Gone are the days when you believed what the giant corporations said about the food one consumed. Now is the epoch of digital labelling or smart labelling, which can tell you all you need to know about the foods you wish to buy, at a tap of a button. These labels enable consumers to know what makes the product, which farms the product comes from, what techniques were used to grow the produce and even understand its environmental impact.
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI), released by the World Economic Forum every year, gives clear perspicacity into how countries are doing when it comes to environmental health and performance. Year over year, Nordic countries have indexed high on the EPI rankings. Countries like Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden are always in the top 10, if not at the very top.
To this extent, countries like China have partnered with Denmark to ensure the development of high quality and food safety. Denmark’s food value chain is known for its collaboration between government authorities and food producers which fosters reliability and trust of its food ingredients worldwide. The Danish control systems are intricately and effectively developed making them easy to track and trace at all levels in the supply chain.
The Nordic countries’ impressive EPI rankings can be imputed to Nordic governments’ stringent rules and regulations to assure and uphold environmental sustainability. The rules hold a stern focus on the usage of heavy metals and other materials that cause air, land, or water pollution. The use of chemical fertilizers, cleaning agents and other harmful elements are also prohibited or inhibited by the Nordic governments. These extreme rules may seem unwieldy but have helped Nordic countries advance by a great deal in agriculture and aquaculture(seafood).
With the growing concerns of COVID-19 in the recent months, in June 2020, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority declared a public statement mentioning that people handling food, including seafood, should be periodically monitored for health and hygiene and should also ensure that rules regarding social distancing, quarantine and isolation to minimise the risk of infection. Even though the majority of the salmon slaughterhouses in Norway are in rural areas where the risk of infection is low, the strict measures have helped contain the virus and have fostered trust of the people in the Norwegian food supply. This, clearly translated into the increase in export value of fish supply to countries like Poland, Great Britain, France, Italy and Netherlands, for their popular species such as Salmon, Cod, Mackerel, Trout ,and Herring, despite a slow down in August 2020, September has been a good month when compared with last year(no COVID scenario).
With smart barcodes and labelling, consumers can now track the food right to the very farms it comes from. Moreover, they can also know every little speck of an ingredient that makes a product they wish to buy.
This traceability has amended public health, compelling the use of healthy ingredients by manufacturers, and enhanced the products’ quality due to 100% transparency between consumers and the food producers. The modern, interactive labelling is also beneficial when it comes to raw vegetables and fisheries, it gives them insights into the growers profile, responsible sourcing and fair social impact which have become an important parameters driving their purchase decision.
Additionally, smart labelling enables traceability and gives the consumer the power to choose between two similar products from different organizations. As easily acceptable in urban regions, smart labelling may not be entirely acceptable in rural areas; some food companies are demonstrating the use of technology as far as they can in stores located in rural pockets, this may further accelerate the knowledge and need of labelling,while being an informed customer about food quality.
Frozen or canned food have a propensity to go rancid when stored in temperatures exceeding certain limits; there is also food spoilage when sunlight or any other UV rays are incidents directly. Thus, for canned foods or frozen foods, the smart labels mostly will involve so-called time-temperature indicators (TTIs), which react (change colour) when there is any negligence or improper storage that could instigate food deterioration.
The TTI labels will carry chemicals that react when exposed to temperature, UV rays above certain limits, or exceed a specific time; the TTI will make farmers, distributors, and retailers more conscious about storage conditions of canned or frozen food. Consumers, too, will benefit immensely, as they will be able to easily discern good foods from the rest by just eyeing label colours, as opposed to reading the expiry date, which is often quite a task for many.
TTI is on the brink of application as EU projects, such as ‘Foodlable’ and ‘Chill-on,’ have shown a positive response from the audience. The labels will replace current, traditional labels with food expiry labels imprinted as ‘Use by’ or ‘Best before’ among other details, which only consider time limitation and disregards temperature factor. Countries like Denmark and Finland will perhaps be the first to implement food labels as they are effervescently looking for a changeover, especially during the 2020 Novel Coronavirus pandemic. Thus,customers benefit with fresher food on their plate and retailers well on their aisles.
