- With nearly 28,000 products already participating, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute launched their marketing campaign for the SmartLabel program, according to a joint release from the trade groups.
- According to a survey released with the campaign, seven in 10 shoppers want more information about products in the grocery store, beyond what they can see on the label. About 80% would be more likely to buy products with more understanding of the ingredient list, while about 75% say they would change their shopping habits if they had more information about products, their environmental impact and sustainability.
- The SmartLabel program includes smartphone-scannable QR codes on packages, which can provide shoppers with deeper information about products in-store. The information can also be found on a comprehensive online database on the SmartLabel website. For those without digital access, there's a toll-free telephone number to call for product information.
This rollout has been a long time coming as brands and products have quietly adopted SmartLabel during the last several years. SmartLabel QR codes, designed to provide consumers with a bounty of easily accessible information as they shop, have been appearing on packages for more than two years. The database has been filling up with new entries. And GMA, which has been the major group developing SmartLabel, has been spreading the word about the consumer education program.
GMA has said it was waiting until a large number of products carried the labels to develop a major consumer campaign. With 28,000 sporting it — a significant portion of the approximately 40,000 to 50,000 in an average grocery store — that time is now.
The SmartLabel database contains a wealth of information for consumers. There are 335 different product attributes that can be incorporated into a label — 95 required by federal law, with the rest voluntary. Not only does it have clear information contained on the Nutrition Facts label, but it also tells consumers about ingredients and potential allergens. It can also provide information on GMO ingredients, sourcing and sustainability and instructions. It can also link the consumer to a brand's own website.
Considering the high proportion of consumers who are looking for more information on food products, SmartLabel seems on its face like it would be a home run. SmartLabel is convenient, with information presumably available at shoppers' fingertips as they walk through the grocery store. But getting consumers to actually access the database is a significant challenge. Late last year, according to GMA, brands with live QR codes only captured 20-30% of SmartLabel visits. The rest came from old-fashioned online database searches.
Part of the problem that needs to be overcome is that consumers assume they cannot get useful information from codes on product packaging. Last year, the USDA studied the challenges of providing smartphone-scannable disclosures in conjunction with the GMO labeling law. According to the study, a majority of consumers have smartphone access while shopping — only 12% do not. But grocery stores tend to lack Wi-Fi access and don't have their own in-store devices for patrons to scan labels, which could help increase adoption of the technology.
A well-coordinated marketing campaign, like the one GMA and FMI are kicking off, could also boost participation. So far, the campaign includes how-to videos and information about what scanning the codes brings consumers. There is also a SmartLabel app — though many smartphone operating systems now automatically recognize QR codes when users snap photos of them.
Retailers and brands can also do their part to educate consumers about the codes. Signage, demonstrations and online and mobile ads could help from a retail standpoint. Store employees pointing out the SmartLabel codes would go a long way in driving adoption. But so would some of the recommendations from the USDA study: Adding in-store Wi-Fi access and creating scanning stations for customers to get this information without using their phones. Signage to alert customers to the in-store Wi-Fi network could be used to promote SmartLabel. And scanner stations in aisles or along endcaps would provide the opportunity for retailers to display the kind of information that is available. Shoppers who may not be inclined to scan something with their phone out of curiosity could see the type of information they really are interested in on a large screen and start scanning themselves.
Brands can also take steps to let consumers know that they can get more information through SmartLabel. Marketing campaigns and apps are both helpful. Last year, Mondelez launched its own SmartLabel app to promote the information available through the platform — and align itself with the transparency SmartLabel provides. Brands may also want to make their SmartLabel codes bigger or more prominent on packaging, and could even include basic instructions for scanning them. As products began adopting SmartLabel, the codes were relatively small and could be overlooked by consumers who did not know they were there. Now that the information campaign is kicking off, an easily found and scanned QR code can make the platform more prominent — and boost brands' interest in transparency.