Translation for food e-commerce sites: cultural issues beyond the public

Doing a translation for a food e-commerce site is not a simple task. Many difficulties arise when translating an online store, such as the specificity of the food. Furthermore, diet is one of the aspects that varies most from culture to culture, and this must be considered when translating an online food store, an e-food, into another market.

We’ll share all the tips for the translation of online food stores.


Common foods in some places, unknown or exotic in others

Diet changes greatly when we move countries. Even within countries, culture varies significantly. Just think of this: if you order Gazpacho in La Mancha and then in Andalusia you will realise they are different.

The climate, tradition or history of a region influences the dietary style. For example, soya has only recently arrived in the Spanish market, whilst historically in many Asian countries, it has always been the staple food.

One example is tempeh, a vegetable “meat” made from soya beans that has become very popular lately (due to the boom in vegetable-based diets).

This, in Spain is usually quite an expensive product: costing over €12 per kg. However, in Indonesia, it represents the main protein source for the less fortunate people, and you can find it in any store, at a ridiculously low price.

Therefore, before launching a product in a country, we must establish what dietary trends the population follows. Following the example above, it might be frowned upon setting a high price for a tempeh dish in Indonesia. Or the opposite, where an extremely low price makes Spanish consumers question the quality of the product.


Frameworks and categorisation

We must really consider the target culture in order to create categories in food e-commerce sites that want to expand and sell internationally. Just copying the structure of our website into another market won’t work.

Categories are unique and specific. Every culture creates some mental frameworks within which we include (or not) certain concepts. Thus, according to scholars such as Lakoff, us humans organise the world through metaphors and through consensual relationships we create groups or categories: like mental frameworks.

Each human group creates their own categories. These are not universal and depending on the culture, the metaphorical relationships that create these categories will vary.


What is sold in the online supermarket and how is it positioned?

All this debate points to a simple conclusion: the sections of a supermarket are categories and mental frameworks. Therefore, all the dairy products are grouped together and there is no individual egg section (even though there are countless egg products).

Of course, this is not common to all cultures and it must be considered when translating food e-commerce sites and (or) essential products.

Let’s take a few examples.

In Japan eating sushi is second nature, so it won’t be in the delicatessen section or ready-made meals section, but the fish section. On the contrary, in Korea, you’ll find a whole aisle just for rice and associated products whereas in Spain, they would be next to other cereals and vegetables. In this country, tea and nuts are also grouped in the same category, perhaps due to the traditional Yulmu-cha: a drink that mixes these two products.

These cultural differences are very often on our doorstep. In Spain, it would be rare to buy tobacco or medicines in supermarkets, settings which are mainly dedicated to food.

However, in the United Kingdom cigarettes are bought in these settings and Australian superstores and self-service stores have a medicine section. There you could combine an e-commerce of food and pharmaceuticals if you wanted.


Knowing the area you are targeting is key for your e-food

Localising an e-commerce involves in-depth cultural knowledge about the target culture your products are aimed at. This complicates food e-commerce, as food is of the most varied and significant aspects in every culture.

Pay attention to the categories in order to offer the best possible user experience. And consider which products will have to be adapted in size and price. E-commerce continues to grow in the food sector and understanding globalisation can result in the worldwide success of your company.

That’s why always trust in cultural and translation experts!

About the author

Oscar Nogueras

Es el CEO de Ontranslation y dedica algunos ratos libres a escribir en este blog para compartir sus conocimientos sobre internacionalización, cross-border ecommerce y Traducción SEO. No es para menos, ya que entre su formación cuenta con una licenciatura en filología inglesa, un máster en tradumática, un posgrado en elearning y un MBA. En definitiva, una declaración de intenciones donde la cultura y los idiomas se sirven mezclados, no agitados.

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