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'Smart barcodes' to replace eco labels as consumers become more information savvy

By Nathan Gray , 09-Jan-2012
Last updated the 09-Jan-2012 at 15:08 GMT

Industry must embrace and provide for mobile technologies, as ‘smart barcodes’ look set to replace the confusing mass of eco labels currently found on food products, says Organic Monitor.

A question mark hangs over the future of existing eco-labels. With consumers across the globe becoming more technology and information savvy, the demand for more information on the sourcing and sustainability of food products is growing, says Organic Monitor.

Such a swelling of interest in sustainability and sourcing information in recent years has led to an explosion in the number of on-pack ‘eco labels’, but has also led some brand owners to consider new solutions such as mobile technologies – which could soon lead to the demise of ‘eco labels’ on food packaging.

Speaking to FoodNavigator.com, Amarjit Sahota, director of Organic Monitor, explained that with over 500 symbols and logos representing sustainable food products, many consumers are lost in the maze of eco-labels.

“The big issue is there has been a proliferation of eco labels for food products,” he said. “To give an example, organic is the biggest eco label for foods, but there are around 200 or 300 logos to represent organic products," added Sahota.

And he argues that the number of labels representing one system – such as organic – can confuse consumers.

Step forward ‘smart barcodes’

Advances in mobile technologies are increasing the number of consumer products with ‘smart barcodes’, with a growing number of consumers now turning to mobile applications to meet their informational needs.

Devices such as Quick Response (QR) barcodes enable consumers to access a wealth of information on products from their smartphone including health and environmental data, explained Sahota.

The US based ‘GoodGuide’ application gives ratings for almost 100,000 consumer products and companies, claims Organic Monitor.

“The whole landscape is changing in the way that information is being given to consumers,” said Sahota.

“Consumers are becoming more and more information savvy, and smart phones give them more information [to inform their] purchasing decision,” he added – noting that “quite a few retailers are advocating this system in the US. We believe it’s only a matter of time before it starts to take off in other countries too.”

Industry action

The Organic Monitor director explained that European manufacturers should now be looking to introduce smart barcodes to their products.

“More and more companies are starting to do this, but not enough,” said Sahota.

He also warned that the growth of mobile applications will mean that companies will need to be more transparent about sourcing and sustainability issues.

“With more accountability in the industry, companies have to be more transparent and disclose where products and ingredients are sourced from, and what the carbon footprint of the product is.”

“There is only so much information you can put on a label, and that’s the big advantage with mobile technology. Just by scanning a barcode you can get as much or as little information as you want on a product,” he explained.

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