By: David Fikes, Vice President, Communications and Consumer/Community Affairs, Food Marketing Institute

Customers are looking for more and more information about the products they buy – the kind of detailed information that will not fit on the package, but can be conveyed electronically.  Thankfully our research along with the results of a recent piece of research by Deloitte shows that the majority of customers are willing to use digital means as an enhanced way of accessing detailed product information when they want it.

FMI  consumer trends research reveals that a strong majority of shoppers find the on-pack information sufficient for what is contained in the product, but there’s an additional desire for clear product information that extends beyond the label, particularly regarding information about  processing, the food companies’ social welfare policies or its commitment to corporate citizenship. Shoppers want this information, but there are physical limits to how much verbiage can fit legibly on a label.  Product information that can be digitally accessed provides consumers the freedom to select the facts they want in a means more within their control.

FMI supported passage of digital biotechnology disclosure legislation last year due to the critical importance of having a single national standard for disclosure that could be used by all our members and be understandable by our customers. Since the passage of the legislation, we have been working with USDA and a coalition of industry associations interested in implementing the law in the best way to address the interests of our customers and our companies.

In the new Deloitte report entitled “Study of Electronic or Digital Link Disclosure,” which was commissioned by U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the biotechnology rulemaking, Deloitte reveals much of what FMI is seeing in our research related to consumer interest in clarity and a deeper connection to their food sources. The Deloitte study aims to determine whether consumers who are interested in information about biotechnology are able to access that information in the digital format,   such as QR codes.  The study concludes that although there are some challenges in customers knowing how to download the app, and how to use the technology, they are challenges that can be overcome with consumer education. Here are several examples from the report where we feel consumer education will help evolve our relationship with the food shopper:

  1. 62 percent of the study respondents did not voice any challenges that might impact their access to information using a digital link;
  2. 12 percent of interested customers expressed concern about not having equipment capable of scanning digital links, but the study did not indicate if this group has smartphones and could download an app if they were more educated on the benefits; and
  3. 16 percent of consumers in a crowdsourced discussion voiced concerns about the quality of data or Wi-Fi, so even for stores without dedicated Wi-Fi, cellular data seems to be a reasonable option where appropriate.

FMI’s own research findings concur that shoppers have the hardware and Wi-Fi or cellular access available to use a digital means to access desired product information. According to FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2017, among smartphone users, shoppers with kids at home are already using digital tools far more often than those without kids. With a newer generation of shoppers raised on mobile and digital technologies, we need to be ready to address the diverse needs of the modern shopper.  In the tradition of food retail’s strong history of customer service, we recognize the need to provide supplemental education to our customers about the digital information available to them and how to best use the QR Code. And, we are planning to do so in a concerted effort as soon as the final rule is issued and implementation begins.

Notably, food retailers and their supplier partners are committed to consumer education through digital technologies like SmartLabel™, which we predict will change how people shop and help them get immediate answers to questions they have about products. Companies project that 30,000 total products will be engaging SmartLabel by the end of 2017, which includes food, beverage, personal care, household and pet care products. Within five years, we estimate that more than 80 percent of these consumer products that people buy will be using SmartLabel.  

FMI and the Grocery Manufacturers Association will be promoting a consumer education campaign in 2018 to help guide consumers to the information they’re seeking – a program that goes well beyond the label.