How Prep Instructions Can Impact Sales

Prep instructionsHave you ever had to assemble furniture with poor instructions? Then you know how frustrating it can be.

The same applies to food. On one occasion I purchased Chinese dumplings, not having tried them before. The packaging was geared to Chinese consumers but the brand was sold in a conventional supermarket. The cooking instructions were vague, so I followed them as closely as possible. I ended up with a gooey mess, nothing to eat and a time-consuming clean-up job! Needless to say, I will never buy that brand again.

I couldn’t be bothered to take the time to complain to the brand owner, so they will never know there’s a problem. If you are a brand owner, what you DON’T know, can hurt your sales.

Developing prep instructions for mixing or cooking is a blend of science and guesswork.

The final product on the plate depends on a number of variables:
  • Whether the product lends itself to the preparation method; for example, pastry does not crisp up well in a microwave.
  • The clarity of the instructions.
  • The customer’s cooking skills and ability to follow instructions. With Canada being a melting pot of cultures and language abilities, consider how the instructions might be interpreted.
  • Cooking appliances; not all makes and models are created equal. Add age of the appliance to that and performance varies greatly, especially for microwave ovens. Consequently the finished product may be disappointing or even disastrous – not reflecting your brand in a positive light.
How can brand owners ensure their prep instructions measure up?

1.  Developing prep instructions is part of our product development and quality assurance process. If there are several methods for preparing the product (e.g. conventional oven or microwave, stove top or boil-in-bag), choose the one that yields the best results. To allow for variations in appliances, some brands specify a range for cooking times and describe the perfect end result. And don’t forget about minimum internal temperature requirements for food safety.

2.  Testing is paramount; in the test kitchen, using different brands, models and ages of appliances. Also test instructions with your target customers, people with a range of cooking skills and those who are unfamiliar with the product. Employees, friends and family are not the best source for feedback.

3.  Writing easy-to-follow prep instructions is a skill and collaboration between the product developer, quality assurance and the copywriter. This is part of our process for writing the label copy.

You can have the best tasting product in the world, but when the finished dish is not up to scratch, your customer will think twice before buying your brand again.

As a packaged foods consultant, Birgit Blain helps brands that struggle to maintain listings. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw and President’s Choice®. Learn more at or contact her at

© Birgit Blain

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