WHITE SULPHUR SPRING, W.V. – Following a sevenfold increase in the number of consumer products incorporating the SmartLabel system developed by the consumer packaged goods industry, the system is on track for ambitious roll-out targets, said Julie Savoie, director, industry affairs, Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Using the SmartLabel system, consumers currently may access information about 14,000 different products, Ms. Savoie said in a Sept. 10 presentation at the G.M.A. Leadership Forum, held Sept. 7-10 at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.
Ms. Savoie traced the origins of the SmartLabel program date to 2014 research showing strong consumer interest in more information about the consumer products they purchase. With widespread industry involvement, SmartLabel was developed as a joint project of the G.M.A. and Food Marketing Inc. (F.M.I.), based on input from 325 participants from 90 member companies.
|Julie Savoie, director of industry affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.|
“The purpose of SmartLabel is to offer more product information, to be more transparent and to build more of a relationship with consumers,” she said.
As a digital tool, SmartLabel is constantly being updated, Ms. Savoie said.
“Digital technology is ever changing,” she said. “So we are on an endless journey.”
Launched in January 2016 as version 1.0, SmartLabel’s current iteration is version 1.5, and version 2.0 will be released shortly, Ms. Savoie said.
Currently, 335 different product attributes may be incorporated into SmartLabel, including sustainability practices, ingredients, allergen information, health claims, how animals are treated and usage instructions, Ms. Savoie said. Of the 335, 95 are mandated by federal policy, and the balance are voluntary.
“The (voluntary attributes) speak to the true intent of SmartLabel,” she said. “They give the consumer more information.”
For consumer ease of use and consistent look and feel, all 335 are mapped to the same location in the SmartLabel interface.
“The consumer can look at any SmartLabel page and find the same information at the same location,” she said.
The 14,000 products within the SmartLabel system as of September 2017 compared with about 2,000 a year earlier. These cover 410 brands (versus 70 a year ago) and 35 parent companies (13 companies).
“This past year, we have come a long way,” Ms. Savoie said.
Also over the past year, Canada has adopted SmartLabel in a program that will be implemented there.
Consumer engagement efforts to date intentionally have been limited, Ms. Savoie said. It is expected 34,000 products will be SmartLabel enabled by late 2017 or early 2018, after which a substantial consumer awareness campaign will begin.
Despite the “zero education” offered, many consumers already are “stumbling” upon SmartLabel, either through seeing the QR code in the grocery store or seeing an article in an industry publication.
Still, despite the low-key approach taken to date in publicizing the product, there were 400,000 visits to SmartLabel in May-July 2017 alone.
Top three channels to SmartLabel have been brand web sites, QR codes and smartlabel.org. The latter web site is managed by the SmartLabel team and is an aggregate collection of all products currently utilizing the system.
Half of the visits originated from smartphones, 30% from desktop computers and 20% from tablets or other devices, Ms. Savoie said.
G.M.A. said that while SmartLabel information may be obtained through a toll-free phone number, the initiative’s focus is on digital access.
The pages and information within SmartLabel are under each company and brand, not in a single SmartLabel database, according to the G.M.A. Brand owners are required to store and maintain their information, making it available to those using the Global Data Synchronization Network.
“Consumers searching for information are connected to web pages owned by specific brands,” the G.M.A. said earlier this year. “All information found using SmartLabel is bound by the same accuracy requirements as if it were printed on a package or label, and is subject to oversight by numerous federal agencies with authority over labeling, marketing and advertising of food and other consumer products, including the F.D.A., U.S.D.A. and F.T.C.”
Consumer feedback has been elicited, Ms. Savoie said, and the greatest single finding is that users want even more information from the system than currently is available. Examples include potassium and phosphorus and other attributes that may be shared.
Urging still greater C.P.G. industry participation, Ms. Savoie said, “Listen to the consumer. If you haven’t implemented SmartLabel, why not? For three years we’ve known the consumer has been looking for more information. If you are using this digital tool, make sure you are offering more information. That is what they are looking for today.”