SmartLabel, the digital tool that makes information about a participating food or beverage product visible on smart phones via QR codes, is celebrating its third anniversary this week, the Grocery Manufacturers Association announced.
GMA and its SmartLabel project partner, the Food Marketing Institute, said the tool now provides easy and instantaneous access to detailed information from 826 brands on more than 36,000 food, beverage, personal care, household and pet care products.
"I’m proud to say we’ve come a long way in three years, with the majority of the average store’s products available on SmartLabel," Geoff Freeman, GMA's president and CEO, said in a release. "The industry proactively created this product and continues to demonstrate its commitment to transparency with the program's rapid ascent."
Three years in, SmartLabel seems to have made significant progress on the number of participating brands and products about which it provides information. There were only about 2,000 participating products accessible on the SmartLabel system in 2016. Last year, it was about 14,000. There are more than 36,000 this year, according to GMA.
That growth was no doubt due to a marketing outreach campaign GMA and FMI launched this past summer on video and social media, along with coverage on TV, radio and in print. GMA said then that a comprehensive consumer campaign had been waiting for a large number of products to be carrying the labels. And since about 40,000 to 50,000 products in an average grocery store were said to be including them, this year was apparently the right time.
One criticism of the digital tool was that few people seemed to know it existed or how to access and use it. Following the outreach campaign and the growing number of participating products, that particular obstacle should largely be overcome.
Shoppers who do use smartphones, computers or tablets to access the SmartLabel system are in a position to learn a lot about a participating food or beverage item. There are 335 different product attributes that can be incorporated into the system — including ingredients, allergen information, health claims, sustainability practices, how animals are treated and usage instructions. Of those, 95 are required by federal law, and the rest are voluntary.
While educational outreach appears to have done a good job of increasing participation, retailers and manufacturers are also in a position to augment its use. Stores can install Wi-Fi, post signs, do demos and highlight the system in online and mobile ads. Shelf tags could draw attention to the QR codes and refer shoppers to the SmartLabel site, where FAQs are posted to help with any questions.
Food and beverage makers can take their own steps to maximize use of the SmartLabel tool on their products, including making the QR codes on packaging larger and more visible so shoppers take greater advantage of them. Mondelez created its own free app last year to provide access to ingredient, nutrition, allergy and other information on its biscuits, crackers, cookies, chocolates, gum and candy.
The Coca-Cola Co. was an early adopter of the system and said its goal was to have QR codes on all beverage packaging by the first quarter of this year. Those seem like solid moves for brands looking to enhance their transparency credentials and get a leg up on the competition.
Research shows more consumer information tends to influence buying decisions. GMA noted an online survey done by Atomik Research this past May found that 75% of 1,002 shoppers said they would change their buying habits if they were given more environmental impact, safety and usage information about the products they were purchasing. And 71% said they wanted more information about a product beyond the label ingredients, such as what role the ingredients play in the product or why they're there. Such attitudes would seem to bolster SmartLabel's future as it adds more participating products to the roster.