New Food Labels Aim to Reduce Waste, Provide Clarity
As many food shoppers know, there is a lot of confusion around the many label phrases that live on the products you buy. It is often difficult to decipher what to do with products once they have reached the date marked on the packaging.
In a recent BrandSquare webinar, Megan Stasz, senior director for sustainability at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) identified that there are anywhere from 10 upwards of 20 different date label phrases that exist on consumer packaging in the United States.
Variations of date labels may include statements like:
- Sell by
- Use by
- Best by
- Freshest on
- Born on
This inconsistency in date labeling contributes to misunderstanding about how dates on labels relate to food quality or safety. From a food waste perspective, the single largest category of food waste sent to landfill is coming from U.S. households.
By bringing a streamlined and standard wording to packages, the GMA plans to help clear up consumer confusion about product date labels and reduce food waste.
Watch the entire webinar with Megan Stasz by clicking the image below:
A study conducted by the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) in conjunction with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic indicated there is in fact consumer confusion regarding these labels, and they are sometimes causing consumers to discard food unnecessarily.
The Institute of Food Technologists found that 25% of consumers discard food based on the sell by date, while 10% believe eating food past its best by date is a serious health risk.
Recognizing the challenge of consumer confusion, the food manufacturing sector represented by the GMA and the retail grocery sector represented by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) teamed up to develop a voluntary national standard to streamline confusing phrases on all food labels to just two dates: “BEST if used by” and “USE by”.
What do the label phrases actually mean?
The “BEST if used by” phrase is to be used to indicate product quality. This includes products like cookies or crackers — things that if you eat them after the date on the package, they might not taste quite like what you’d expect, but the product is still safe to consume. For certain products, this may be combined with and “or freeze by” label.
The “USE by” phrase is to be designated to the very small subset of highly perishable products that do have some safety concerns over time, such as food spoilage or sunscreen SPF.
The voluntary national standard for the United States was developed by a working group of about 25 different companies representing both the food brands as well as the major retail grocery stores in the United States.
The idea is to phase in the two phrases now, with the goal of broad industry adoption nationwide by summer of 2018. While widespread industry adoption is urged, companies have the flexibility to make changes in a way that ensures consistency across their products.
Another way the GMA is providing more information and guidance to consumers is through its web-based tool called SmartLabel™. This is a QR code on package designed for consumers to get more information and understand in-depth details regarding the products they buy.
REGISTER for our upcoming BrandSquare webinar with Jim Flannery of the GMA as he presents: SmartLabel™ Technology for Shopper Empowerment and Trust
4 Ways to Make the Most of Your Variable Marking and Coding
Packaging codes benefit consumers, producers, retailers, and brands in several ways. As a form of data and verification upon purchase, variable markings should not be thought of as a “necessary evil”. In the first 2016 issue of Patterns, Liz Churchill and Lyndsey Farrow of Matthews Marking Systems, offer insights on how to make the best of your variable marking and coding to make a greater impact in the decisions consumers make in aisle.
Documentation of freshness. Think of this. Every smart shopper reads the “best buy” or “use by” code to ensure the product is fresh. Also looked at frequently is the country of origin labeling (COOL), which consumers may use to make buying decisions. Albeit controversial, shoppers will typically get their way in the marketplace by demanding to know where their food came from.
Authenticity and safety. Bar codes and serialized markings are used to identify individual lots, shipments, packages of drugs, cosmetics, and other products for purpose of authentication and traceability. This is extremely important for supply-chain management and assurance.
This added safety helps aid tracking from source to consumer, and to recalled products in the event of a problem. Bar codes and markings may also support compliance and local regulations, like tax codes or disclosure requirements. This ensures the supply chain is efficient and accountable, which gives consumers confidence that the products are genuine and safe.
“All types of identification codes are about brand trust. The information printed on the package isn’t just data. It’s a story about where the item has been and how fresh it is,” says Lyndsey Farrow.
Better consumer experience. Variable codes and personalized graphics can also be used to engage shoppers, and encourage them to take particular actions. Serialized codes can be printed on many things, including loyalty cards, coupons, promotional flyers, inside bottle caps (think: Snapple), and more. This data is importation to gain more insights into each shopper’s behavior, and helps determine where they are buying products, whether online or in-store, and even which promotion the consumer has acted on.
Strengthen and protect the brand. It’s important to note that most importantly, these codes create brand trust. If the code isn’t present, consumers may not trust the product is fresh, or authentic – and could lead to consumers actually abandoning the purchase altogether. This is why markings need to be legible and provide helpful information.
With print quality, data management, and cost control being the three main concerns of brand owners, packaging engineers, and production line managers, it’s important to turn these potential issues into a necessary good to create opportunities to improve production processes and help the brand standout in the marketplace with its variable marking and coding efforts.
“Variable marking and coding isn’t a necessary evil – it’s a positive good that benefits the consumer and the brand,” says Liz Churchill.
Read the entire article in the first 2016 issue of Patterns: