GMA: SmartLabel will be "ubiquitous' and 'routine'

80% of packaged groceries will feature SmartLabel within five years, predicts GMA

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

80% of foods will feature SmartLabel in five years, predicts GMA

Related tags: Food

Within five years, four out of five food, beverage, pet care, personal care and household products will feature a SmartLabel – a QR code shoppers can scan with their phones instore, or access later via a tablet or desktop computer – the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has predicted.

While food labels are already required by law to contain detailed information about ingredients, nutrition and allergens on pack, the new labels will provide instant access to up to 350 attributes including third-party certifications, animal welfare info, health claims and supporting data, storage info, social compliance programs, sustainability information, and whether or not the product in question is made with genetically engineered ingredients, GMA president Pamela Bailey told reporters on a call this morning (click HERE​ for an example).

“We anticipate it will be ubiquitous and the routine way for shoppers to research information and make decisions about the products they buy.

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,” ​added Bailey, who said a recent online survey by Benenson Strategy Group found that 75% of primary grocery shoppers said they would be likely to use SmartLabel.

Data can be accessed in multiple ways

Hershey Kisses smartlabel
Hershey's Kisses, featuring the new SmartLabel

Each product that is part of the SmartLabel scheme – and the GMA is predicting that 30,000 will participate by the end of 2017 – will have a specific landing page containing detailed information from the manufacturer.  

Consumers will be able to access the information 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 apps, said the GMA, which said a number of apps will become ‘SmartLabel certified’, while the GMA will also create a standalone SmartLabel app.

Retailers have also agreed to help shoppers without smartphones access the information via their customer service desks in stores.

Hershey – which was the first to test the technology​ – said the scheme took transparency to a new level, and reflected consumers’ desire to “know more about their food, such as where it came from and what went into making it”.

smart label strip
The first version of SmartLabel, known as Gen. 1.0, will include more than 350 product attributes, each of which is classified as ‘required’ or ‘voluntary’. The ‘required’ attributes are defined by US regulations, but if a company chooses to disclose one of the ‘voluntary’ attributes, it must use an industry-recognized standard definition, said the GMA.

SmartLabel no substitute for clear, concisely worded on package labeling re. GMOs, say activists

By the end of 2017, shoppers will be able to see, via SmartLabel, whether 20,000 food products do, may, or do not, contain ingredients sourced from genetically engineered (GE) crops, said Bailey, adding that this number could triple once a uniform national standard is set for defining genetically engineered products.

“We need a federal definition for companies to make this information available widely.”

smart label portrait
More than 30 leading CPG companies have committed to using SmartLabel including ConAgra Foods, Campbell Soup Company, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Hershey, WhiteWave Foods, and Unilever.

However, anti-GMO activists such as Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety, said the scheme was a “completely unacceptable substitute for clear, concisely worded on package labeling​”.

Just Label It, meanwhile, released the results of a poll by The Mellman Group of 800 likely 2016 general election voters, which found that 88% strongly preferred to see GMO labeling on pack, while just 8% preferred scannable barcodes.  

Shoppers don't scan QR codes, says Just Label It

Meanwhile, only 17% of respondents said they had ever scanned a bar code to get information, and only 16% said they had ever scanned a QR code, claimed Just Label It, while the Environmental Working Group said the fact that including info on GMOs was voluntary meant the scheme had little value.

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, added: “Shoppers want to see clear labels on food packaging that tell them if products are made with genetically engineered ingredients without having to use confusing codes or smartphone apps.”

The poll, commissioned by a coalition of consumer and environmental groups, comes at a “timely moment​”, added Just Label It: “In Congress, some lawmakers want to add a provision to the omnibus spending bill that would block states from requiring GMO labels for produce and processed food, as would the so-called DARK Act passed by the House last summer​.”

Center for Food Integrity: Consumers are interested in different things

Charlie Arnot, CEO at the industry-backed Center for Food Integrity, which has recently developed a new 'transparency index​' for the food industry, told FoodNavigator-USA that the SmartLabel meant data on topics of interest to consumers was presented in a consistent format to agreed standards.

charlie arnot
Charlie Arnot, CEO, Center for Food Integrity

So while much of the information in question might already be available on individual company websites, for example, the SmartLabel would make it easier to compare and contrast products, and respond to consumer concerns without forcing manufacturers to list everything that might​ be of interest to certain consumer groups on product labels.

While supporters of mandatory GMO labeling (on pack) say SmartLabels enable firms to keep shoppers in the dark, the reality is that unprompted, most consumers do not cite genetic engineering as a top of mind issue, or at least do not see it as more important than issues such as animal welfare or sustainability, he said.   

"Ask 10 consumers what is important to them, unprompted, and they will come up with 10 different answers."

And while some surveys suggest shoppers are not embracing QR codes on products, consumers the CFI has polled just like the fact that the information is available if they want it, he said. "People say that it heightens my sense of confidence if I know the information is there."

Read more at http://www.smartlabel.org/

Watch Hershey's video on the new labels below:

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2 comments

How much will it cost - and who will pay?

Posted by Brian,

Manufacturers are going to have to spend millions to implement this packaging change, not to mention the resources required to keep all of the information up to date. Who is going to pay for this? The consumer. In general, consumers don't read the information that is already on the package (at leat not as much as they claim). I just can't picture today's time-starved shoppers standing in the grocery aisle with their smart phones researching up to 350 fun facts.

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Just Label It

Posted by Jenny,

SmartLabels are all about hiding information. Consumers, including myself, don't want the trouble of juggling telephone, item, grocery cart or basket, and small child-- all to look up something that could be easily printed right on a label.
If a food is clean and honest in its ingredients and production methods, there should be PRIDE in trumpeting its ingredients. Only dishonesty likes the shadows. Honesty has nothing to hide.

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