Where in the world is this food from? Traceability initiatives let consumers know
Manufacturers are rolling out digital solutions to tell people more about what goes into their snacks
Today’s consumers want to know where their food came from, how it was produced, and be able to follow a product’s journey from farm to fork.
Manufacturers have been beefing up traceability capabilities and developing technology that can better help a consumer understand exactly where their food comes from in a very transparent way.
In fact, traceability has become the new “it” word—both for consumers and manufacturers. In its simplest terms, traceability measures can show the history and location of a product by means of recorded and documented identification. Recent research has predicted that the food traceability market will be worth $14 billion by 2019.
Hershey and transparency
A year ago, Hershey started participating in the Grocery Manufacturers Association's SmartLabel program, adding a smartphone-scannable barcode to packaging. Scanning this code informs consumers about the ingredients, nutrition information, and allergens in a certain item.
Last month, the company partnered with Sourcemap for a new innovation in Hershey’s continued effort toward greater food transparency. Sourcemap's interactive mapping tool provides visibility into the supply chain by letting consumers trace agricultural ingredients back to where they were grown or made.
The platform allows consumers to view where all of a product’s ingredients come from, watch videos about the peanut and almond farmers and learn about the cooperatives the Hershey Company supports in Côte d’Ivoire.
“We are always pushing ourselves to think through what else we could be doing to bring more information about our products to consumers, including how we make them and what goes into them,” Deb Arcoleo, director of product transparency at Hershey, told Food Dive.
Arcoleo never forgot how intrigued she was by Sourcemap after meeting its founders four years ago at a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Last year, she decided it was time to try them out for Hershey. A proof of concept went smoothly, and the chocolate company decided to do a pilot program this year with two products: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Consumers can go to the Hershey website and take an immersive look into the story of the ingredients that go into these products. They can also learn how they are farmed or harvested and find out about sustainable sourcing initiatives. For instance, viewers can discover the story of how cocoa beans are harvested from trees in Ghana or learn more about the almond groves of California’s Central Valley.
“We are always pushing ourselves to think through what else we could be doing to bring more information about our products to consumers, including how we make them and what goes into them.”
Director of product transparency at Hershey
If the pilot program goes well, Hershey plans on expanding to other products in the future. Arcoleo knows that more and more people want to know what’s in their food, and this allows them to get those details.
“Lots of food companies are starting to tell more of their stories on how they source ingredients, where they grow and where they come from, Arcoleo said. “We thought this map was a more engaging way of showing that story than just reading an article or a blog post.”
At the end of the day, Hershey really wants to know what people think of these efforts.
“I think all food companies are trying really, really hard, as we are, to respond to the public and consumers to make sure they have all their questions answered about a product and its ingredients and where it’s made,” Arcoleo said. “This is our pilot to see if this is interesting to them to learn about these things.”
Crunchies’ efforts for traceability
Freeze-dried fruit company Crunchies also recently introduced a new traceability platform. The snack company's platform allows consumers to see where the fruit from their individual bags of Crunchies originated.
“We control our products from the field all the way to the table,” Scott Jacobson, Crunchies’ CEO, told Food Dive. “We know what food is brought from where and why. We know all our growing partners and have transparency for our entire supply chain cycle.”
Getting that information to the consumer, however, was not as easy as the company thought it would be.
“We always had traceability on our radar, and wanted to figure out the best way to communicate all of this to the consumer,” Jacobson said. “Because the supply chain is global in nature and we’ve got strawberries from three different countries, we wanted to illustrate to our consumers where the products were coming from with integrity that we were comfortable with and confident in.”
Crunchies launched its initiative earlier this month at Natural Products Expo West. The brand has a traceability button on its website where a consumer can enter the lot code on a package and “find its fruit’s roots.”
“If they buy a bag of our freeze-dried beets and they put in that lot code, it will show where these particular beets were grown and explain why that region,” Jacobson said. “Same with our mango, it takes them back to Thailand and shows them... what makes the country special and unique for mangos.”
Jacobson said he feels being the only freeze-dried brand opening up to consumers in this way will differentiate it in the minds of customers.
“If you look at what’s going on with the consumers, smaller upstarts are making a connection because the consumer trusts them. They seem to have a wary eye towards the big, global food brands,” Jacobson said. “I think that’s misguided because the food safety that the global [community] has put into it is amazing, but consumers have a perception in mind and want to know a brand and know where their food comes from. That’s important to them.”
Technology playing a role
Offering consumers the transparency they seek is just one positive of a traceability program. Manufacturers are also using the information to help them in efforts to control food safety. In the event of a contamination problem, this technology helps manufacturers quickly locate the source.
There are a number of companies introducing their own traceability solutions for the food industry. One of those is Arc-net, which uses blockchain technology — a method that uses cryptography to keep exchanges secure and provides a decentralized database that everyone on the network can see.
“Organizations are able to identify all participants in the chain and form a sequence of events into an immutable chain of custody,” CEO Kieran Kelly told Food Dive. “The blockchain is invaluable for brand protection—it provides transparency, security and authenticity, helping to bring trust to an untrusted world.”
"Consumers have a perception in mind and want to know a brand and know where their food comes from. That’s important to them.”
Katie Moore, global industry manager of GE Digital’s food and beverage practice, noted new technology has made things much more efficient in traceability methods.
“Before when there was an issue with a product, you would have to isolate the product because you didn’t have the visibility and insight into … a level of detail we felt comfortable with,” she said. “Now, because of new levels of automation, sensors and software, we can accurately pinpoint [where all products originated] , which is wonderful.”
Ron Myers, executive VP at Linkfresh, which provides ERP software specifically for the fresh product industry, said that while the industry is not normally thought of as leading-edge adaptors, many companies today are realizing the importance of electronic data capture in their traceability efforts.
“Increased adoption makes the whole food supply chain safer,” he said. “By having this as a topic so many are thinking about, it helps [any food company’s] longevity for survival and its profitability in the long run.”
Follow Keith Loria on Twitter