SmartLabel Initiative


Consumers have been demanding more transparency when it comes to the ingredients used in our food and the food industry has responded. Despite the ongoing mandatory labeling saga between the government and big food companies, this new initiative could be seen as a move in the right direction. The demand for more information has led food, beverage and consumer products companies to develop an innovative SmartLabel technology initiative that will give consumers easy and instantaneous access to detailed information about thousands of products.


More than 30 major companies have committed to using SmartLabel to provide information about their products. The Hershey Co. will be the first company to adopt the SmartLabel in the weeks ahead. Some companies will begin to use the technology later this year and in early 2016, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

The association projects the technology will be available on nearly 30,000 total products by the end of 2017. “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,” President and CEO of GMA Pamela G. Bailey said in a press release. “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.”

Consumers will be able to find detailed product information by scanning a QR code on the package, using a web search, going to a participating company’s website or eventually through an app. The Pew Research Center reports that about one-third of Americans do not have a smartphone, so how can those folks gain information in the store? The customer service desk in stores will be able to help shoppers access the product information and it will be available online. “A recent survey by Benenson Strategy Group found that 75 percent of consumers said they would be likely to use SmartLabel, showing that the program will meet a consumer desire for more product information,” GMA said in a press release.

Revealing GMOs Probably the biggest question on consumers’ minds is whether this technology will help them identify whether a product uses GMO ingredients. GMA reports that 20,000 food products will disclose via SmartLabel whether it does, may or does not contain ingredients sourced from genetically engineered crops, also known as GMOs. Food industry companies are expecting that number to triple once a uniform national standard is set for GMOs. “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,” the association said.

GMO disclosures will be located in the “other” section of each product, but Just Label It Executive Director Scott Faber tells Fortune that QR-based information is not enough. “There’s no wording to tell you to scan this for GMO information, and the information will not be easily available to consumers without a smartphone,” he said.

Faber added that GMO information will be “hidden” behind a tab marked “other” so it will not be immediately clear to consumers. GMA Executive Vice President Denzel McGuire responded to Farber’s comments, saying the information is available on the web in addition to smartphones and putting GMO information in the “other” tab was to address congressional concern that genetic engineering not be stigmatized.

The technology comes after the food industry continues to fight mandatory GMO labeling efforts in states around the country and after the FDA approved last month the first genetically modified salmon. Some of the country’s largest food companies have said that genetically modified foods are safe and that labels would be misleading. They also have said it would be expensive for companies and confusing to customers. Some may see the SmartLabel initiative as big food companies’ way of deterring mandatory labeling, but more importantly this can be seen as a big step forward when it comes to greater transparency.

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