- The Grocery Manufacturers Association formally announced its SmartLabel initiative Tuesday, intended to give consumers quick access to product information. More than 30 large manufacturers are already on board with the manufacturer and retailer-created program, according to a news release and conference call. These include Hershey, ConAgra Foods, Campbell Soup, and more.
- Every product that's a part of the program will receive a landing page that includes ingredient and other details about the item, consistent across product types. Consumers can scan a QR code to find out this information in addition to web searches, visiting company websites, and a specific SmartLabel app, which should be released in mid-2016, according to GMA. Other apps will become SmartLabel-certified.
- By 2017's close, it's estimated that close to 30,000 products will be using SmartLabel. Companies are using SmartLabel for certain products as the year draws to an end and into early next year.
Technology is clearly the wave of the future in GMA's approach to transparency. Jim Flannery, the senior executive vice president of the association, noted the penetration of smartphones on the conference call, but that the information will be acessible to all with an Internet connection.
Certain retailers additionally could help consumers without smartphones in-store through their customer service departments — potentially alleviating concerns about a product's accessibility.
However, not all in the food industry are supportive of GMA's venture. The Environmental Working Group pointed out a Mellman Group poll that found only 16% of consumers have ever scanned a "QR" code. The poll also noted close to nine in 10 Americans want mandatory GMO labels. A study presented at the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association found that GMO labels wouldn't scare off consumers.
The intiative extends beyond food and beverage products, including pet care, personal care, and household items. It's estimated that more than 80% of these products will have SmartLabel within five years.
Additionally, it's expected that by the end of 2017, SmartLabel will indicate if 20,000 food items "may or do not" include GMO ingredients — tripling following the possible adoption of a uniform standard across the country for GMOs. GMA wants Congress to pass legislation for a uniform GMO labeling standard. The House already passed a bill that would prevent state-mandated GMO labeling, while the Senate recently held a hearing to discuss GMO labeling.
"A deep concern is that we'll end up with a patchwork quilt of state-by-state regulations where you'll end up in a place where you can't move a can of soup from one state to the other," Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant told CBS News.
"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," according to Hershey CEO and GMA board of directors chairman J.P. Bilbrey. "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."