The emergence of smart labels has been an important development in the food supply chain, connecting products to improve visibility, compliance with food safety regulations and enhance shelf life. Beyond these essential benefits for all players in the food and beverage industry, smart labels also offer that same transparency at the consumer level, giving shoppers insight into how their food was treated on its journey to the store shelf.
A smart label is any label that acts as a conduit to provide additional intelligence beyond what is readable by the human eye. Code-enabled smart labels and products are connected to a digital platform, enabling companies to collect data and respond to consumer interactions.
Near field wireless communication technology (NFC), which is available in all smartphones, is one of the most common technologies embedded into labels to make them “smart,” because it can easily connect a consumer directly to additional information about a product.
“By tapping the smartphone to the label, the consumer can be brought to additional information such as recipes or ingredient information,” explains Amy Childress, vice president of marketing and planning, Cargo Solutions, Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions. “We’ve seen these types of labels connect users directly to a brand experience dictated by the brand owner.”
SmartLabel, which has been applied to more than 35,000 products in the average grocery store, provides a plethora of product details that could never fit on a package label. In addition to the ingredients included in a product, SmartLabel can explain what those ingredients are, why they’re in the product, what they do and even where they came from. This might include detailed descriptions about how a product was made, how animals were treated during the development process, or the environmental impact of manufacturing the product.
SmartLabel was also designed to match how people use information and technology today. Consumers can access the data at home on their computer by clicking on the SmartLabel logo on a brand’s website, or by scanning the product code on an item using a QR reader on their smartphone while making their way through a store. SmartLabel also has a mobile app where consumers can search for a specific brand and/or product.
Much of the current product information is anecdotal, however, as brands are still adapting and transitioning to the SmartLabel, but consumer engagement thus far has been positive. Between January and March 2018, more than 1.3 million people visited SmartLabel landing pages, and more than 54 percent of the visits came from smartphones.
Beyond providing a much demanded sense of transparency, smart labels can help consumers quickly identify products that have been recalled. They can also improve how all partners in the food supply chain respond to recall events by helping companies quickly identify, locate and remove the affected products.
“Smart labels have made the supply chain smarter and empowered the overall supply chain by providing increased visibility into in-transit cargo conditions, ensuring food has been maintained at proper temperature ranges,” says Childress. “Retailers and suppliers that are most concerned with freshness, quality and safety have implemented the use of smart labels and other monitoring systems in their supply chains.”
The GO NFC smart label from Emerson is about the size of a sugar packet and conveys temperature information via NFC to a mobile app on a smartphone. It records historical time and temperature information and displays if temperature thresholds have been exceeded on the mobile app.
“We’ve seen similar traceability codes used to validate the authenticity of pharmaceuticals and combat counterfeit drugs, and you will see a similar use in tracking high-value, luxury goods,” she adds.