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Canada's New Front of Pack Health Symbols

How to update them seamlessly, painlessly, affordably, and on time.

January 2026 – that’s the deadline that Health Canada has given to food brands to have the new mandatory declarative labelling for products that contain high levels of fat, sodium, and sugar.

The task seems simple enough: a black and white symbol must be incorporated into the front panel of every required package. Often, these kinds of updates don’t get the attention they require, and agencies don’t allocate the appropriate resources to tackle them. Inferior, incomplete, and hurried execution can create more work, demand unanticipated time and cost, and reduce the power of your hard-working brand packaging.

At Fish Agency we are already helping several brands get ready for 2026. As agency leaders for over 20 years, we have worked through numerous packaging rebranding and update projects, including assignments with thousands of products requiring a ‘simple’ update based on new regulatory requirements. Along the way, we have learned a thing or two. Here are a few nuggets of our best advice:

This is not a Redesign…Or is it?

In designing your original packaging, time and money were spent on making thoughtful decisions to ensure your brand has clarity, distinction, and consistency in its category. Now the application of the Health Canada symbol comes along with some specific requirements to ensure that it is prominently displayed. How do you develop a simple and compliant approach to incorporate it without losing any of the strength of the original design?

Establishing a design system that provides an initial hierarchy of what should get altered, and what should not, can provide helpful guidance. Are the symbols simply placed over existing artwork? Or should graphic elements move? And within the requirements of the symbol application, what moves first? A photograph or illustration? Your logo? And what about that expensive illustration of cascading, coloured marshmallows falling into a cereal bowl? Investing a little time around strategic decisions means there doesn’t need to be a long discussion about every single package. Once a brand team aligns on a strategy, dedicated individuals will be able to complete this work independently and efficiently.

Wait – there’s more!

Health Canada also has instructions about what else is on the principal panel. There are restrictions about the height of other health claims: these need to be adjusted in order to ensure that the messages about fat, sugar and sodium get the awareness that this law intends. So the design and location of other health claims might have to be altered also. You don’t want to have to manage major redesign costs for packages that just need smart reworking. Your best partner for this roll-out is an agency that is committed to understanding all aspects of the law, and advocates for the best possible design with the most affordable solutions.

Engage with Procurement

Costs of update projects can be mitigated by keeping a close eye on packaging inventory. Ideally, your new 2026-ready package is released just at the moment when the old packaging inventory becomes depleted. This way packaging write-off costs are kept as low as possible.

When procurement and design teams work together co-operatively, redesign timing can be optimized, and inventory minimized. In the most efficient projects, design teams have direct access to information that provides inventory levels, so they are not dependent on others to receive the sequence of ready-to-redesign packages. Working together with joint accountability gets better results.

Launch in Categories

While the sequence of what products to redesign can be determined by inventory levels, the rollout should also be executed with the consumer in mind. Ideally, a brand of cookies or granola bars should be completed all at once. Consider what a shelf would look like when only half of a brand’s packages are completed with the symbol, and the other half are still to be redesigned. It will make for a very confusing shop for consumers.

Follow the Design Leader

Like any project with multiple stages and stakeholders, it is well served with good leadership and a defined workflow process. Before starting down the redesign road, a process should be mapped out to define the following:

• Clear roles for all contributors

• Clear steps for what inputs are needed, from whom, and when

• Tools to communicate and manage progress

• Quality control measures

An agency project leader can guide engagement of all stakeholders including procurement teams, vendors, and internal category leaders. As we do at Fish Agency, agencies should manage projects using online collaborative approval software: this shortens cycle times, streamlines workflows, and documents all inputs.

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