Transparency As A Product Benefit

(Image credit: Hershey)

“Consumers told us they credit companies that treat them like adults and tell them the truth,” said Deborah Arcoleo, Director, Product Transparency at The Hershey Company.

This simple insight prompted a project to innovate the company’s product labeling, which it developed in collaboration with a leading CPG industry trade group so other brands can adopt it.

Called SmartLabel, it’s a platform for using the web to share ingredients and a full suite of other information with consumers via a QR code.

“It started with our CEO [JP Bilbrey] and his passion for transparency,” Arcoleo explained. “He saw a few years ago that consumer interest in product information wasn’t limited to Millennials, or any other segment, but that it was a mainstream issue we needed to address.”

Bilbrey was also the incoming chairman of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (“GMA”), and came up with the idea that an industry-wide approach to transparency with consumers would benefit every brand.

In 2014, Arcoleo got the mandate to figure out what that would look like.
“We did a lot of consumer research that spring,” she explained, “and worked to identify how they viewed transparency, what sources they trusted, the leading pain points, and the ‘must have’ data versus ‘nice to have’ information.”
They discovered a vast array of issues, ranging from product sourcing and sustainability practices, to more practical insights about product safety and health implications. The increase in food allergies was one trend that loomed large in many of the responses.

Considering the limited real estate available on the average food product label, a technology solution was inescapable, as was the necessity that it be mobile (to work in stores) as well as accessible at home.

Arcoleo’s team tested three conceptual prototypes of a QR code-based system, and then took an iterated second-generation version to the GMA, where a core group of a dozen member companies spent the next 3-4 months working up a final version that was offered to the industry for feedback.

“We eventually had 90 companies and 300 people working on what data to provide, managing accuracy and updates, and improving the consumer experience,” Arcoleo said.

The final v1 of SmartLabel was launched on some Hershey products last month under a trademark agreement with the GMA that mandates core information and governance practices in exchange for use of the name, logo, and platform (Hershey funded and built much of the tech behind it).

A slew of major CPG brands are considering joining the voluntary program.

“You can scan a product in your hand and get a lot of information,” Arcoleo explained, though she cautioned that it won’t include any marketing ‘fluff,’ since info will be audited by a staff at the GMA and ‘companies first out of the gate will be checking who comes next.’

She continued: “The idea is to be as transparent as possible, no matter if the picture is pretty or not. We’re not going to be selective about what products we put in the program.”

“I’m already looking for how Hershey can lead on thenext transparency innovation that will benefit consumers.”