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The EU should go digital to lead on consumer information – EURACTIV.com

Consumers both want and deserve transparent information about the products they buy. That information should be easy to access in full: digital labelling can deliver this far better than paper. The EU should fully embrace and lead this trend.

Pernod Ricard is the No.2 worldwide producer of wines and spirits and owns 16 of the Top 100 Spirits Brands in its portfolio of over 240 premium brands distributed across more than 160 markets, such as Absolut Vodka, Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky, and Havana Club rum. The Group was the first global drinks business to include the pregnancy logo throughout Europe in 2008, and just launched a digital label in order to inform consumers about the content of its products and health information relating to alcohol consumption.

In its communication on A Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food systemreleased on 20 May 2020, the European Commission introduced the need to “explore new ways to provide information to consumers through other means including digital”. 

This was further developed on 13 November 2020, with its New Consumer Agenda – Strengthening consumer resilience for sustainable recovery, where the ambition is to “empower consumers to check the reliability of information, make comparisons between products, but also inform them in a more holistic way about their environmental impacts […] in accessible, innovative and appealing ways, e.g. through smartphone applications and websites”. 

Consumers both want and deserve transparent information about the products they buy, and that information should be easy to access and straight to the point – whether it’s about nutritional value, health information, geographic origin, or the environmental footprint of the product. 

Not all consumers are interested in the same aspects: some want to know more about nutritional properties, others about how the product impacts the environment, others again about specific health impacts. This will inevitably lead to an information overload on physical labels, which means less visibility for individual pieces of information, as well as the reduction of font sizes and limitation of language diversity to cater for all of this information, among other issues.

Too little information

Digital labelling has made that marriage of convenience and transparency a reality. Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, digital labelling is now a mainstream reality that should be fully embraced in a revision of EU consumer information policy, and fully consistent with the EU’s pursuit of its digital transformation, in line with its Green Deal and broader New Consumer Agenda. This way, digital labelling empowers European consumers to play an active role in the green and digital transitions. 

Digital technology, through geo-localisation, offers consumers the possibility to have access to personalised and relevant information, directly accessible in their own language, empowering them to make more informed, sustainable choices, anytime, anywhere.

The European Wine and Spirits industries are on the move

Different sectors are now exploring digital labelling solutions to empower consumers by giving them access to information at the touch of a button. In Europe, the spirits industry signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2019 to voluntarily indicate calorie information on labels, and to provide the product’s nutritional value and full list of ingredients online.

Together, the European wine and spirits industry associations have launched the U-Label platform, which provides an e-label solution to all EU producers based on the QR code technology, allowing them to easily share information with consumers online, including ingredients and nutritional value. 

What about Pernod Ricard?

Pernod Ricard is also proactively spearheading the development of digital solutions for better consumer information, and recently created its own eLabel solution aligned with the EU industry commitments.

Thanks to eLabel, every bottle sold by a Pernod Ricard brand will soon carry its own QR code on its back label. Once scanned with a smartphone it will redirect the consumers directly to a platform where they will be able to access, in one easily-accessible place, relevant information for each product, including:

  • The list of ingredients and full nutritional information provided by Pernod Ricard, together with the European wine and spirits associations,
  • Information about the health risks associated with the consumption of alcohol, and where to find relevant information in their country,
  • Responsible drinking guidelines issued by their country’s government authorities, including information about standard drinks and who should not drink alcohol, as well as a link to a consumer information website.

Internal market-friendly consumer information

Going digital will upgrade the way organisations do business through providing instant access to updated, borderless, and tailored product information. Not only is this a way to better inform consumers in an accurate and more accessible manner, digital is also a new impetus for more sustainable solutions.

It also allows information to flow within the internal market, avoids placing extra burdens and operational costs on economic operators, giving them more agility to provide instantly updated information to consumers; and promote EU products both inside and outside of Europe.

Changing physical labels takes months and years to become real for consumers, because of the time taken to design, print, package, ship, and store the newly-labelled product, before it ever even reaches a store shelf. But going digital will fast-track changes. While the physical labels stay the same, the companies’ internal databases change much more quickly: no printing, no shipping, no storing. 

#YesWeScan

The Covid-19 pandemic experience led to less physical interaction, yet naturally paved the way for digital solutions to become more advanced and increasingly viable. We should acknowledge that digital interaction is now a tangible, common reality in people’s lives, largely influencing and adding value to their consumer journey. 

As a concrete example, a digital survey conducted by McKinsey in 2020 across 17 European countries demonstrated that the number of industries that were accessed digitally by consumers went from 81% before the Covid-19 pandemic to 95% in May 2020. 

The European Union cannot continue to ignore the largest part of its consumers willing to turn towards innovative digital solutions to access meaningful information about the products they enjoy. 

Europe to lead the way

The digital labelling revolution is just getting started, and European policies should continue to strive towards more efficient and innovative solutions to inform citizens about what they consume. This can be done in a similar way to the solution recently adopted for the wine sector within the new Common Agricultural Policy framework, which embraces the digital option for the indication of ingredients and nutritional information. 

Even though the EU continues to pursue its digital transformation agenda, it should move up a gear and pave the way to real leadership on digital consumer information: if it doesn’t want to be left behind, it must adapt to the new digitalised solutions that are already a reality.

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