The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is launching its latest innovation, SmartLabel technology, which will enable consumers to have easy and instantaneous access to detailed information about thousands of products across multiple categories, with more than 30 major companies already committed to taking part in the transparency initiative.
The program, created by manufacturers and retailers, enables consumers to get additional details about products by scanning a bar code or doing an online search to reach information on ingredients and other attributes of a range of food, beverage, pet care, household and personal care products. Although it is designed so that consumers can have access to a wide variety of information, it also allows them to hone in on questions they may have on a specific ingredient or product.
“People want more information and are asking more questions about products they buy, use and consume, and SmartLabel puts detailed information right at their fingertips,” said Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of GMA. “SmartLabel is a modern technology that will change how people shop and will help them get answers to questions they have on the products they purchase when they want that information.”
Consumers will be able to find answers to questions about nutritional information, ingredients and their purposes, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions, and company or brand information, among others. A recent survey conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, a research consultancy, found that 75 percent of consumers surveyed said they would be likely to use SmartLabel to find this information.
“(SmartLabel) directly responds to the desire of consumers for detailed information, and it does so in a way that reflects the changing ways people live and shop. Let’s face it. My daughters shop differently today for their families than I did at their age. And SmartLabel is a modern label that uses the technology that is ubiquitous in family lives and daily routines today,” added Bailey during a Dec. 2 conference call announcing the initiative.
How it works
Each individual product in SmartLabel will have a specific landing page containing information from the manufacturer on ingredients and other product attributes; the first version of SmartLabel will include more than 350 attributes, some required and some that can be provided voluntarily by the manufacturer. Although they are managed by individual manufacturers, all SmartLabel landing pages are organized in a similar format, with a consistent look across products and categories.
Consumers will be able to find this information in several ways: by scanning a QR code on the package; using a web search such as through Google, Yahoo or Bing; going to a participating company’s web site; or, eventually, through an app. A number of retailers have said that they can help shoppers without smartphones via their customer service desk in stores. In addition, both online and brick and mortar stores are exploring ways to make SmartLabel more accessible to their customers by posting the SmartLabel link on their page to allow access in one click or through customer service desks.
More than 30 companies involved
Some companies are beginning to offer products using SmartLabel late this year and early in 2016, with projections of nearly 30,000 total products using SmartLabel by the end of 2017. According to GMA, early estimates indicate that within five years, more than 80 percent of the food, beverage, pet care, personal care and household products that consumers buy will be using SmartLabel. “This is the very earliest stage of this initiative. And we anticipate that SmartLabel will become ubiquitous, and it will become the routine way shoppers make decisions and research information about the products they buy,” said Bailey.
Companies already committed to using SmartLabel include: ConAgra Foods, Hormel Foods, Campbell Soup Co., Knouse Foods, Land O’Lakes, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Hershey, J.M. Smucker Co., Kellogg Co., General Mills, McCormick & Co., Bimbo Bakeries USA, Bruce Foods Corp., Bumble Bee Seafoods, Ferraro USA, Flowers Foods, Reily Foods Co., Rich Products Corp., Sunny Delight Beverages Co., Tyson Foods Inc., Ahold USA, Topco LLC, The WhiteWave Foods Co., Pharmavite LLC, Clorox, Colgate, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
“People’s relationship with food has changed dramatically and consumers now want to know more about their food, such as where it came from and what went into making it,” said J.P. Bilbrey, chairman, president and CEO of The Hershey Co. and chairman of GMA’s board of directors. “SmartLabel creates a way for consumers to get unprecedented access to information about what is in their food. This is what real food transparency is about.”
Kees Kruythoff, president of Unilever North America, added, “As more and more consumers are looking for responsible and sustainable brands, SmartLabel can link consumers to information about how a brand integrates sustainability into its products’ ingredients and lifecycle. SmartLabel is an important tool for brands to provide more product information, helping build trust with consumers who are increasingly mobile and online.”
SmartLabel may become a platform for GMO disclosure
According to GMA, many participating companies are projecting that, by the end of 2017, they will disclose via SmartLabel whether 20,000 food products do, do not, or may contain ingredients sourced from genetically engineered crops. The organization’s estimates indicate that number could triple once a uniform national standard is set for GMOs.
GMA, along with a range of agriculture and business groups, are urging Congress to pass legislation setting a uniform national standard for GMO labeling to replace a patchwork of state labeling mandates.
“Lawmakers in D.C. have been very supportive,” said Bailey. “This initiative is all about giving consumers the information they’re looking for and doing it quickly. And they recognize that electronic disclosure is the way to go, the modern way people shop. There’s a great deal of excitement about this initiative.”