SmartLabel brings transparency to CPGs

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SmartLabel brings transparency to CPGs

By Joan Driggs - 01/20/2016

"Overused" might be an overstatement, but there's no denying that "transparency" is one of the top words of the decade. Its relevance in the grocery industry can't be understated. From required nutrition statements and allergens to optional information about clean labeling, carbon footprint or GMOs, consumers want to know what's in the products they are buying, consuming and using—as do the companies that are selling to them.

"Transparency is essential to build trust with today's consumers," says Benno Dorer, CEO of The Clorox Co. Dorer is one of more than 325 grocery industry participants from among 90 companies working to build SmartLabel, a new platform that aims to put product and company transparency at the fingertips of consumers.

While just making its way to CPG products and retailers across the nation, SmartLabel holds the potential to demonstrate to consumers the degree to which the CPG and grocery retail industries are committed to meeting demand for transparency in an organized, responsible manner. The initiative essentially pulls back the curtain on nutrition, ingredients, allergens, third-party certification and company information.

More than 30 companies have already committed to SmartLabel, with Hershey being the first company with products searchable through SmartLabel. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which is leading the work to create and initiate SmartLabel, estimates that nearly 30,000 total products will use SmartLabel by the end of 2017. In addition, a consumer survey commissioned by GMA found that 75 percent of respondents would be likely to use SmartLabel.

"With nearly 43,000 products in the average supermarket, the grocery industry is clearly about providing options that cater to a diversity of customer preferences and offer products appealing to a wide range of consumer inclinations," says Mark Baum, SVP and chief collaboration officer of the Food Marketing Institute, one of the SmartLabel partners. "Shoppers want to know more than ever before about the food they buy and consume. They also want this information delivered instantly—and in a way that's easy to access."

INSTANT INFORMATION

GMA's CEO Pam Bailey describes SmartLabel as "a transparent, transformative initiative that provides easy and instantaneous access to hundreds of attributes of food, beverage, pet care, household and personal care products. It's designed so that consumers can have a wide variety of information and the ability to hone in on the information they want in one or two clicks."

SmartLabel is enlisting various technologies to enable consumers to access product information, including scanning a QR code on the package, using a web search engine, going to a participating company's website, or eventually through an app that is projected to launch in mid-2016. GMA reports that a number of retailers have said that they can help shoppers without smartphones via their in-store customer service desk.

SmartLabel takes consumers beyond what is available on a package or nutrition statement, and gives products and brands a better way to share what they offer. Attributes cover thousands of products, and drills into categories including item benefits, features, safe handling, uses and advisories, as well as company and brand information.

"The foundation for SmartLabel is the information consumers want to know. Why an ingredient is in a product, what it does, how it was sourced," says Jim Flannery, senior executive VP of GMA, who is leading the SmartLabel initiative. "The essence is the consumer experience—getting to the SmartLabel landing page. Each product has a landing page of ingredients and attributes. All pages look consistent."

Each product participating in SmartLabel has its own landing page that features 52 required attributes, such as nutrients, allergens and third-party certifications. Rather than breaking down ingredients into a list as is found on packages, SmartLabel drills into the elements of a product, so that a breakfast sandwich, for example, will provide all the ingredients used to make its bread, egg, cheese, spread/dressing, meat, etc. Brands can voluntarily disclose an additional 197 attributes, such as no artificial preservatives or MSG.

"This is not a great big database in the sky," Flannery says. "It's brand data stored and maintained by the manufacturer. It protects consumers' privacy but gives them access to the information they're looking for within two quick clicks." Examples of products currently using SmartLabel are at www.smartlabel.org

PROMINENT PARTICIPANTS

Among companies committed to using SmartLabel are ConAgra Foods, Hormel Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Knouse Foods, Land O'Lakes, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Hershey, J.M. Smucker Co., Kellogg Co., General Mills, McCormick & Co., Bimbo Bakeries USA, Bruce Foods Corp., Bumble Bee Seafoods, Ferraro USA, Flowers Foods, Reily Foods Co., Rich Products Corp., Sunny Delight Beverages Co., Tyson Foods, The WhiteWave Foods Co., Pharmavite LLC, Clorox Co., Colgate, Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Retailers committed to SmartLabel include Topco, Walgreens, Wakefern, Ahold, Amazon, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Meijer, Target and Walmart.

Clorox's Dorer says the personal care and household products company is an early supporter of SmartLabel, because "to win with consumers and grow our business profitably, we must delight consumers with superior products and lead technology-enabled change to engage them in real time."

Clorox has long recognized the value of transparency as a tool for connecting with consumers. SmartLabel, Dorer says, augments the "‘Ingredients Inside' product ingredient communication program we launched in 2009 for cleaning, disinfecting and laundry products in the U.S. and Canada."

But SmartLabel works in such a way that all participating products demonstrate a similar format for easy use.

"We support product ingredient transparency not just for our company's products, but for the industry overall," Dorer says. "Having a standardized format with information organized in a similar way will make shopping and decision-making easier for consumers."

SmartLabel leverages GS1 Global Data Dictionary standard definitions for the more than 350 Gen 1.0 attributes and the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) to enable brand owners to store and maintain information in one location (for real-time accuracy) and have that information flow to whoever needs it via the GDSN.

"While not all of the data recipients are GDSN participants today, this is the first time information can seamlessly and accurately flow when SmartLabel participants publish out via the GDSN and data recipients receive that information. I believe all of the retailers and most of the data-aggregators/collectors who participated on the project are committed to leveraging GS1 Standards for seamless information flow," Flannery says. "This is a huge productivity and accuracy improver."