by Alissa Marchat/staff writer
Consumer interest in health and wellness has been steadily on the rise, and with no signs of the trend slowing down, industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) are implementing or building on programs to help consumers take charge of their health.
Celebrating its fifth anniversary is Facts Up Front, the front-of-pack labeling program launched through a GMA and FMI partnership in 2011 under the name Nutrition Keys. Five years and a name change later, the program still is growing and thriving, and according to registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and Facts Up Front spokesperson Kim Kirchherr, helping busy consumers make informed choices about the foods they buy at a glance.
“As a dietitian, when I was asked to be on the advisory panel years ago when it first started, I jumped at the chance, because to me one of the things that’s confusing for people in general is you’re bombarded with so many different pieces of information and sources,” Kirchherr told The Shelby Report. “The beauty of Facts Up Front is it’s literally taking information right from the nutrition facts panel and simply putting it on the front of the package where it’s very easy for people to find, and I love that because it’s not a new system, it’s not something that is confusing to people.”
One the of most effective aspects of the Facts Up Front program, Kirchherr noted, is that consumers are taking in some of the key nutritional attributes—such as calories, sodium and fat per serving—of a product even if they aren’t actively seeking out nutrition information. Product packages can include a maximum of six attributes, including two positive ones.
For consumers who more actively engage with the program, there are plenty of other benefits as well. Facts Up Front operates a website and social media pages featuring recipes, how-tos and interactive tools.
“So there’s lots of different ways that people can actually benefit from this program, because you can’t just buy groceries…You actually have to make a meal out of them,” Kirchherr said. “So I think the reception, once people realize all of the resources that are out there, they really appreciate that. Because otherwise you just have ingredients.”
Another benefit of the program’s social media sites is seasonal information, including what produce is in season and relevant holiday recipes.
“If you go to the social media properties, you’ll see that there’s some great stuff about pumpkin right now that’s been shared,” Kirchherr said in November. “So it’s very timely and relevant, and it stays fresh in that way, too, with what’s on people’s minds at that moment in time.”
The program is growing, with 109 participating brands at press time and plans to continue consumer outreach efforts.
“There’s never really not an opportunity to educate people on Facts Up Front,” Maggie McClain, GMA director of communications, told The Shelby Report. “It’s been included in some really interesting health professional resources, and people like Kim are actually really great advocates because they’re working directly with the consumer…Facts Up Front is included in a lot of different educational efforts from the professional side. So it’s a never-ending opportunity to educate, and the more products that add the label, the better, because the more consumers will be familiar with seeing it and relying on it every day.”
The variety of products that feature the front-of-pack labeling is a plus for consumers, who can find Facts Up Front on products that fit into a variety of budgets, Kirchherr noted.
“This is for national brands and private labels…There’s so much talk about balanced eating or healthier choices; they don’t need to cost more. You can find them on a budget, you can find them on sale and whatever brand choice and taste you prefer. This is a tool that can help you.”
As the program grows, Kirchherr hopes that consumers will grow with it, becoming more aware of what’s in their food. Facts Up Front also is adapting as consumers and manufacturers grapple with new dietary guidelines. McClain said that the facts have been updated to reflect recent changes made to the nutrition facts panel as a result of the FDA’s revised guidelines.
SmartLabel boosts brand transparency
SmartLabel, a tool that allows consumers to scan QR codes on product labels for detailed information on its ingredients, also was developed through a GMA and FMI partnership. The associations created a group of consumer companies and retailers called the Trading Partner Alliance (TPA) to develop the SmartLabel program. According to the SmartLabel website, the TPA exists to “develop a shared retailer-manufacturer agenda on supply chain efficiency issues, the application of information technology, the adoption of environmentally-friendly business practices and other issues of importance to consumers.”
With about a year under its belt, SmartLabel has come a long way from its inception, GMA senior EVP of operations and industry collaboration, Jim Flannery, told The Shelby Report. “Right now, conservatively, we’re projecting to have about 34,000 items up and running by the end of 2017,” he said. “And based on my visibility to the way businesses and brands are coming on board, I think that’s a conservative number.”
With 12 companies and 115 brands already participating, Flannery estimates about 4,000 items will carry the SmartLabel code by the end of this year.
“We’ve got a lot of the traditional GMA member companies like Unilever and Hershey and General Mills and Coke,” Flannery said. “But then we have a bunch of smaller natural and organic businesses—Food for Life, Naked Bacon, Pascha Chocolate. Brands that have a strong equity with consumers built on trust and transparency are kind of jumping in really quickly.”
