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Who cares about French translation?

June 6, 2017

by Birgit Blain, Birgit Blain & Associates Inc

An American brand owner planning to enter the Canadian market, told me they don’t need a French translator for their labels because they use Google. Really? Have you ever heard a joke translated from another language? It’s not very funny if it’s a literal translation.

The market is flooded with packaged foods without French (or even English) on the label. This presents several risks that can impact sales and profit for brand owners, distributors and food importers. Not to mention the missed marketing opportunity; if consumers can’t read the label, they won’t buy the product.

What are the risks?

The first risk is allergen labelling, which must be taken seriously because it is a food safety issue. If an allergen is not properly declared on the label, in English and French, it can cause illness and result in a recall. Recalls are expensive. Costs include removing the product from the market, printing new labels, re-labelling, re-distribution, reimbursing retailers and losing sales in the meantime. Is it worth the risk?

Food importers should also take note, since they will be responsible for the safety of their products under Canada’s new Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).

The second risk is regulatory non-compliance. Canadian labelling regulations require mandatory information to be in English and French, with equal prominence. Quebec’s Charter of the French Language goes even further stating “Every inscription on a product … including directions for use… must be drafted in French.” and “… no inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French.” Also included are package inserts and marketing materials such as brochures, catalogues, public signs, posters and commercial advertising.

Now, about the market opportunity; over 6.8 million Canadians speak French most often at home, according to Statistics Canada. That’s about 20% of the population. And they don’t only live in Quebec. In today’s highly competitive market, can brand owners afford to ignore and alienate French-speaking Canadians?

Why should you hire a certified translator?

Considering the risks and opportunities, French labelling is not just a “nice to have”, it’s a “must have”. Hiring a certified translator is a small price to pay. And make sure s/he has experience with Québécois (French Canadian) French, which differs from other countries.

The tiniest details count; like punctuation, capitalization, accents and how pricing is depicted. A missing accent can turn salted biscuits into dirty biscuits, resulting in lost sales.

Skilled translators have a good command of both languages and are well versed in transcreation – transforming a message from English, taking the cultural context into account, and adapting it for a French audience. Expressions with double meanings and fanciful names are particularly challenging and may not work in French.

So, don’t offend Canada’s French speaking consumers. It is in every brand’s best interests to take French translation seriously. Getting the French right is one of many ways to mitigate risks and make your brand more marketable.


As a packaged foods consultant, Birgit Blain helps brands that struggle to get listings. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw and President’s Choice®. Contact her at [email protected] and subscribe to her Food Biz Blog for valuable advice http://bbandassoc.com/blog/

© Birgit Blain

This article was published in FoodinCanada.com