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The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) announced yesterday the introduction of new SmartLabel technology, already adopted by more than 30 major CPG companies, that "will enable consumers to have easy and instantaneous access to detailed information about thousands of products."

The program, GMA says, "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.  SmartLabel will provide consumers at the touch of finger all the information they want to know about what they are purchasing."

That information will include nutritional data as well as "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." It also, GMA said, will eventually include information about whether products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

GMA said that by the end of 2017, the majority of manufacturers say 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." The implication is that the existence of SmartLabel technology will make it even more important to eliminate the "patchwork" of state GMO regulations and move to a national standard.

Consumers will be able to access the comprehensive information via smartphone when scanning a QR code; they also will be able to access a SmartLabel website, and GMA said that eventually there will be a mobile application serving as an interface.

Among the companies committed to the SmartLabel technology, GMA said, are 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, Wakefern Food Corp, 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-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
KC's View:
Finally. It's about time.

I say that with tongue in cheek, since I understand that such initiatives do not come together overnight, and that it makes sense to take the time to both get it right and get enough companies on board so that a certain kind of momentum takes place.

It has seemed obvious for a long time that despite the fact that a lot of companies and trade associations/lobbying entities have resisted calls for ever more comprehensive information about the products they sell, there are two realities that have made this inevitable.

One is that new technologies make it possible to provide an enormous amount of information. (A growing number of people who walks into a store these days have an extraordinarily powerful computer in their pockets. That's a force with which to be reckoned. As they say, you have to use the force...) The second is that consumer demands for transparency make it a cost of doing business. Resistance, as we also so often say around here, is futile.

(Yikes. I got both Star Wars and Star Trek into a single commentary. Boom!)

There will be some who will argue that not everyone has a smartphone and not everyone has a computer. But it seems to me that if you are going to create informational technologies, you do it for the future, not the past. (Though retailers could get into the act by putting SmartLabel readers in their stores. This might be a good way to publicize the program.)

And, if they can get the GMO thing right, it becomes the solution - or at least a resolution - to that entire debate.

Now, a lot of things have to fall into place for this all to work, but my position on this always has been that manufacturers can turn this kind of technology and transparency into a highly successful marketing tool. It's like that old marketing slogan for the clothing store that said, "an educated customer is our best customer." They have to get the information right, combining accuracy with accessibility and user-friendliness, but this conceivably could be an enormous step forward for the CPG business, for the food industry, and for consumers in general.