A New SmartLabel Hits the Shelves

The Lempert Report
December 15, 2015

Will help or hinder our search for more food information?

A week or so ago the Grocery Manufacturers Association unveiled their new Smart Label program. It is essential Sec. Vilsak’s idea that he recommended a couple years ago, where brands put a QR code on their packages to “open” web based pages of information based on 350 product attributes including nutritional, ingredients, whether a product contains genetically engineered ingredients, information about their sustainability practices - toppling a ton of information that you might spend hours searching for on scores of different pages, links or websites.

A recent survey conducted by Benenson Strategy Group reported that 75 percent of consumers said they would be likely to use the SmartLabel, but on the same day of GMA’s announcement The Mellman Group released it’s survey results which showed that 88% of shoppers would prefer a printed GMO label on the food package rather than to use a smartphone app to scan a code. And only 16 percent said they ever scanned a QR code at all.

Clearly shoppers want more information and while many are arguing whether this voluntary program actually serves the greater population, the brilliance of the SmartLabel rests in its simplicity. All the product pages follow the same format and design regardless of the brand or type of product. Thirty companies have signed up and Hershey’s have already added it to its Kisses. GMA estimates that by the end of next year there will be over 30,000 products using the SmartLabel.

I like this idea - however I am concerned about it being a voluntary program that brands can just enter information to themselves, with out a checks and balance system in place to verify the information. Or make sure it is relevant. I still see “gluten-free” stickers on apples for example. When I asked GMA about this their response was “all information on a SmartLabel™ landing page is bound by the same accuracy requirements as if it were printed on a label. The USDA and FDA misbranding authority apply to all information contained within SmartLabel™”. The way that works is that FDA does monitor labels to make sure they are not misleading, however with the hundreds of thousands of foods on the market the agency does not have the manpower to inspect every label. Most times the FDA receives complaints from consumers (or brand competitors) that opens the investigation.

It’s a positive move in the right direction and we urge all brands to participate and insure their information is 100% correct before its posted.