Distributor United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) aims to help its grocery retail partners provide more product information to shoppers via “intelligent” shelf tags.
UNFI has entered an agreement with Tampa, Fla.-based Cornerstone for Natural to bring the business management software firm’s Smart Shelf Tags to the wholesaler’s retailers and suppliers. The tags contain ELi QR Codes, an enhanced, more secure version of a QR code that can be scanned to provide shoppers with additional product information and rich digital content on their mobile phones without having to launch an app.
Created in partnership with ELi Techology, Cornerstone’s Smart Shelf Tags are equipped with patented ELi Codes, which enable the tags to display videos, PDFs, web content, images, URLs, and product information and attributes when scanned by a smartphone. Since most customers use their mobile phones to research products when physically shopping grocery aisles, the Smart Shelf Tags are designed to bring additional engagement through targeted content direct from suppliers, according to UNFI. The tags also provide more product transparency at a time when consumer demand for product information and insights is rising, the distributor noted.
“UNFI is excited to enable better transparency and communication between our suppliers, retailers and shoppers,” John Raiche, executive vice president of supplier services and merchandising at UNFI, said in a statement. “Consumers have shown that they care about the values and beliefs of the brands they purchase, and with Smart Shelf Tags, suppliers can communicate directly with shoppers about their products and tell the stories behind their brands.”
The ELi QR Codes on Smart Shelf Tags resemble scannable QR codes but are more secure and incorporate the back-end content to which users are directed, Cornerstone explained. The content for an ELi QR Code is sourced from the supplier, automatically populates for each individual UPC and may include promotional offers, nutrition and allergen information, testimonials, traceability information, brand stories, videos and images. Cornerstone said it has built more than 120,000 ELi QR Codes, including thousands for popular consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, and retailers don’t need to source, manage or update content. The codes are automatically printed on the tags.
Product categories for which consumers seek more information before deciding on a purchase are a natural fit for Smart Shelf Tags, such as vitamins and supplements, wine and spirits, gourmet cheese, natural and organic products, functional foods, local items, and those from new and emerging CPGs, according to Cornerstone. The company added that the tags also create a touchpoint between suppliers and shoppers and can help grocery retailers bolster customer loyalty and trust.
“Retail is changing, and we need to change with it,” commented David Williams, executive vice president of business development at Cornerstone for Natural. “Retailers and brands need to work together to engage and educate their shoppers, and our Smart Shelf Tags provide this unique opportunity, helping with decision-making at a key point of purchase in the store.”
North America’s largest publicly traded grocery distributor, UNFI operates 56 distribution centers and supplies more than 30,000 retailers in the United States and Canada, including natural product superstores, independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice providers.
Retailers using Cornerstone’s Smart Shelf Tags with ELi QR Codes include Fresh Thyme Market and New Pioneer Food Co-op. Specialty grocer Fresh Thyme began putting the tags in its Natural Living department about two years ago, and this past January, Cornerstone reported that products merchandised with the interactive tags generated more than three times the sales of other items within their respective categories, based on SPINS retail sales data.