Most of our readers will be familiar with the EU’s Falsified Medicine Directive, which came into force in February 2019. It requires pharmaceutical companies to send serialisation data from each individual item to a European Hub through the use of unique barcodes, and to place a tamper-proof seal on every pack.
But what about other industries? Elisabeth Skoda takes a look at serialisation and track and trace applications in the food and beverage industries powered by NFC tags and QR codes, for a range of products from wine to radishes.
What are the benefits of knowing exactly where a product is on its journey across the supply chain?
The food industry faces increasing legislation requirements from authorities and increasing transparency and sustainability expectations from consumers, Christine C. Akselsen, CEO at Kezzler, points out.
“By tracking an individual product’s unique journey through each step of the supply chain food brands can proactively use real data and insights to resolve issues related to product sustainability, production efficiency, regulatory compliance and risk. The use of unique, secure and traceable identities (UIDs) delivers vastly improved visibility into product value chains and allows brands to deliver an enhanced consumer engagement experience.”
This end to end traceability allows identifying problems and their causes at any point along the supply chain and enables a targeted recall for the affected products.
“This means that only the actual products affected need to be taken out of the supply chain, and communication can be targeted directly at those customers who have received products that have been compromised. End-to-end traceability solutions ensure that the link to the company is never broken.”
In the wine industry, serialisation can offer “wide and broad” benefits, as Ayhan Uslu, area sales manager at KURZ TRUSTCONCEPT®, explains.
“The wine industry has a complex, fragmented supply chain with diverse materials and ingredients, ranging from fertilisers to grape growers and cap and bottle manufacturers. The industry is also heavily regulated. Therefore a serialised system can help with compliance to rules and regulations. Combatting the grey market and knowing that each bottle of wine is exactly where it should be is important. Counterfeit protection also prevents risks to consumer health, for example due to methanol, and prevents a loss of revenue. 2.3 billion Euros are projected to be lost in the EU wine and spirits market in 2020 alone. Last but not least, wine consumers also keen to know what they are drinking and where their wine is coming from.”
When serialisation happens, a predetermined coding type is assigned to each item. This gives it a distinct identity that can be tracked and traced to its location in the supply chain or where it had been during its life cycle. But what is the best way to get this information on each and every pack and keep track on it throughout the supply chain?
Wine bottles and NFC
TRUSTCONCEPT®’s solution for the wine industry works based on a smart NFC label with a tamper loop, Matthias Kronawitter, marketing manager at KURZ TRUSTCONCEPT®, explains.
The undamaged label offers reassurance of first opening. In a second step, the QR code can be scanned with a proprietary app to offer further reassurance.
“We believe in a combination of physical and digital functionalities - you can see if the label is intact and if it is genuine even if you don’t have access to the digital information to verify it at that moment,” says Mr. Kronawitter.
Radishes and QR codes
Kezzler uses QR codes to ensure traceability across the supply chain. For example, in a cooperation with Runhui in China, they provided a traceability and authentication solution for The National Modern Agricultural Industrial Park in Shandong Province in China for the Weixan radish, a local specialty.
“Each individual radish pack is given a unique, secure and traceable identity. A label with a unique QR code, and a hidden authentication PIN, is applied to each of the packs during packaging. The QR code is used both for tracking the radish through the supply chain, and by the consumers to see the product journey. By revealing the hidden pin, consumers can check authenticity, eliminating any concerns about the product’s origins. Full traceability across the entire supply chain helps to ensure quality and taste for these well-loved local delicacies,” says Ms Akselsen.
“A fundamental part of the Kezzler platform is the serialisation engine that creates the Kezzler UIDs. Kezzler UIDs are cryptographically secure, unique and unpredictable codes without any decipherable pattern. They are also carrier agnostic, applicable through QR Codes, RFID chips, NFC tags or any other carrier. The Kezzler platform is also ‘code agnostic’ and able to manage UIDs issued by other systems or governments.”
Insights through barcodes
The Systech Brand Protection Suite is a ‘holistic’ solution to bring together the key pillars of brand protection: serialisation, traceability, authentication and insight. It transforms a package barcode to give brand owners end-to-end visibility and actionable, data-driven insight about a specific product as it moves across the supply chain.
“Systech’s covert and non-additive e-Fingerprint solution UniSecure® along with its track-and-trace solution UniTrace®, helps fight global counterfeiting and diversion problems across the supply chain without relying on adding anything new to the packaging process. This powerful combination of solutions ensures products are authentic, safe and connected throughout the supply chain from point of manufacturing to the customer’s hands,” says Steve Tallant, Systech’s Senior Director, Solutions Marketing Group.
Several leading food and beverage companies around the world are using digital IDs on products to implement smart or intelligent packaging.
“In emerging markets like India, food safety and hygiene are major concerns. The Indian Railways implemented a serialisation program for the meals they serve on trains, which is powered by Sepio Products. When a consumer scans the food packaging via a QR code on their phone, they get to see a live video stream of the kitchen that made the food and get reassurance on the safety and standards,” says Sepio’s director Murad Nathani.
“Sepio’s IoT platform is a technology stack that allows brands to serialise, aggregate into shippers and pallets as goods move across the supply chain, offers AI and ML based product authentication and offers personalised consumer engagement via smart packaging at the point of sale.”
Mr. Nathani explains that a successful track and trace system in the food and beverage industry has to be low cost yet effective, given that it has to be applied across billions of products, and considers QR codes an ideal way forward. But of course, a code cannot work on its own.
“To print a serialised code on the product at scale, the brand needs a one stop solution including its packaging partner or line automation partner. Hence, cloud-based solution providers must integrate their solution with the ecosystem players in order to deploy serialisation at the plant level.”
In order to engage consumers to make sure they actually scan products, digital platforms will be required to educate them.
“Fortunately, any consumer with a smartphone knows how to scan a code. But why should they do it? That is where brands need to develop innovative marketing strategies to give consumers a reason to ‘talk’ to their packaging, which can be a significant tool to build engagement and loyalty.”
Serialisation in the food and beverage industry does not have as long a history as in pharmaceuticals, which means that implementation has been somewhat slower. Some companies may shy away from the expense a serialisation project entails, but the benefits are clear, as Mr. Tallant points out in conclusion.
“Serialisation has passed the rigor of the pharmaceutical industry, with live mandates in the EU and USA. Mature vendors are in the space with solutions that can easily adapt to serialise food and beverage - with costs that have greatly come down over the past decade. Additionally, the benefits the space sees from serialisation and more comprehensive traceability are creating a much higher ROI for brands in making the jump into mass serialisation.”