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You know your food tastes great, but how do you tell your customers? The few adjectives you have to play with – sweet, bitter, sour, etc – are so uninspiring, you’ll find yourself relying on comparisons such as lemony, cheesy, earthy, malty. Which is fine so long as you’re not trying to say that cheese tastes cheesy.

No wonder so many packaging copywriters give up the fight and resort to personal opinion: delicious, tasty, scrumptious. Trouble is, most of the other tins and cartons on the aisle also use the word ‘delicious’. And some of them are definitely not delicious.

Instead of telling your consumers how delicious your new food product is, why not help them come to that conclusion for themselves? You’ll have achieved a much more powerful result if the copy on your food packaging persuades a potential customer to say “now that really does sound delicious”.

Packaging copywriters love provenance

Food writers love provenance so much, they can overdo it. Provenance takes a reader to an imaginary world of artisanal makers and plentiful harvests. You know in your bones that Mediterranean herbs are more intense than home-grown British ones because they soak up so much sunshine. And Suffolk hens lay eggs of a deeper yellow than those laid by lookalike hens out of nowhere, even though both live in crowded barns and never see the light of day.

Provenance is a cue to the emotions. Goat’s cheese matured in a hidden Pyrenean valley implies rustic wholesomeness and centuries of tradition. It lets readers escape from their everyday lives.

Delicious is in the imagination

Emotional responses sell food. When a dairy tells you that its cows graze on lush green buttercup-filled meadows, you’re transported to a countryside of eternal summers, weekend escapes, and Enid Blyton stories. When you learn that your fish was smoked over applewood chips, or that your wheat was ground by stone in a mill thick with clouds of flour, you can see the artisans at work. These foods taste better because years of love and craftsmanship went into their preparation. Maybe.

Textures are hugely helpful too. Food packaging copywriters are on solid ground – so to speak – with food textures. Everyone can visualise what a food that’s smooth, crunchy, melty, or crusty feels like.

How do the professionals do it?

Here are two examples from a recent edition of The Observer:

    • Jay Rayner: “A chicken liver parfait is so smooth, so whipped and glossy, it could be an edible version of Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream … It is rich without being cloying, and comes with a generous scoop of bacon jam, a dense, sweetsavoury porky relish that makes me feel understood.”
    • Nigel Slater: with chicken broth, smooth, round grains of arborio rice plump with sweet milk, or perhaps mograbia, the giant couscous, round and heavy with the spice-freckled gravy from a tobacco-hued stew.

We’ve underscored the few genuine taste adjectives. Everything else is texture, comparison, and wild, take-me-somewhere-else imagination. If you’re salivating it’s because Rayner and Slater’s descriptive inventiveness has sparked an emotional reaction.

Limp ideas you’ve seen a thousand times before

Just to be sure, here are a few words and phrases not to put on your food packaging.

    • Delicious, tasty, flavoursome etc: That’s you giving customers your opinion.
    • Finest ingredients: Universally untrue – manufacturers choose ingredients to fit a budget. The finest are beyond their reach.
    • Chosen/selected carefully/by hand: What kind of choice or selection doesn’t involve an element of care? And did they really hold every single ingredient in their hand before deciding?
    • Taste buds: All references to the way your taste buds might react are clichés
    • Perfect for/as: Translation: can be used for/as.

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