Food labelling e-learning course
Types of names

Types of names

Label for fish fingers

The FIC identifies three types of names: 'legal names', 'customary names' and 'descriptive names'. A product must use one of these to satisfy the legal requirement to provide a name for a food. This will depend on the circumstances or business choice.

Legal names

A legal name means the name prescribed for a food by specific EU legislation applying to it (e.g. 'milk chocolate', 'pangasius catfish', 'fat spread X%', 'instant coffee'). If there is no such legislation, it is the name provided for in member state legislation where the food is sold. Where a legal name exists, it must be used.

Customary names

A customary name is a name accepted by consumers in the member state or part of the member state where the food is sold, without any further explanation needed, e.g. 'Yorkshire pudding'. To become customary, a name will be used habitually for a number of years for a product of consistent composition and characteristics. Further examples could be 'liquorice allsorts', 'Battenberg cake', 'flapjack' and possibly 'smoothie' and 'caesar salad'. Whether a name has reached customary status is a matter of perception and there is no official list of customary names.

It is possible for a customary name to go out of fashion and no longer be sufficiently meaningful on its own. Again, this is a matter of perception, but 'Mississippi mud pie' could be an example. The use of customary names, where they are perceived to exist, is voluntary. A business may choose to use what might be commonly perceived to be a customary name, for instance on the front of a pack, but still provide what would be a voluntary descriptive name elsewhere on the pack.

Descriptive names

A descriptive name must be given where a food has no legal name and a customary name doesn't exist or isn't used. This name provides a description of the food. It can also include an indication of how the food should be used, if needed. The name should be clear enough that people understand the food's true nature and can distinguish it from others that it could be confused with.

Descriptive names should mention the ingredients that give the food its main characteristics. Also any details of the food's structure or form that clarify what it is. Pictures of ingredients or finished foods don't contribute towards meeting the requirement to give an adequate descriptive name.