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Thumbs Up for Smart Food Labels


Grocery shoppers nowadays want transparency in the food and beverages they consume. Where do the edibles come from? Were they produced in a humane and eco-friendly way? Do they contain GMOs? As a result, supermarkets are promoting local foods largely in the produce department. Eggs can be cage-free, vegetarian and organic free-range. Some food packages bear labels such as Non-GMO Project Verified or No High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Leading food, beverage and consumer products companies plan to take transparency to the next level by affixing a SmartLabel to their goods. Consumers will be able to get details about products by scanning a QR code on the product package or by doing an online search to reach a landing page with information on ingredients and other attributes of a wide range of products. These details could be some or all of the following: ingredients, nutritional information, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories, safe handling instructions, and so forth.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is behind this technology initiative now underway with major companies planning to take part. Projections call for nearly 30,000 products bearing the label to be on store shelves by the end of 2017. It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of the food, beverage, pet care, personal care and household products that consumers buy will be using the label within five years.

More than 30 companies have committed to using SmartLabel to provide detailed information about their products. Some of these CPG giants include ConAgra Foods, Hormel Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Knouse Foods, Land O’Lakes, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Co., Nestlé, Hershey, J.M. Smucker Company, Kellogg Company, General Mills, and Procter & Gamble.

By the end of 2017, food companies say they will use the label to tell consumers if their products do, may or do not contain ingredients sourced from genetically engineered (GE) crops, commonly known as GMOs. That number could triple if a uniform national standard is set for GMOs. GMA is urging Congress to develop a uniform national standard for GMO labeling to replace state labeling mandates that vary across the country.

Grocers can ― and should ― get involved with SmartLabel as well. Several retailers have offered to help shoppers who don’t own a smartphone by having the store’s customer service desk provide information. Also, online and brick-and-mortar stores are considering posting a link on their web page to allow access to product details or through customer service desks.

This initiative is impressive. Three cheers for GMA for such a bold and needed program. It will be interesting to see how receptive shoppers are to having access to detailed information about products. Sometimes you get what you ask for.   

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