Food companies launch SmartLabel to provide more info

New survey finds that consumers would prefer a label on the food package rather than using a smartphone app.

In the ongoing debate of food labeling, the food industry announced a major initiative Wednesday that will enable consumers to have easy and instantaneous access to detailed information about thousands of products, with more than 30 major companies already committed to taking part in the transparency initiative.     

The “SmartLabel technology” - created by manufacturers and retailers - enables consumers to get additional details about products by scanning a bar code or doing an online search to reach a landing page with information on ingredients and other attributes of a wide range of food, beverage, pet care, household and personal care products. 

“People want more information and are asking more questions about products they buy, use and consume, and SmartLabel puts detailed information right at their fingertips,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. “SmartLabel is a modern technology that will change how people shop and will help them get answers to questions they have on the products they purchase when they want that information.”

SmartLabel makes it easier than ever for shoppers to find information about products they use and consume. SmartLabel will offer information on hundreds of attributes covering thousands of products, including nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions and company/brand information, along with other pertinent information about the product.

GMA said a recent survey by Benenson Strategy Group found that 75% of consumers said they would be likely to use SmartLabel, showing that the program will meet a consumer desire for more product information.

However, according to a poll released by the Just Label It campaign, a survey by the Mellman Groups found that 88% of consuemrs would prefer a printed GMO label on the food package rather than use a smartphone app to scan a barcode. Just 17% say they have ever scanned a barcode to get information, and only 16% say they have ever scanned a QR code.

Those who want distinct labels were not welcoming to the new technology. “QR code labeling discriminates against the poor, minorities, rural populations and the elderly. They are a completely unacceptable substitute for clear, concisely worded on package labeling,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “The right to know is a right for all, not just those who can afford it.”

Major companies already on board

Some companies are beginning to offer products using SmartLabel late this year and early in 2016, with projections of nearly 30,000 total products using SmartLabel by the end of 2017.  Early estimates indicate that within five years, more than 80% of the food, beverage, pet care, personal care and household products that consumers buy will be using SmartLabel.

More than 30 of the nation’s major food, beverage and consumer products companies already are committed to using SmartLabel to provide detailed information about their products. These include ConAgra Foods, Hormel Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Knouse Foods, Land O’Lakes, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Hershey, J.M. Smucker Company, Kellogg Company, General Mills, McCormick & Company, Bimbo Bakeries USA, Bruce Foods Corporation, Bumble Bee Seafoods, Ferraro USA, Flowers Foods, Reily Foods Company, Rich Products Corporation, Sunny Delight Beverages Co., Tyson Foods, Inc., Ahold USA, Topco LLC, The WhiteWave Foods Company, Pharmavite LLC, Clorox, Colgate, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

"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,” said J.P. Bilbrey, who is chairman, president and chief executive officer of The Hershey Company and chairman of GMA’s board of directors. “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." 

“As more and more consumers are looking for responsible and sustainable brands, SmartLabel can link consumers to information about how a brand integrates sustainability into its products’ ingredients and lifecycle,” said Kees Kruythoff, President of Unilever North America, a leading marketer of U.S. personal care and food brands. “SmartLabel is an important tool for brands to provide more product information, helping build trust with consumers who are increasingly mobile and online.”

GMO ingredient disclosure

Overall, companies are projecting that, by the end of 2017, they will disclose via SmartLabel whether 20,000 food products do, may or do not contain ingredients sourced from genetically engineered (GE) crops, commonly known as GMOs. Current estimates indicate that number could triple once a uniform national standard is set for GMOs.

In Congress, some lawmakers want to add a provision to the omnibus spending bill that would block states from requiring GMO labels for produce and processed food, as would a bill passed by the House last summer. Groups such as the Just Label It coalition are fighting against it.

GMA and a wide range of agriculture and business groups are urging Congress to pass legislation setting a uniform national standard for GMO labeling to replace a patchwork of state labeling mandates that vary from state to state.

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