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"WeListen" Blog

What CPG Brands Need to Know About the SmartLabel

Effective food packaging design has always been a balancing act between requirements and branding, and between art and science. People want to be informed about what’s in the foods they consume, but at the same time, it’s easy to overwhelm consumers with labels that are jammed full with text.

Young boy looking at a blackberry with a magnifying glass.

One initiative that seeks to address labeling needs and help brands strike that perfect art-science balance while fulfilling FDA requirements is the SmartLabel initiative. It utilizes both the physical space of the food package and web tools so that consumers can dive as deeply as they please into product information.

What Is the SmartLabel Transparency Initiative?

The SmartLabel Transparency Initiative is a project of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). It is a relatively new disclosure strategy that helps inform consumers thoroughly without trying to cram important consumer information onto package labels. As of 2017, nearly 15,000 products have adopted SmartLabel technology. 

With participating products, consumers can access information well beyond what is on the package label through several possible channels. They may use their smartphone to scan a QR code on the package, access a website, call a toll-free phone number, or use brand apps to access information. This way, they can quickly find answers to their questions on things like the presence of GMOs, sourcing, animal welfare, sustainability, or any number of other informational aspects of food labeling.

SmartLabel Benefits for Food Packaging Design

The main benefit for brands is that participating in the SmartLabel initiative allows them to inform consumers without trying to fit all possible consumer information into food packaging designs. Labels and packages can maintain a sleek, “clean” look without shortchanging the consumer who wants in-depth information.

Three-fourths of consumers have stated their approval of the SmartLabel technology, and since around two-thirds of consumers have smartphones, the technology can have immediate “reach” with a large chunk of the consumer population. 

Potential Problems with SmartLabel Technology

Flipphone lying on its side.

SmartLabel technology isn’t perfect, however. The initial hurdle is that a lot of people don’t know about SmartLabel technology, so they haven’t tried it. In other words, awareness is an issue currently. Consumers may not know what to do with QR codes, or may not be aware of apps or built-in technology that allows their phones to scan them.

Another potential problem is lack of Wi-Fi in supermarkets, which means that smartphone users will have to tap into their mobile data plans to access information from their place in the store aisle. Data plans vary in terms of generosity and cost, so not all consumers are willing to “sacrifice” some of their monthly allotment of mobile data to access SmartLabel technology. And finally, there is the not-insignificant portion of the consuming public that does not own or use a smartphone. There are websites they can log onto at home, but is this enough?

Brand Considerations on Whether to Participate

The SmartLabel initiative is voluntary, and should be seen as a supplement to, but not a replacement for, outstanding food packaging design. Each brand must weigh the possible ROI of SmartLabel participation based on their target consumer audience, and the size of the undertaking necessary to participate. New rules for Nutrition Facts labels go into effect this summer, and this may present a good opportunity for brands to consider whether participation in SmartLabel technology is a good strategic move for them.

PKG Brand Design is always on the forefront of new CPG branding and packaging initiatives; please subscribe to our blog for the latest package design industry news!


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