With the growing number of sustainability certifications out there, it happens that consumer products carry more than one label. Recently, we’ve received many questions from companies and NGOs wondering what it means when a product holds two labels. Does it mean that one label is less valuable than the other? Are two labels more credible than one?

The short answer is: no, not necessarily. 

Han de Groot, Chief Executive Officer at UTZ explains: “UTZ believes adding a label should mean there is really an additional value when comparing standards and the labels are therefore complementary to each other.”

In this post, we break down what this means and address the topic of double labeling, clearing up how it is possible and why, in most cases, two labels are not necessarily better.

How is it possible to have two labels?

Simon Lévelt_coffee_multi labeled

There are two ways a product can be double labeled.

A farm or cooperative can be double certified. In this case, a farmer will follow the steps to get multiple certifications, meaning he complies with the Codes of Conduct of both sustainability programs. As certification standards often overlap in many areas, some farmers will decide to meet more than one in order to increase their sales opportunities. The cocoa, coffee or tea that comes from a farm that is double certified will then have the option of being sold with two labels on-pack.

In other cases, a retailer or a brand purchases through two supply chains and applies a principle called mass balance. For example, a manufacturer buys 10,000 bags of UTZ certified cocoa and another 10,000 bags of Fairtrade certified cocoa. Upon request by the retailer or brand, the manufacturer then sells 10,000 bags onwards as double-certified, meaning the final consumer product carries both labels on-pack. The remaining 10,000 bags can subsequently only be sold onwards as conventional.

One label for clarity and credibilityFin Carré_double labled

“While there is nothing inherently wrong in having two certifications, there is a risk involved,” says Han de Groot. “The key elements we value at UTZ are credibility and transparency, and this also applies to labeling. We want to prevent confusion between companies and consumers.” In the supermarkets, when a consumer sees multiple labels on a product, it might raise questions like: is one label not sufficient anymore? What is the difference between the two? Has this product with two labels suddenly become more UTZ-Organic coffeesustainable?

That’s why we advise our partners to only double label when the two certifications complement each other. An example of this would be using UTZ and Organic together to add value. As the criteria behind Organic are different from the criteria behind UTZ, it makes sense to use both on a package. For labels with similar criteria like UTZ and Fairtrade, it is more important to focus on getting conventional products sustainably produced instead of putting more labels on-pack.

United by a common goal

“Ultimately, certification standards are driven by the common purpose of transforming agriculture to make it more sustainable. But in the process of bringing sustainability to scale, we need to safeguard the credibility of standards in general. Without trust, the demand for certified products could decrease amidst misinformation and ambiguity. At UTZ, we feel that by collaborating with other labels we can tackle unsustainable production and market practices, and hence improve the livelihoods of farmers around the world,” concludes Han de Groot.

Still have questions? Read more details in our labeling policy or get in touch at membersupport@utz.org.