However, in an industry known for tight margins, ensuring traceability and transparency without compromising on competitiveness is essential. Technological solutions must support mass volumes at low cost and high speed, enabling communication between actors in real time while ensuring adaptability and minimal implementation burden.
A Potential Solution
Mass algorithmic and cloud-based serialization offers a potential solution to food manufacturers. Originally developed and applied to solve the problem of pharmaceutical counterfeiting, mass algorithmic and cloud-based serialization can now be adapted to meet food industry and consumer needs. Simply put, it is a unique, package-level ID that can be scanned using mobile phones. With a simple scan, it can link both value chain participants and consumers with the brand owner and create an interactive highway of information among these stakeholders.
The technology is able to perform at high speeds even when dealing with volumes in the many billions by linking coded packages to data through algorithms rather than a central database of codes. This enables firms to scale easily, operating at volumes of billions and billions of products without slowing down the relay of information and incurring large data processing costs.
Meanwhile, high-volume manufacture of food products is maintained through the pre-serialization of packaging and labels by the packaging and label manufacturer. A unique code is integrated into the product packaging or label and then is simply activated later at the direction of the brand owner via the cloud. This means there is no additional time required during the food production phase, and serialization can thus take place without slowing down operations by a second. Even better for keeping processes simple and streamlined, the ID can simply overlay existing codes or labels displayed on the packaging to provide the added functionality.
A Multi-Purpose Vehicle
With a low-cost, cloud-based serialization solution in place for traceability and transparency, brand owners can use it in any number of ways. For example, the technology can be used to identify hold ups and inefficiencies in the supply chain by recording the time products spend in warehouse and transit. At the same time, unique product identities best position manufacturers to identify and pre-empt any potential issues in real time, for example when shipments go astray or are over-exposed to conditions such as heat that may compromise the quality or the safety of the product. When problems with a product are identified, the company can scan items to trace back to the point of failure and identify products from the exact batch to recall them, minimizing the recall. Through the same channel—the same code—consumers can authenticate the products before purchase by scanning the code using a smartphone.
All in all, the ability to trace back to source the trigger for a product recall through serialization of raw materials and ingredients can deliver benefits from public health to supplier management. When problems occur reactions will be quicker, damage minimized, and lessons learned.
Critical is the fact that a unique product ID and the availability of information in real time makes track and trace instantaneous. This minimizes the operational costs, both in terms of time and resources spent identifying the source of any particular problem and the amount of product that ultimately needs to be recalled. It also means minimal reputational cost, with the company able to respond and communicate quickly with stakeholders across the value chain.
The brand can make further use of this same technology if customers choose to register and share their personal information, perhaps incentivized with promotions. In that case, the brand would be able to derive critical consumer insight to inform their research and future product development function, incentivize consumers to repurchase the product through individually-tailored promotions, and build confidence in the quality and safety of the product through transparency regarding its ingredients and production, thus nurturing brand loyalty and trust.
Giving a product its own digital DNA opens an interactive highway containing the information and data required by the manufacturer and commercial value chain participants. It makes all relevant value chain information instantly available to brand owners and other value chain participants according to the permissions determined by the brand owner. These permissions can also be altered over time, retaining flexibility and adaptability for industry to respond to changing operational considerations and consumer preferences alike.