Representing the Makers of the World’s Favorite Food, Beverage and Consumer Products

Watching a Good Idea on Streamlined Product Code Date Labels Become a Reality

September 20, 2017

By: Jim Flannery, Senior Executive Vice President, GMA and Mark Baum, Senior Vice President of Industry Relations, FMI

There is an undeniable satisfaction that comes with seeing a really good idea move from the realm of the imagined and into the concrete world of reality.  The grocery industry’s Product Code Date Labeling initiative – with its goal of helping consumers better understand and use produce date labels – is beginning to elicit that glow of gratification. 

The problem? A myriad of different product date labels has left consumers confused on what to do with products in their homes. These package labels seek to provide important information about usage of products. However, product labels currently include a wide range of phrases such as Sell By, Best Before, Expires On, Use By, Best By, and Enjoy By. This varying phrases can confuse consumers and lead to disposal of food and products that are still fine to eat or use.

That’s why the Trading Partner Alliance (TPA), a collaborative body of grocery manufacturers and retailers led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), launched an effort to streamline and standardize the wording accompanying date labels on packages to offer greater clarity regarding the quality and safety of products.

Our new industry-wide voluntary effort urges companies to join together and focus on just two common phrases: BEST if Used By and USE By.

Since being announced in February, the food and consumer products industry initiative has been widely applauded.  But the project has taken a big step forward from concept to action with the publication of two documents:

  • A White Paper, Product Code Date Labeling: Crucial Initiative to Reduce Consumer Confusion, offers general background, context, and resources of the date label project. It is a good explainer on what the initiative is and how it works.
  • An Implementation Guide for manufacturers and retailers adopting the voluntary industry standard of the TPA endorsed date-label language. The implementation guide offers those activating the program with style guidance and best practices for standardizing date label language while giving companies maximum freedom in accommodating the date labels to the needs of their brand, products and packaging.

Both documents were presented and discussed earlier this month at a TPA Board meeting, with companies urged to move forward with changes on packaging as soon as possible, with widespread adoption urged by the summer of 2018, and no later than the implementation date for the new Nutrition Facts Panel or other ingredient disclosure requirements.

The satisfying journey of making this good idea become a reality continues. The question for companies is how quickly they can put these changes into effect on their brands and in their stores.

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