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Megan Sheahan

By: Megan Sheahan on March 13th, 2019

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Label Insight’s Open Data Initiative: What's been accomplished so far

open data

Label Insight provides the largest available branded food composition database in the U.S., which has proven to be a trusted resource for over 37 universities, research institutions, trade associations and government agencies via the Open Data Initiative, which was launched in 2017.

The initiative provides researchers with open access to granular food composition data not previously available to the research community. Researchers are granted the freedom to publish their findings based on Label Insight’s data without restriction. The database is updated daily, and contains information on more than 300,000 barcoded food and beverage items (representing >85% of all products sold in the US food supply over the past three years).


The goal of the initiative is to advance critical research topics that affect today's increasingly health-conscious food shoppers. We wanted to look back on 2018 and focus on the research that has been conducted with our data that aligns the 2018 industry standards, but also give a look into what types of research is to come in 2019.

Looking back on 2018

In 2018, we learned that the future of food is changing and the industry will be facing new challenges. According to an article released by FMI, there are “seven attributes regarding the shopper we need to anticipate and address as we move forward into the future.” These include a focus on health, transparency and sustainability, social consciousness, trust, the influence of the tribe, the digital self and the rapid advance of technology. Interestingly, we have seen a direct correlation of these identified industry trends, to the themes and studies being published via the Open Data Initiative. 

In 2018, two papers were published using Label Insight data, while an additional two papers were submitted for publication. 

The University of North Carolina recently published, How Does the Healthfulness of the US Food Supply Compare to International Guidelines for Marketing to Children and Adolescents?. The study analyzed the amount of U.S. food and beverage products that would be eligible for marketing to children under the multi-country WHO Euro Nutrient Profile Model (NPM), and separately under Chilean regulations, which are the first comprehensive laws to identify foods that should not be marketed to children.

The University of California, Davis also published, “State-mandated Soda Bans in California High Schools - An Effective Policy to Reduce Overall Soda Consumption Among Adolescents?”. The paper evaluates the effectiveness of soda bans in schools as one policy approach aimed at reversing the upward trend in obesity among children and adolescents.

It is exciting for Label Insight to see the tangible results in the form of published papers resulting from the Open Data Initiative. It attests to the need of an accessible, high-quality, granular database for researchers to conduct studies that contribute to findings and new understanding in the health and wellness arena. This is why we work so hard to make the industry’s best-in-class database available and openly accessible to these research organizations - to help move things forward. 

A Look into the Future of Open Data

Looking into 2019, we have seen that parallel between the industry and research community continue. The relevance of the changing standards, evolving trends of the industry, and the on-demand needs of the consumer are being supported by several research initiatives with a number of working papers already underway. 

First of the many working papers ties in with the attributes of transparency and sustainability. The paper conducts a study on how businesses respond to institutional pressures to take responsibility for social welfare and environmental sustainability. This paper is relevant because sustainability continues to be a hot topic with an emphasis on plastics. FMI asserts, “States and localities expanded their efforts to ban single-use plastics and the general public was treated to intense media attention surrounding the issue.” This affirms the emphasis on sustainability and that it lives at the center of the industry’s business model.

Another working paper ties into the trust and focus on health attributes with an initiative around reducing salt and sugar in packaging and restaurants. The initiative sets voluntary reduction targets for sugar and salt and asks food and beverage companies to commit to meeting them. The consumer wants to be educated in what they are consuming and initiatives like the NSSRI show that need for consumers to trust brands and specifically reduce sugar and salt from the foods they consume.

Another topic focusing on health and trust is using Label Insight to determine what types of products are currently making front-of-package protein claims to market their products. The study is aiming to measure marketing claim strategies observed in the Label Insight data that influence consumers' perceptions of a products health qualities, as well as how the marketing claim strategies influence consumers' purchase intentions.

Other interesting topics include minimum wage changes within state and how it affects consumer behavior. There is a paper focused on marketing intersecting with public policy and how federal minimum wage affects how consumers spend income. Additionally, there is a paper regarding the correlation of the beverage tax and sugar, trying to understand if sugar equates to higher beverage taxes. 

Last, but not least, a spotlight on food additive consumption in U.S. (especially in children and adolescents) and the potential correlation with increased risk of certain disease states and health outcomes, is yet another example of a study being conducted on top of Label Insight’s database in 2019.

A reflection on 2018 and a hopeful future of 2019

After reflecting on 2018 and looking into 2019, we can see that the focus on health, transparency and sustainability, social consciousness, and trust is not going away. This, at the core, is what Label Insight is working toward. To provide transparency to consumers so we can help them make informed decisions about their health. The initiative of providing complimentary use of Label Insight’s product data to academic researchers and non-profit organizations does just that. We have been working with many universities and institutions on research ideas that Label Insight data has helped inspired. We are excited that we are able to support researchers to tie their hypotheses to actual data and help us in our mission to change the industry. 2018 was a great year for open data, and we look forward to the exciting and new research to come!

About Megan Sheahan

Megan is an experienced Solutions Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. Skilled in Salesforce, HubSpot, Solr, Looker, MySQL and Microsoft Excel. Strong consulting professional with a Bachelor's Degree focused in Journalism, Strategic Communications from University of Missouri-Columbia.