While SmartLabel provides consumers with the benefit of more information about the ingredients in their food—including their purpose and their country of origin—Flannery believes it also may help smaller organic brands grow.
“If you’re a natural or organic brand, you probably tend to have more highly engaged consumers, so this kind of tool is right up your alley,” he said. “It used to be if you wanted to succeed in the marketplace, you needed to win on price, quality and performance. You needed a product that you could grow market share and win. Today, that’s the base to open, and consumers are demanding far more information and putting more things into their value equation than just price, performance and promotion. And that’s all wrapped around transparency. So everything we see is if a brand is transparent with their consumers, if the consumers can find the information that they want, then that actually builds loyalty.”
The number of items featuring SmartLabel currently is too small for GMA or participating companies to start marketing the program in force, but Flannery is confident that consumer response will be positive. During testing, 75 percent of consumers said they were likely or extremely likely to use SmartLabel when they wanted more information on a product. For now, GMA is encouraging participating brands to reach out to their consumers about the program, but once SmartLabel hits that 34,000 participating items mark, it will start rolling out a marketing plan “that will begin broadly talking to consumers about going to stores, grab your brands, search this or scan this item and you’ll find this information,” Flannery said.
As the TPA waits to hit its partner and product milestones, it is busy working to improve the program. It recently released an updated version (1.5) of the program. It includes expanded capabilities, including the ability to flag products involved in a recall.
“If you hear that brand A is going through a recall, you pick up the product on your shelf, you scan the QR code, and can you find out whether this is on there. So we’ve built that into version 1.5,” Flannery said. “And we’re going to continue to improve. We’ve had 90 companies working on this, and we have a kickoff meeting in December to begin identifying the scope for what version 2 looks like. And figure out how do we understand what’s working, what we got right, what we need to improve, where are the consumers engaging in SmartLabel that we can do even better.”
IGA’s Better Choices line helps consumers strike a balance
IGA also is working to help consumers make smarter, more informed choices when it comes to the foods they eat. Launched in the summer of 2015, IGA’s Better Choices website features recipes, seasonal product information, food safety tips and resources for people with diet-related health conditions like diabetes. Updated monthly by Kirchherr, who works with IGA as well as GMA, the mobile-friendly site helps consumers navigate the grocery store and balance healthy choices with indulgent choices, she said.
“We’ve got your everyday foods that meet the dietary guidelines,” she said of Better Choices. “We’ve got the party foods if it’s your birthday. How do you navigate those choices? And of course, we want to just make sure that people know how to integrate all of their healthful choices, whether it’s a smaller portion of a decadent treat or it’s your birthday and you work in that one piece of birthday cake on that day; there’s room for all of those fun things. There’s room for family classics. All of those things are part of our lifestyle choices.”
The Better Choices messaging is reinforced in-store through some signage and shelf-talkers, but it is intended to be a mostly digital program.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to bring this program to life. But for right now, the biggest impact is our online resources, knowing that people can pull this up and search a recipe in-store and shop for those ingredients right when they’re in-store with their phone,” Kirchherr noted.
The website also features resources from and links to credible outside sources, such as the CDC or commodity boards. Those resources and links also are updated on a monthly basis, Kirchherr said. By linking to outside sources, she hopes to provide consumer with reliable, up-to-date information that’s easy to understand.
“We just want to make sure that we’ve got you, so to speak. And if you need something from us, let us give you some great resources that you can then go dig around—and really tailor that experience to what you’re looking for—for yourself,” she said.
While the website was designed to aid consumers in their health and wellness journey, it’s also a useful tool for IGA retailers. The website has seen a steadily increasing flow of traffic since it debuted in 2015, and IGA retailers can capitalize on that consumer interest by sharing content from the site directly to their Facebook or Twitter pages.
“It’s actually curating content not only for our customers but for our employees and for our store owners alike. So if there’s something on here that you as a store director want to include, it’s super easy for you to grab it,” Kirchherr said. “They can pull information anytime they want to for their social media, and now we’ve integrated the Better Choices into their websites.”
As the site grows in popularity, Kirchherr hopes to improve on the content she’s already curating with more visuals and videos and by giving consumers as much power as possible to take control of their own health.
“People do define themselves with their food. It’s a very personal decision and choice,”
“Really, my goal as a dietitian is to ask, ‘what do you like to eat? What is your particular health concern?’ And how do we be relevant to people but still let them control what they need to and own it from a personal perspective, specific to their individual conditions?”
By providing relevant, thorough information that also can be fun and engaging, Kirchherr hopes that Better choices can strike that balance.