Smart labelling, such as barcodes, offers consumers an option to track their food right to the farm before buying. Now consumers are more aware while buying products and have become picky.
They are widely aware of the different ingredients that go into making a product and the environmental effect. Consumers have become more caring about the environment and deject things that have a significant carbon footprint. Consumers now also bank towards products that have smart labels. They want to know what they are buying.
One of the largest seafood studies involving more than 25,000 consumers across 20 markets, by Kantar conducted on behalf of the Norwegian Seafood Council in Norway is a perfect case in point offering valuable insights to how consumer behaviour and preferences have evolved over-time. According to the study, two-thirds of people are now conscious about their food choices and opting for seafood in their diet coming from more sustainable resources. Responsible sourcing of food is the key for retailers to enhance their brand awareness for the end consumers, directly influencing the need to adapt traceability across their supply chain.
Albeit smart labelling has slashed their profits by eliminating additional charges that could be levied on the product’s base price, retailers have mostly hailed the arrival of smart labelling. Smart labelling helps immensely in stocking and inventory management; now, retailers can estimate more precisely when they will be out of stock and place a restocking order accordingly. With smart labelling, retailers can track their shipments as smart labelling expedites the supply chain and informs the retailers in advance about any shipping delays.
To address impediments in smart packaging and labelling, leading companies are taking advantage of several platforms developed specifically to track food safety. With these, the companies are now able to successfully present structured data in a more consumer-friendly way by combining vital data. The company then designed smart labels that could be scanned through smart devices to glean all the information about processes and other vital information to a specific product and has resulted in limiting carbon footprint significantly. Moreover, smart packaging and labelling also enable the organisation to get feedback directly from their customers online and, over time, get acumens about consumer behaviours, their preferences and much more.
In Sweden, since mid-July of 2020, imported frozen berries have been suspected of the outbreak of hepatitis A, the source of which is still under investigation. One speculation is the cross-border movement of raspberries from Sweden to Denmark has triggered the infection. This investigation and movement are traceable using smart labels to provide details of the seafood in the food supply chain.
Another success story of Sweden shared by the Public Health Officials is that they were able to contain campylobacter infections from broiler flocks as the shipments were regulated and controlled till the reports tested clean. The importance of smart labelling in such cases, goes a long way in establishing trust and goodwill among people.
Smart packaging and labelling will be brilliant for both consumers and food retailers/producers. For consumers, the smart packaging and labelling bring total transparency to their food and offer them valuable information they need to know about the products they wish to buy. And for retailers or producers, smart labelling and packaging betters the supply chain and makes inventory management more efficient; it slashes overstocking or understocking and prevents food wastage due to spoilage. Smart packaging and labelling is indeed heavily integrating with packaging. Every organization will soon adapt this highly effective label method to deliver excellence to their consumers with quality and product transparency.
An apt case is of the Norwegian Salmon, in 2019, the salmon farms eliminated 99 percent antibiotics(vaccines used to treat illnesses in farmed salmon) in Norwegian ocean farmed salmon as compared to the 80’s. Why? Because the customers needed it, retailers demanded the test reports. Effective antibiotics vaccines used to treat illnesses in farmed salmons have dropped by a whopping 77 percent as compared to 2018. The WHO has also recognised the country’s efforts in its quest to reduce antibiotics in the Norwegian aquaculture. Now, when the consumers trace the origin of the salmons from Norway, they feel confident that they are antibiotics free and a safe and healthy choice for their dinner plates. Labelling goes a long way in enhancing the reputation of what is served on the plates.
Today, at SourceTrace we’re happy to share our moment of pride and fulfillment, having made it as the cover story in the Food and Beverage Tech Review.
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