South African labelling requirements

South African labelling requirements

One of the biggest benefits of a global marketplace is the opportunity to introduce new products to your home market. Do you often come across wonderful food or cosmetic products overseas that you believe South Africans would enjoy?

South Africa’s regulatory standards regarding labeling and marking requirements are set and maintained by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)

SABS oversees labeling and marking in the following categories:

  • Chemicals
  • Electro-technical
  • Food and Health
  • Mechanical and Materials
  • Mining and Minerals
  • Services
  • Transportation

General requirements

The general standard for South African labelling requirement are as follows:


  • The product name must be printed in type equal or greater than 4mm in height
  • A description of the product must appear in the same size, font and prominence as the name
  • Storage instruction must be printed in type equal or greater than 3mm and in bold capitals
  • All other info must be printed in type equal or greater than 1mm in height


Any image of a product contained in packaging may not be misleading as to its content


The following may not appear on any product:

  • x % fat free. The product must state ‘contains xx % fat’.
  • Nutritious or other words implying the same thing. This would include the word ‘goodness’.
  • Healthy / healthful / health or other words implying the same thing.
  • Wholesome / complete nutrition / balanced nutrition and other words implying the same thing.
  • “Sugar free” and “Fat free” are only allowed, if specific conditions, as set out in the Food Labelling Regulations are met.
  • “Suitable for those with diabetes”, “diabetic friendly” or words with a similar meaning, may technically not be used.

All descriptive words must be carefully chosen to ensure that no implied claims are inadvertently made and that descriptions such as “home made” or “natural” etc. fall within the CODEX definitions.

Generally importers are most concerned about labelling requirements in the following categories:

Foods, cosmetics and disinfectants

If you have identified a potentially lucrative business opportunity, it is possible to import those products. However, make sure the products adhere to South African labelling requirements as set out in the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act (Act 54 of 1972) and the various amendments to the Act. If the goods arrive at customs with inadequate labelling, customs will block the goods.

Here is a summary of some of the most important labelling requirements set out in the Act:

The product label must provide the following information:

  • Brand name
  • Product name – This must be an accurate name informing the consumer of exactly what is in the packaging.
  • Manufacturer, packer, or distributor name and street address
  • One of the following statements: “Product of [insert country of origin]” if all ingredients are from that country, or “Produced in [insert country of origin]” if the ingredients used are from a different country than the country in which the products were manufactured.
  • Date manufactured
  • Expiration date
  • Batch number
  • Product size or weight
  • List of ingredients with the word “Ingredients” at the start of the list,  listed in descending order of mass
  • Allergens identified in the prescribed format
  • The name and address in South Africa of the manufacturer, importer or distributor
  • Net contents in metric units
  • Agricultural products must also comply with the relevant agricultural standards act for that specific food.

Additional labelling requirements:

  • Labels must be in English
  • The ingredients list must include the names of any preservatives or colourants used. The preservative or colourant’s name or number can be used, but the number is optional.
  • Nutritional tables must appear on the label if the product makes a nutritional claim such as “vitamin enriched” or “high in iron”. The table must provide the nutrient quantities per serving, or per container size. All nutrient quantities must be listed in Standard International (SI) units.
  • Any product accompanied by healing or medicinal claims must be registered at the Medical Control Council (MCC).
  • Any product accompanied by slimming or muscle enhancement claims must be registered at the MCC.
  • No misleading claims may be present on the labels.
  • Products may not contain any banned ingredients such as hydroquinone (a skin lightener).

Note: Additional proposed labelling and product claim requirements for cosmetics are detailed in sections 8 and 9 of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act: Regulations: Labelling, advertising and composition of cosmetics amendment. Download the proposed amendment here.

What if I’ve already imported the product?

If you’ve already imported a food or cosmetic product with an incorrect label, don’t despair. You can print a stick-on label containing the correct details and stick it over the original label (you may have seen this implemented on foreign goods in your local grocery store). If you do not print stick-on labels, the other options are to a) return the products to the supplier, or b) grant permission for the products to be destroyed.

Clothing, footwear and textiles

South Africa’s labelling requirements for clothing, textiles and footwear is covered in the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008. A summary of what the Act requires is available here.

According to the Act, all footwear, leather, clothing and textiles imported into South Africa must have a label permanently affixed, clearly indicating:

  • The country of origin (i.e. where it was made)
  • An indication, where a South African textile manufacturer has used imported griege fabric to produce dyed, printed or finished fabric, that such fabric has been dyed, printed or finished in South Africa from imported fabric
  • An indication, where a locally manufactured product uses imported material, that the product is “made in South Africa from imported material”
  • Care instructions, and fibre content as per the SABS terms.

This Guide to Labelling of Textiles and Textile Products published by the Foschini Group is also very helpful.

Make sure that you familiarise yourself with the basic requirements of the Act before importing your products. Remember – preparation and adequate research is one of the keys to importing success.

If you require any assistance, or would like to access more resources on importing, visit our Tools & Calculators page, or give our friendly consultants a call on 087 550 1038.

About the author

Tracy Venter

Tracy studied at Stellenbosch University and gained her initial experience in imports and exports through working for industry. After starting her own import business, and helping some friends do the same, she realised there was a need for reliable customs registration services. As a result, in 2011, Import Export License was born. Since then thousands of importers and exporters have been helped to obtain their import export licences, permits, specialised customs registrations and connect with Import Export License consultants for advice on importing, exporting, and other customs related matters.