QR codes. A clumsy attempt to match consumer desire for food authenticity

30 Nov, 2020

In the last years, the attention towards food specific attributes has been increasing constantly. Consumers pay more and more attention to what they buy every day in terms of quality of ingredients, origin, traceability and sustainability. According to a research commissioned by the EU (1), the majority of European citizens take quality into great consideration when choosing between a food product and another. In fact, 31% of respondents regard quality as “fairly important”, while nearly 65% consider it “very important”. Where the food comes from is also “fairly relevant” for 37% of European customers, while it is a fundamental characteristic for 34% of them.

One could say that intentions and considerations assessed through a survey may not always correspond to an actual consumer behavior. However, this is not the case. Two-thirds (67%) of EU citizens check the food they buy to see if they have quality labels indicating specific characteristics. Plus, according to a recent research by the Institute for Business Value (2), 71% of customers who think that traceability is very important are willing to pay a premium price for brands that provide it.

This, together with the recent success for local, high-end food productions, proves that quality, traceability and origin are not just utopic desires in the mind of consumers but actual purchasing drivers. In order for these characteristics to impact positively on company sales, they must be real and correctly communicated. It is only by providing a proof of authenticity for the products and for their attributes that consumers will recognize their added value. This, in turn, will increase their trust and loyalty towards the brand.

The question now is how to provide customers with a reliable, tamper-proof source of information. Many corporates have recently found their answer in a blockchain platform, an online shared system that crypts information and store it in a secure and immutable way. Through the adoption of this solution, companies can now keep digital records of raw materials used, production batches and certifications. And at the end they are able to communicate all of that with transparency to their customers.

Too bad the most common support used to transmit this set of secure information is a QR code impressed on the product packaging. In fact, this solution provides just an illusion of authenticity because it is fully reproducible and the link to where it redirects is always of public access. This means that through one of the many free online QR code generators, everyone would be able to falsify the label of a fine wine. Therefore, a QR-based solution might even incentivize counterfeiting, turning out to be more dangerous than adopting no solution at all!

To combat this, it is necessary to prevent the physical tampering of goods themselves, not of their packaging. The key is to exploit the security of the blockchain technology together with the safety of a seal that combines both a physical and digital protection. This kind of technology has been developed by Authena, a swiss company that created an anti-counterfeiting solution based on blockchain and on an interactive tag to be applied on the packaging. This, when tapped via NFC, provides detailed info on product certifications, origin and authenticity. In addition, whenever the container has a rigid form like a bottle, a can or a tank, the tag has also an anti-refilling function, as it is able to detect the integrity of the product itself.

Alessandro Tacconelli