Consumer packaged goods giants have been seeing the light on the desire by American consumers for more transparency in the foods and beverages they buy, and so the industry’s leading US lobbying arm has come out with a new platform called SmartLabel that manufacturers hope will give shoppers more of the information that they crave.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association is rolling out a platform that will allow consumers to scan a QR code on product packaging to access an online landing page, or even talk to a company’s customer-service hotline to get more information about nearly 30,000 participating products, from laundry detergents to cat food, made by dozens of participating CPG brands.
The industry-wide effort is a new mobile-enabled tool that helps you make informed decisions about food and household products and even includes a glossary. Holiday packages of Hershey’s Kisses are the first products to bear the SmartLabel QR code (with the call to action “Scan to Learn What’s Inside”) as you can see below:
“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, CEO of the Hershey Company, about the decision to pioneer the label. Also chairman of the board of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, he added: “This is what food transparency is about.”
SmartLabel will provide not only the basic nutritional information required by US law but also other product characteristics such as allergens, third-party certifications and other data manufacturers may want to disclose such as whether the item contains GMOs and how much it complies with social responsibility commitments such as responsible sourcing, “fair trade” or “dolphin safe.”
Hershey is proud to pioneer the SmartLabel program, Peter Horst, the company’s CMO, recently told brandchannel. “There’s a wealth of information that could never be printed on the package—what’s in it, how is it made, where did it come from—to help people be smarter and make good choices,” he said.
Of the many things that consumers say they want from their food these days, in addition to the actual food itself, information transparency has taken a prominent position alongside actual product attributes such as healthful ingredients and lack of preservatives.
But, understandably, long-established CPG brands, with traditional, highly-processed product lines, have been slower to embrace digital means of information-sharing than smaller competitors with less baggage, more digital know-how and a focused idea at launch of how to make products and construct brands that embrace “clean labels” and other transparency-friendly characteristics from the start.
While it’s hard to argue that the SmartLabel initiative will help American consumers make smarter decisions (or even bother to check out the information), at least the industry is trying to communicate. Still, there’s bound to be opposition to any Big Food initiative.
The Environmental Working Group, for example, argues that SmartLabel is a bad idea for a number of reasons, including the fact that many consumers don’t scan QR codes—and because there’s no standard or requirement for participating brands to disclose information about any genetically modified organisms in their products, for example, although they are free to describe what the Grocery Manufacturers Association called “bionegineered ingredients.”
The Center for Food Integrity, meanwhile, feels it’s “a step in the right direction.”