Are Mobile Apps the Future of Food Traceability?


ERP Analyst, Software Advice

These days, retail shoppers expect detailed product information to be readily accessible through their smartphones. And for most consumer products, it is. There's one notable exception: food.

Despite the explosion of consumer information, much remains hidden from the buyer.

For instance, we rarely have transparency about the exact plant that produced our food, or whether a particular food product was recalled. The recent release of Junction Solutions’ CLEARthru app changes that dynamic.

The app empowers consumers with information that until now was shielded from them, or was not easily accessible. However, to make this enterprise-level technology meaningful to the average consumer, access limitations need to be overcome.

CLEARthru Improves Food Information Access

CLEARthru is a prime example of the consumerization of IT–a term describing the convergence of enterprise and consumer technologies. The app gives consumers access to information previously confined to an enterprise software system, such as:

  • Origin of product
  • Product freshness
  • Packaging information
  • Nutrition and allergen facts
  • Food recall information

To access all of this information, consumers need only scan a QR code with their smartphone.

I recently caught up with Christian Hutter, Senior Vice President of Manufacturing at Junction Solutions, to learn more about CLEARthru. Here’s a video of our discussion:

The Importance of Traceability

In my view, the biggest benefit of CLEARthru is providing consumers with a picture of the path our food takes on its way to the grocery store, from the plant or farm of origin to every processing or packing facility along the way.

Consumer desire to know the full path their food follows is largely driven by high profile cases of food contamination.

While most food includes a federally-mandated Country of Origin Label (COOL), certain meat, poultry, fish, processed and mixed ingredient food products are exempt. Consumers want to know. In a recent Consumer Reports poll, 94 percent of consumers polled believed a Country of Origin Label (COOL) should be applied to every kind of food.

And the country of origin is just the beginning.

Today, consumers are up in arms about the beef filler known as “pink slime,” which ABC estimated is in 70 percent of ground beef. This is a good example of how CLEARthru could be incredibly useful. Since pink slime–distributed by Beef Products Inc.–is used by a set of food manufacturers, consumers can check whether their food came from a plant known to use the filler.

CLEARthru Faces Adoption Obstacles

As with all early-stage technologies, this technology needs some time to reach its full potential. Here are a few limitations to the current iteration.

  1. Adoption can be costly. With CLEARthru, a proprietary QR code must be affixed to every food item. Without a financial incentive for parties in the food supply chain to include this label, it will be difficult to achieve a critical mass of adoption. That incentive may soon come from consumer demand.
  2. Usage requires effort. Accessing the information CLEARthru provides requires users to scan every item they want to know about. This may be asking a bit much for people who are trying to get in and out of the grocery store.
  3. Limited market size. Only about 46 percent of American adults have smartphones, and of course only a small portion of smartphone users will make use of the app. This limits the app’s potential market size, which may further impede the willingness of food producers to adopt this technology.

While these issues limit the usefulness of the apps in the near-term, the challenges aren't insurmountable. We’re on the precipice of a mobile information age. We just need to continue to foster these kinds of early technology solutions that give consumers more knowledge than ever before.

To make it happen, however, we’ll need an ecosystem of growers, processors, distributors and retailers to embrace this consumer movement.

What features would you like to see in a mobile food traceability app? Leave me your thoughts below.

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