Transparency is a hot commodity in today’s food industry. Consumers are increasingly concerned about how their food and beverage purchases impact their own health and that of the planet. They want to be sure they are making the most informed choices possible.
Consequently, they are looking to food producers and manufacturers to provide accurate, easy-to-understand facts about their products. Consumers are interested in everything from what ingredients are used to the environmental impact of the food’s production.
And if companies aren’t open with these details, consumers are ready to take their business elsewhere. According to a 2016 survey from Label Insight, nearly two in five consumers would switch from their preferred brand if another brand offered more transparency.
How can companies be transparent effectively?
To help companies respond more effectively to this strong consumer demand for transparent information, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute developed the innovative SmartLabel program. Launched in 2015, SmartLabel is a web-based tool. It gives grocery shoppers access to clear and detailed information about a wide range of food and beverage items as well as other household products.
Essentially a detailed extension of what’s on the package label, the SmartLabel platform lets shoppers use their smartphones or other devices to easily search or browse products. They can find more information about things like nutrition, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications (such as organic certification), social compliance programs, and usage instructions.
Each product participating in SmartLabel has its own landing page. All landing pages are consistent in format and appearance. That way, shoppers can more easily understand and compare information for different products.
Participating in SmartLabel is an easy and effective way for food producers and manufacturers to give consumers the product information they want. However, before making the decision to join SmartLabel, there are some important questions that companies should consider in order to make the most of the program.
Where should data for the SmartLabel program come from?
For companies with dozens or hundreds of products on the market, furnishing the data that will appear on the SmartLabel landing pages may be no small task. For some companies, the information that appears on existing product packages may be of high enough quality that it can simply be uploaded to the platform.
Some SmartLabel service companies have developed solutions that can easily import digitized data from six-sided images of package flats. If the packages themselves aren’t the best representation of the products, it may be necessary to draw on other sources, such as marketing images, for the necessary data.
How will SmartLabel participation fit with regulatory compliance?
Because legislation around package labels can change frequently, it’s important for companies to ensure that their brand’s compliance strategy includes SmartLabel participation. Specifically, companies need to make sure that SmartLabel content and digital real estate are flexible enough to accommodate adjustments or additions on short notice. This is an essential element of ongoing compliance.
Which company teams should be on board with SmartLabel participation?
SmartLabel is essentially a digital replica of a company’s product portfolio. However, it has unlimited capacity for off-package storytelling, brand positioning, and compliance information. As such, it will typically require input from the same teams that were initially involved in the product creation workflow.
Companies might consider putting together a core team with representatives from each internal department that will be involved in SmartLabel implementation. For example, regulatory departments will need to give input on details like ingredient statements and nutrition labels. Branding and marketing departments will want to ensure that messaging around key areas like sustainability is accurate but compelling.
How should SmartLabel participation be communicated?
SmartLabel participation can be an effective and useful marketing point for companies and brands. It’s important to think carefully about how and where SmartLabel involvement should fit into an overall, evolving marketing strategy.
For example, joining SmartLabel offers a good opportunity for companies to make a high-profile commitment to transparency. However, this could backfire if a particular product’s details aren’t yet fully ready for public scrutiny. In terms of marketing images on websites or social media, it may be useful to think about replacing static package images (of nutrition facts panels, for example) with more interactive SmartLabel links.
Build or buy?
Creating and maintaining SmartLabel product landing pages takes a certain amount of time and expertise. For larger companies with the capacity to develop digital solutions like this in-house, this may not be an issue. Smaller companies with limited capacity may benefit from hiring a solution provider to develop, deploy, and maintain SmartLabel content.
In either case, it’s important to be aware that while SmartLabel participation can offer brands significant benefits, it does also come with additional costs, which should be carefully considered. Similarly, not all SmartLabel solution providers are created equal. In deciding to work with an external provider, companies should be ready to do their research and “comparison shop” before making a commitment.