Canada there is a requirement for dual-labeling in both English and French, and this article indicates the industry standard is 3 years.

I am not an expert on the Consumer Packaged Goods industry, but it is likely what you are observing between shampoo and other products is just a function of distribution channels for the two large manufacturers P&G and Unilever.
posted by scooterdog at 8:41 AM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Seconding scooterdog. Here in Canada, products are labeled in French and English; I notice the norm is Spanish/English when I go home to the US. Every now again and I see a label with all three (!) but it's usually from a massive manufacturer.
posted by Kitteh at 8:52 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

The directions for the NordicTrac I just got my wife were in about 8 languages. I assume that each translation was a similar poor translation from Chinese, the country of origin.
posted by Doohickie at 8:53 AM on January 22, 2013

Here in LA, plenty of things come in English and Spanish, not just cleaning products.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:57 AM on January 22, 2013

When I (Canadian) lived in the US in the late 90s I nearly never saw a French-labelled standard drugstore shampoo; the only French was meaningless French trying to be posh on dept store beauty product labels. Only the tiniest companies selling shampoo in both countries had only one label because while the Cdn labels had to be bilingual, they did not need to list the ingredients, and nobody wants to spell out the chemical shampoo soup if they don't have to.

This changed in 2006 which makes me think more products might be getting a label good for the whole continent, but, are you sure there's not some sort of confirmation bias going on in your shopping?

Product size labelling still differs...
posted by kmennie at 9:21 AM on January 22, 2013

Best answer: I asked someone who worked for a huge drugstore chain in products distribution about this one time, and he said that basically, it has to do with whether a particular shampoo factory (or shampoo BOTTLE factory!) supplies just the U.S., or the U.S. and Canada. He pointed out that some manufacturers' maxipads and tampons are often labeled in English, French, and Spanish because the same factories ship product to the US, Canada, and Mexico (as feminine hygiene products are lightweight and imperishable, so easy to ship long distances!). There's a cost associated with meeting the labeling requirement for sale in each country, so there's some savings in being able to sell the product in the same packaging in your entire distribution territory.

He also said that more companies are starting to include Spanish-language labeling alongside English on US-only products (Dole Orange Juice, for example) to appeal to a broader consumer base. The FDA only requires food and drug labels to be in English but has various rules for labeling them in a second language as well. It also may make sense, if you sell Widgets made in factory A exclusively to Mexico, and Widgets made in factory B exclusively to the U.S., to put Spanish and English labeling on ALL Widget labels, as it will save you money in packaging design and potentially expand your market in both countries, since the US has a large Spanish-speaking minority and Mexico has a large English-speaking one.

If a cosmetic product just has a few words in French, that's for marketing. But if it's the entire label repeated in French, that's to meet Canadian legal labeling requirements; there are rules about putting your US-required label into foreign languages, so you wouldn't go to the trouble and expense of complying with those extensive labeling requirements to include French just for marketing purposes. (US, Canadian, and Mexican labeling rules are somewhat harmonized, so it is possible to meet multiple countries' standards on one label for many types of products.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:35 AM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

For info, we had this same question last year, you may find some additional helpful answers there.
posted by fraula at 9:44 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

a lot of Tesco own-brand goods are labelled in Polish and Lithuanian - not because of the large Polish population in the UK (the largest migrant group here is Asian, and while it's common to see translations into Urdu on government literature, it isn't on consumer products) but because they have a presence overseas. However, the labelling is on the back, not the front.
posted by mippy at 10:09 AM on January 22, 2013


Consider that food products may need separate labelling due to different regulations in the US and Canada. Therefore since they are putting different labels on anyways they can tailor the languages to the specific country.

Shampoo, etc, might not be regulated in the same way as food and therefore they can save money by using the same labelling throughout the US and Canada.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:10 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The FDA connection along with these products all essentially being made by one of two companies makes a lot of sense. Thanks guys!
posted by zeoslap at 10:48 AM on January 22, 2013

I agree totally with others on this one. It totally depens on where the factory is shipping to (which relates to the legal labeling requirements). When I lived in Toronto I was surprised to find quite a few products that were labeled in English and French when the seemingly exact same product (brand, packaging, etc.) was sold in California, where I'm from, with English and Spanish on the packaging. Sometimes they change the packaging, like the logo or design, but sometimes it is almost entirely the same.
posted by boobjob at 4:36 PM on January 22, 2013

It can also be the distributor arrangement. If your chain has stores in the US and Canada, they may just order the product in dual language labeling so they have one less inventory item to deal with.
posted by gjc at 6:06 PM on January 22, 2013

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