Will Consumers Scan QR Codes?

Friday, February 26, 2016


Will consumers use their smartphones to figure whether the food they’re buying contains genetically engineered ingredients, or GMOs?

Opponents of GMO labeling are urging Congress to block state laws that require such labeling and are instead offering the voluntary “SmartLabel” initiative as an alternative.

The problem with that is, new analysis by the digital marketing agency HZDG suggests that most consumers have not used QR – for “Quick Response” – codes and aren’t likely to use them any time soon.

What’s more, new polling by the Mellman Group also shows that the number of shoppers who scan QR codes to get information about products is low – and not growing.

The Mellman poll shows that few Americans have ever scanned a QR code and that nine of every 10 want a GMO label right on the package – not a high tech alternative.

Another reason codes are no substitute for simple labels is that many people still don’t have smart phones. Roughly one third of Americans – especially low income, less educated and elderly people – don’t have phones that can scan QR codes. The HZDG analysis suggests installing scanners in every supermarket aisle, but that would be costly for retailers and inconvenient for shoppers.

One problem identified by HZDG is that many consumers wouldn’t know that scanning a QR code would provide them with more information. Even if food companies put QR codes on the package, there would be no prompt – such as “scan here for GMO” – on the box, so shoppers wouldn’t know that the code would tell them more about their food.

Another problem identified by HZDG is that scanners won’t work if the codes are too small or supermarkets are poorly lit. Codes on bags – for instance, bags of potato chips – are very difficult to scan because they are not on a flat surface.

But the biggest problem with the industry’s proposal is that it’s completely voluntary. Food companies could include a code on their packages – or not. And they could drop out of the program at any time.


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