Gone are the days where shoppers pull items off shelves without a second glance. People are becoming more conscientious about what they buy, and they want to be more informed about what’s inside their food and beverages, from nutrients to possible allergens to genetically modified ingredients and more. People are seeking more information that informs their purchase decision. In today’s digital environment, we are helping lead this effort to better arm shoppers and meet their expectations for accessing all types of information in new and practical ways.

With consumer needs in mind, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in 2015 announced plans for an unprecedented initiative that brings more transparency into and more information about what’s on store shelves. This U.S. initiative, ultimately named SmartLabel, uses QR code as well as online technology to provide extensive product details for any item in the food, beverage or consumer goods space in an easy and uniform way.

The Coca-Cola Company became an early adopter of the GMA program. “The purpose behind everything we are doing with SmartLabel is to provide full transparency and promote clear facts for all of our products, to make sure shoppers have access to every possible piece of information to help them make informed decisions,” said Tim Goudie, Director of Social Commitment at Coca-Cola.

Beyond the Label

While a Nutrition Facts label provides insight into what ingredients are in an item, it only scratches the surface—literally. With limited real estate on packaging, SmartLabel offers an easy solution for providing more information. “With SmartLabel, we are more flexible,” explained Goudie. “We can share in-depth product information that goes well beyond what consumers are used to finding on packaging labels.”

How does a shopper access this information? A QR code is placed on the packaging of every participating product. People simply scan the code, instantly pulling up information on their mobile phones. This quick function makes SmartLabel an invaluable tool for shoppers as they walk through the aisles. Each product page looks alike, making it easy to identify and find the information most important to the user.

Making this data available digitally not only ensures people are getting access to the right information but it also helps Coca-Cola track what information consumers are most interested in. “There is a lot of demand by people wanting information about our products” said Goudie. “It is our job to make sure that accurate information about our products and ingredients are front and center.” SmartLabel becomes the most up-to-date and credible source of information. The content is managed by The Coca-Cola Company which also allows us to constantly update the information in an instant.

The Challenge of Updating Millions of Labels

The adoption of SmartLabel is a significant undertaking when factoring in the number of products companies manufacture. As a committed partner from the beginning, Coca-Cola is helping to lead the way by identifying, implementing and sharing best practices. “We wanted to make sure that we are setting the trend of adopting this technology,” explained Tony Francis, Mobile/Digital Strategy at Coca-Cola. “The end goal is transparency for consumers, so we are collaborating with others in the industry to accelerate the process.”

Each beverage—down to the specific flavor and size—needs to have its own QR code. The image also needs to be easily readable by a smartphone camera, and when you take into account the curvature of the bottle, you’re dealing with a delicate balance of art and science.

According to Francis, Coca-Cola North America has already applied product-specific QR codes to almost half of its volume. “We’re at 40 percent right now – significant progress considering the packaging changes and technical integrations,” he said.

The company’s goal is to have QR codes applied to all beverage packaging by the first quarter of 2018. That’s quite a commitment for the world’s largest beverage company—and one they are well on their way to completing.

Ultimately, this initiative is about providing people with clear and transparent facts. “We believe true transparency occurs when people learn directly from us more about our products, ingredients and company,” explained Goudie. SmartLabel helps bridge that gap from knowledge to trust to ultimately incidence of their favorite beverages.