Grocery Industry Initiative Looks to Clear Up Consumer Confusion

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute join forces on an initiative to make date labeling on consumer packages more understandable.

You open your fridge, pull out a package of carrots, and consider the date label. Even though the package is a day or two past the printed date, is it still OK to start crunching, or will eating them make you sick? This dilemma is pretty common, and it’s one that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) are tackling with a new voluntary initiative.

Their idea is simple: Whittle a list of more than 10 different date labels, such as “sell by,” “use by,” “expires on,” “best before,” and “best by,” to just two—“Best If Used By” and “Use By.” According to a GMA press release, “Best If Used By” is a description of product quality, “where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume.” On the other hand, “Use By” refers to products that are highly perishable “and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package—and disposed of after that date.”

GMA and FMI are urging food retailers and manufacturers to start using this new phrasing immediately, and they hope that the industry will comprehensively adopt the new language by July 2018.

According to The Washington Post, these new labeling standards, which were created by a group of leaders at large food companies, are a way for the trade groups to influence or pre-empt looming legislation standardizing both date labels and food-donation laws.

“The shopper remains the most critical audience in our industry, and as the associations representing major food brands and retailers, we want to encourage a consistent vocabulary so that our customers clearly understand they are purchasing products that are of the highest quality and safety possible,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI president and CEO, in a press release. “While we all need nourishment, both retailers and manufacturers also want consumers to have the best experience possible in their stories and consuming their products.”

The date-label initiative isn’t the first time that GMA and FMI have collaborated. In 2011, they teamed up with the National Restaurant Association to create the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, which seeks to help companies cut their food waste. This new initiative, according to GMA, is a way to cut the amount of food waste that consumers send to landfills.

“Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error,” said Jack Jeffers, VP of quality at Dean Foods, in a GMA press release. “It’s much better that these products stay in the kitchen—and out of landfills.”

GMA and FMI aren’t the only industry groups looking to reduce consumer confusion. Last month, the North American Meat Institute launched MyMeatUp, an app designed to help shoppers buy and prepare meat and poultry products.



Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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