Transparency and blockchain

Product claims, quality labels, transparency and the blockchain

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With such rich and varied food production in France, the question of the quality of products and their traceability is ever-present. 

Emmanuel Audouin, a general practitioner who is also the Agri-Agro Innovation manager at Bureau Veritas, cast his eye over these developments at SIAL Paris 2018.

Capturing the consumer's attention: plenty of food for thought

A farmer and a consultant talking in a cow shed

In France, strong competition is making life hard for the brands, striving to find that key difference to mark themselves out. Bureau Veritas manages some 17,000 clients, from the single farmer to the big multinationals, conducting audits and inspections on specifications compliance. It has a triple objective: reflecting on a brand strategy and managing, in parallel, how digital data about a company is managed to tell a story to consumers while getting them to buy.

The trends show that consumers are looking to purchase quality, but that's not the whole story. "According to a Mintel study,22% of new food products worldwide carry environmental or ethical claims. We're not just talking about product quality, and this figure was just 10% ten years ago." For some years, this has been manifested in the "free-from" trend, to be found in a wide variety of sectors: milk, meat, grain, etc. Nowadays, consumers seek quality only if it is produced in specific conditions.

How can a food brand create its differentiation through quality labels?

A piece of Comté cheese

France has a rich gastronomic heritage. As such, certain sectors can be victims of their own success, such as milk in recent years, which has made political headlines. A farmer living in Franche-Comté and producing Comté cheese will have fewer charges to pay than the farmer in Brittany, not to mention being able to profit from the reputation of his region, benefiting from a brand image among consumers.

However, rigorous specifications will not always be enough to convince the consumer. According to the "Food 360" study conducted by Kantar TNS, 66% of French people are concerned about food safety and only 28% of households express confidence. This mistrust is reflected in the success of food apps, which provide information about the nutritional values of the products on the shelves. Today, trust is becoming no longer a key to success, but a precondition to purchasing

  • Organic

Organic food has experienced two-digit growth in recent years. This demonstrates a trend, but also the trust of consumers in these products whose production manifests transparency. For example, the HVE (High Environmental Value) logo is in high demand from both consumers and manufacturers.

  • Quality labels

In France, all "Label Rouge" quality label products have to comply with precise labelling criteria. They now have to show compliance with agroecology criteria in their specifications.

Quality labels make it possible to control production, as is the case in the fishing (MNC) or aquaculture (ACS) sectors, since this label guarantees sustainable fishing so as not to disrupt the environment for sea life. These quality labels are backed by NGOs (such is the WWF), as they are drafted according to baselines determining social and environmental criteria.

 

Fair Trade logo

Another example: the Fair Trade / Rainforest Alliance logos are used to endorse exotic raw materials such as tea, coffee and cocoa. Inspections are conducted directly with the producer, to check compliance with specifications. A further example of more responsible production is the RSPO logo for sustainable palm oil, representing 20% of worldwide production, and demonstrating the collective will to eat healthily and know where our food comes from.

Blockchain: understanding how it works and, above all, its implications for the consumer

QR code on a smartphone

As well as providing information, the will is also there to create a specific story for your product in order to sell it. Bespoke channels are being created, with obligations of both means and results. This work makes it possible to turn commitments into reality, with communication features on the packaging, checked by a trusted third party serving as arbitrator.

To come up with BtoB and BtoC communication solutions, Bureau Veritas has developed a QR code system providing a full product history. The solution meets the need to go beyond quality labels and certifications to provide additional information, since the size of the label is limited to the nutriscore, CE code, nutritional values, etc.

 

Tuna: key example of a successful "food blockchain"

 

Tinned food

©F. FOUCHA, X. MUYARD, L. DHERINES

Bureau Veritas has worked on the case of tuna, a difficult and highly competitive market with major economic, environmental and strategic challenges:

"At every stage, we'll be generating QR codes with traceability information that can go on the delivery notes and the tin of tuna that you'll find in the supermarket, with all the information that we want to share in practically real-time. (…) And all this is chronological, public, time-stamped and tamper-proof. Data cannot be erased, even if someone tries to cheat."

Contrary to preconceptions, the blockchain is not synonymous with public information. Where private stakeholders are involved, information is sorted via accessible interfaces. Based on the QR code, the information details all the steps involved, which may vary according to specific conditions (weather, fishing zone, etc.).

Bureau Veritas takes care of the "garbage in" / "garbage out", in other words, ensuring that the information is correct from all the players in the value chain.

·         Authorisation and personal access rights

A mobile phone displaying a food app

To secure this data that companies do not wish to disclose to competitors or the consumer, the food blockchain is based on an access rights system, to ensure the proper governance of data traceability. Each operator has a profile with login and password to access certain information that is shared progressively. To this end, three levels of confidentiality are put in place:

  • "Non-sensitive" public data: what the consumer will read and what the marketing department will promote
  • Confidential data: visible to users with specific access rights
  • Private data: accessible on request

The blockchain, according to Emmanuel Audouin, is the result of these three T's: "Trust, Truth and Transparency".

The conclusion of this conference is that the creation of a food blockchain with the use of QR codes would make it possible to determine formally what kind of information is to be disclosed to employees, competitors and consumers. For this to maintain its utility, applications must be used sensibly and provide information while at the same time selling a unique story for each product. If quality labels are no longer enough, transparency becomes inevitable in order to generate trust and get people to buy.

As well as providing information, the will is also there to create a specific story for your product in order to sell it. Bespoke channels are being created, with obligations of both means and results. This work makes it possible to turn commitments into reality, with communication features on the packaging, checked by a trusted third party serving as arbitrator.

To come up with BtoB and BtoC communication solutions, Bureau Veritas has developed a QR code system providing a full product history. The solution meets the need to go beyond quality labels and certifications to provide additional information, since the size of the label is limited to the nutriscore, CE code, nutritional values, etc