As we were putting this issue to bed late last month, news broke that a California judge had dismissed a suit claiming that Jim Beam falsely claimed on its label that the product was “handcrafted.”
The judge wrote: “A reasonable consumer wouldn’t interpret the word ‘handcrafted’ on a bourbon bottle to mean the product is literally ‘created by a hand process rather than by a machine.’”
We had been following this story and other related stories for months. In fact, two similar lawsuits against Maker’s Mark bourbon, another Beam Suntory brand, were dismissed this year. Those suits also focused on the bottle labeling, which also touted the bourbon as handmade.
Hearing of all of the stories—legal cases, really—surrounding beverage labeling prompted us to look into the issue. The result is this month’s cover story written by Heather Landi [page 55].
The issues are much greater and more complex than it just being about marketers making claims on their labels, as the story points out. They incorporate widely debated issues over ingredients and what and how ingredients are listed on a label that include federal legislation that is under consideration.
As Heather writes: “The legislation comes at a time when the issue of transparency in the food and beverage business is a hot topic as consumers are increasingly demanding that food and beverage brands come clean about what is and isn’t in the products, where the products were produced and how they were manufactured.”
Millennials are much more label-savvy than their predecessors. Fueled by the immediacy and omnipresence of social media, their perceived issues about a product’s authenticity or ingredients are shared and amplified way beyond what product marketers have experienced before.
This demand for more information about products has an emerging technology component, and one related to the product label as well.
“Next generation” product codes, similar to ubiquitous product barcodes, are in development that will allow products to carry information that consumers are seeking, such as ingredients, allergen information, where the product was made, and the like.
GS1, the non-profit organization that assigns the unique numbers in barcodes, has developed a double-layered barcode it calls the “data bar,” NBC News has reported. The data bar can be scanned by the consumer using a smartphone app to access the information and provide links to additional information about the product.
The technology has been deployed by German retailer Metro, which has launched the PRO Trace smartphone app. With the technology in hand a consumer can see, as NBC News reported, that a filet of salmon on sale in Berlin on August 25 was caught at the Bremnes Seashore fish farm off the coast of Norway on August 17 and processed in Germany on August 21. “It’s about trust. Our customers challenge us to offer sustainable and safe products,” Lena vom Stein, a responsibility project manager at Metro, told NBC News.
As beverage marketers are increasingly challenged by balancing the demand for transparency and accuracy with successfully marketing their products’ points of differentiation, could technology solutions be far behind?