Looking back at food: from the history of food labels. Part 2


 Welcome to the 1980s, the era when convenience foods – an industrial creation many of us can no longer imagine how to live and eat without – have inundated the market promising to liberate urban dwellers from time-consuming meal currypreparation and take women out of messy kitchens. These labels are chinese mealobviously a big step forward on the way to a better informed consumer. All products have appropriate descriptions of the packaging contents, storage, cooking and safety instructions and a detailed ingredient list. They are also a reflection of some social trends of the period – growing reliance on ready meals as the result of increased women’s involvement in paid employment, the widespread availability of such “white goods” as refrigerators and microwaves, and globalization – the Indian and Chinese cuisines are soon to become the nation’s favorites…

4eggsThis spaghetti pack is noteworthy for its “4 eggs per kilo” claim which I have never come across on contemporary pasta products. There was also another product with a similar statement – a cake sponge claiming to be “rich in eggs”. It just made me think if such claims might be the legacy of the World War II and wartime product rationing when each person in the country was only allowed to buy one egg in a week?


chips 1990sYou can instantly see that this looks much more like most labels we currently find on our products, doesn’t? You’ve got pretty much all the information you can be interested in as a health-conscious consumer – the ingredient list, nutrition declaration and we even have a nutrition claim stating that the sunflower oil used in the preparation of the chips is low in saturated fats and cholesterol. However, I am not sure that this particular claim would be allowed on a label after the EU directive on nutrition and health claims was implemented in 2006.

tart 1990sThis Bakewell Tart box has yet a couple more pieces of information we have come to take for granted – “suitable for vegetarians” and “contain nuts” statements may seem essential today, but you didn’t have those in the 1960s, did you?



beef strogAnd the nutrition claim (amount of calories per portion) on this ready meal box suggests that diet-related concerns were among the factors guiding consumer food choices in the 1990s…





wahsed lettuceWashed and ready-to-eat lettuce with now so common  “more for the same price” claim…





And to summarize…

As an epitome of all of the above, let me show you two labels of the same product but from the very different points in history. On the right is our modern Christmas pudding packaging, dating 2004. Unfortunately, I am only able to show you front-of-pack, but I can assure you that the information load on this one is nowhere near the modest description accompanying the nation’s favorite festive treat in the 1960s which you see on the left. Not only is there a nutrition declaration both per  and per serving, guideline daily amounts for women and men, quantitative ingredient declaration for the pudding itself and separate ingredient listings for glace cherries and breadcrumbs, allergy warnings, three different cooking suggestions, extensive storage and handling instructions, a mouth-watering description of the pudding and finally,  if you don’t know which wine this delicacy goes best with…Yes, the label tells you this too.  The label on the right, as I said, is from the 1960s and all the information it bears is limited to what you can see there, so… you get the difference.

pudding 1960pud 2004



P.S. I want to thank the The M&S Company Archive and its wonderful personnel for their continuous assistance and permission to use and reproduce the photos.


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