Alliance Aims to Clean Up Nutrition Information

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. — Building upon the industry network that promotes the accurate exchange of product data like weights and dimensions, manufacturers and retailers are now working on ensuring that the product data provided to consumers particularly nutritional data is equally as accurate. This consumer data initiative known as the GS1 B2C (business to consumer) Alliance is focused on ensuring that

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. — Building upon the industry network that promotes the accurate exchange of product data like weights and dimensions, manufacturers and retailers are now working on ensuring that the product data provided to consumers — particularly nutritional data — is equally as accurate.

This consumer data initiative — known as the GS1 B2C (business to consumer) Alliance — is focused on ensuring that nutritional data supplied to consumers through various electronic means, such as the Internet and mobile phones, is as accurate as the Nutrition Facts provided on the back of product packaging. Currently, product data accessed through smartphones has been found to be wildly inaccurate; according to a study by GS1 UK and the Cranfield School of Management, 91% of mobile bar-code scans returned incorrect product descriptions.

Moreover, 38% of consumers said they would not purchase a product if they did not trust the product information displayed on their smartphone, according to a survey by GS1, Brussels.

The North American arm of the B2C Alliance was launched in March 2010 under the auspices of GS1 US here and GS1 Canada, both non-profit standards groups that issue and manage bar codes. The initiative aims to deliver “authentic information that consumers can trust,” said Robert Carpenter, president and chief executive officer, GS1 US, adding that the ultimate system will be global and scalable, accept information from third-party sources, and operate in real time.

“All we're really trying to do right now is take what's on the back of the package on most products and make sure that it's conveyed reliably to a handful of [digital] applications, so if that information is compared, it's the right information,” Carpenter said.

Consumers are prone to resort to “crowd sourcing” on the Internet for product information, noted Bob Fassett, vice president, North American consumer products and retail leader, for Capgemini, New York, during a session in early June at the U Connect Live conference. “It is ineffective and even potentially dangerous when the data being collected is coming from unverified, unaccredited sources rather than from the brand owners for critical consumer data such as nutrition and ingredient information,” he said. Capgemini is the author of a report on the B2C initiative called “Beyond the Label: Providing Digital Information Consumers Can Trust.”

Before it gets to consumers, the B2C data will be “standardized” through the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), which has been heretofore used to channel standard B2B (business-to-business) product data from manufacturers to retailers. The GDSN is managed by the global GS1 organization, based in Brussels. “Companies are appreciating the cost, complexity and risk of not leveraging standards to deal with this next chapter of data,” added Carpenter.

The B2C Alliance includes Kroger Co., Wegmans Food Markets, Peapod and Loblaw Cos., as well as J.M. Smucker, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble and L'Oreal Canada. It also includes Internet/mobile application providers like ShopSavvy and Scanbuy, and technology providers like IBM and Microsoft, among others.

In addition to the B2C initiative, manufacturers are leveraging nutritional data in such industry initiatives as the Healthy Weight Commitment, front-of-package Nutrition Keys and a GS1 Foodservice program.

RETAILER BENEFITS

While the nutritional data targeted by the B2C Alliance originates largely from CPG companies, retailers, as owners of private brands, are also seen as a source of this information. Traditionally, retailers have communicated to consumers via loyalty programs, but over the last six to nine months, a number of retailers, especially large ones, “have realized they need to make their products available outside of closed-loop loyalty programs,” Carpenter said. “If they want products, especially store brands, available to a broader audience, then they need to make [information] available in a more public fashion through an industry vehicle like the GDSN.”

“We asked retailers if they are interested in connecting to consumers who might not necessarily have come to their stores but may be out in the Internet or mobile experience, and letting them know this product is carried in their stores,” said Gay Whitney, senior vice president of industry engagement for GS1 US, at the U Connect Live conference. If so, she added, it's in retailers' best interest “to rely on consistent consumer product information that's provided through a standardized source.”

Carpenter pointed out that the GDSN already has standard attributes for nutritional data like calories, saturated fat and sodium. However, many manufacturers and retailers don't yet provide that data for their products; the B2C Alliance's goal is to get companies to go through their internal systems, make sure the nutritional data is accurate, and offer it through the GDSN.

At U Connect Live, two food distributors indicated plans to incorporate consumer-related data in their own systems via the GDSN, and make the information available to shoppers. For example, Wakefern expects to incorporate consumer-related product attributes such as nutritional information, diet codes (kosher, organic, vegan), kosher certification, ingredients and allergens into its data synchronization program by the second quarter of 2012. Supervalu plans to capture more than 100 additional GDSN attributes, including nutrient label contents, allergen information, ingredients and dietary type, said Greg Zwanziger, director of ecommerce business development for Supervalu, Minneapolis.

As a pilot platform, the B2C Alliance has created a “sandbox” where manufacturers and retailers can share consumer data and Internet application providers can use it. “What we've found from that process is that it's difficult for large companies to aggregate all of this information in one place and share it in any format,” said Carpenter. As a result, he added, the alliance has issued a “call to action” to come up with a consistent way to organize this information and share it.

“We first need an industry engagement around how we consolidate the information before we publish all this stuff to the [GDSN] registry,” he said, adding that companies might start publishing nutritional data to the GDSN in 12 to 18 months.

J.M. Smucker, Orrville, Ohio, is going through the same process of vetting the quality of nutritional data that it went through with item master data, said Lori Bigler, senior manager, industry initiatives for J.M. Smucker, at U Connect Live. “This is about cleansing the data, making it available and having an automated process to keep it updated so that we can maintain that trust with our consumers,” she said. “There's no way we want to provide bad data to our consumers.”

Bigler encouraged other companies to start determining where their nutritional data is located and “what it would take to get it into a format that could be used in the GDSN.”