Label accuracy and quality of information are critical to communicating effectively with consumers.

Despite the digital era, one should never underestimate the power of the tangible. For all the smartphones, social media platforms, e-commerce channels and electronic promotions, consumers have a physical, emotional and thoughtful connection with those things they can see, touch and taste.

“You can talk about social media, but I always think the label is the best means for connecting with consumers,” said Steve Armstrong, independent advisor on food law and regulation for EAS Consulting Group. “It conveys specific information about a specific product to people.” Mr. Armstrong was previously the chief food law counsel for the Campbell Soup Co., Camden, NJ, which includes the Pepperidge Farm brand, before he retired from that role.

According to Mr. Armstrong, the package is a conduit for messages that food manufacturers want to convey to their end users. “Consumers buy foods for a lot of different reasons, and many of these concerns are things a label has to address because of regulations requiring ingredient information, nutritional disclosures and name and contact information,” he said. “Because that communication occurs in the grocery aisle at the moment of purchase, it is the package that allows a brand to put its best foot forward and build consumer trust.”

Syncing up with SmartLabel

On-package labels with the correct product and company information are a focus of many bakery and snack operations. Mr. Armstrong advised that it’s important to keep priorities in mind with regard to labeling. The first steps are to understand what interests consumers and know what is required by law and regulations. If companies follow those guidelines, they can develop an effective label.

To use labels in a proactive, comprehensive way, bakery and snack companies can take advantage of resources like the SmartLabel program that was developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) based on feedback and consideration from consumers as well as retailers and manufacturers.

Roger Lowe, executive vice-president, strategic communications, GMA, said consumers are hungry for more information about the products they buy, and SmartLabel meets that need by putting detailed information — more than could ever fit on a package label — right at their fingertips. QR codes allow consumers to scan the package and instantly pull up additional product information, giving those who want to know what ingredients are in the product — and why — access to all the information they need.

“And remember, not every consumer wants the same information,” Mr. Lowe said. “Some will want to know details about allergens, including whether a product is processed in a facility or on a line that also processes an allergen. SmartLabel provides that information.”

Food companies, in turn, are looking for ways to provide such information via package labels. Bakery and snack manufacturers have shown strong interest in SmartLabel to provide ingredient and other information to consumers, according to Mr. Lowe.

According to GMA numbers, 6,700 products from 216 brands across 26 companies already feature the SmartLabel to provide detailed information on their products, with a projection for 34,000 products by the end of 2017. Participating retailers and CPGs include several organizations with bakery and snack lines, such as Ahold USA, Quincy, MA; ConAgra, Chicago; the Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, MI; King’s Hawaiian, Torrance, CA; Mondelez International, Deerfield, IL; and Flowers Foods, Thomasville, GA, among others.

Flowers Foods is participating in the SmartLabel program with three of its major brands: Nature’s Own, Dave’s Killer Bread and Alpine Valley. “We believe this program is an effective way for manufacturers to provide consumers a better understanding of the ingredients in the products they purchase,” said Sherry Harper, brand manager, Flowers Foods.

“SmartLabel pages offer easy access to full product information, some of which may not be included on the packaging because of package size limitations,” Ms. Harper said. She added that in the few months SmartLabel has been used on select Flowers brands, the company has been “pleasantly surprised” at how many consumers are using the QR code to gain instant access to information.