What's on My Plate: The Importance of Food Traceability


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Our supermarkets are stocked with more products than ever before. Popular culinary shows and gourmet stores have taught us to differentiate paleo from keto and pick vegan ingredients to spice up our non-GMO diet. But the multiplicity of choices and explosion of information has led the modern consumer to face a serious dilemma — food traceability. We simply don’t know where our food comes from!

It isn’t surprising then, that we’ve become just as interested in what’s printed outside the package, as we are about what’s inside it. Food packaging labels are not just about a slightly smudged manufacturing date accompanied with the expiry, they’re covered in fine print that attempts to tell you a little bit more about what you’re about to consume.

It is a good start. But evidently, that’s not close to good enough. Data from WHO suggests that an estimated 600 million fall ill after eating contaminated food every year. Of this, a whopping 420,000 people die every year due to food-related illnesses.

Food traceability

The importance of food traceability in India has crossed the barriers of only food safety issues in past and assumes far bigger roles in the current scenario. It is equally important to generate awareness among consumers, something that farmers and agribusinesses can leverage the most and build trust.

Caters to Food Safety Requisites

All this conversation around food safety has made brands sit up and take notice. It is what inspired Honeysuckle White, a Cargill-owned brand, to launch a campaign last Thanksgiving allowing consumers to trace the origins of their turkey. A first of its kind initiative, the brand announced that shoppers in Texas could plug the code on their turkey’s packaging into the company’s web page and learn more about the bird that graced their Thanksgiving table. The consumer would get information about the farm where the bird was grown, view photos and videos of the farm, and find out more about the farm owners.

More and more consumers are interested in tracing the whereabouts of their food — from a safety perspective, as well as ensuring that their food is responsibly and ethically sourced. As a result, Honeysuckle White saw the campaign as a means to increase transparency between the farmer and the end consumer.

Likewise, Cropin empowers consumers to know the story behind the food that reaches their platter—by simply scanning a QR code right at the point of purchase. The buyer now not only has access to details of the farm where the crop was cultivated, but also other specific information such as the seeds and other agri-inputs that were used, alerts that were raised until the crop was harvested, and a quantitative measure of the crop quality. That is true power to the consumer.

Helping Brands Develop Trust

Food traceability is increasingly becoming an important aspect of building trust between food brands and their customers. This is especially true since most products are made up of ingredients that are sourced from all over the country, and often even span across countries. We have a global pantry, and no matter how strict our regulations and food safety norms are, this widespread canvas makes it difficult for regulatory bodies to monitor each and every ingredient that lands up on our plate.

In fact, it is what leads to an increase in the cases of food fraud in recent times. Unless you can track every ingredient that goes into a product, at every step of the way, it is next to impossible to detect possible contamination of any form. It is what caused the melamine scandal in China where a chemical substance was added to milk in order to increase its protein content. By the time the breach was detected, the contaminated milk products had been exported to 47 countries. This form of food fraud costs the industry $10 to $15 billion a year in the US alone.


The Age of the Consumer – Promoting Awareness

There is no knowing whether this kind of contamination was prevalent a few decades ago. While we can’t be certain about its extent or existence, this abundance of choice for the consumer is what has contributed to their improved awareness. Empowered consumers in more mature markets are curious about the origins of their food, they want to know whether it is responsibly sourced, and they are a lot more aware of their rights.

As consumers get more aware, brands need to become more vigilant. Quoting David Acheson, a former associate commissioner for foods at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

“Thirty years ago, if you had a little problem, you were not going to get discovered. Now the chances of getting caught are significant, and it can be the end of your company.”

Food recalls have seen an increase in recent years and it has contributed to the increase in the importance of traceability. Annual product recalls by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates meat producers, are up 83.4% from 2012 through 2017, while the number is a staggering 92.7% for recalls by the FDA during the same time period, which monitors everything else.

As a result, more and more companies are seeing traceability as the best way to keep a track of what’s happening with their products at every point in the supply chain. Right from the manufacturers, to the wholesalers and retailers, everyone is recognizing the importance of food traceability as a means to increase transparency and minimize risks.



Food traceability is the need of the hour

While food safety is the most apparent benefit of ensuring traceability at every step of the way, it is by no means the only one. To the end consumer, it translates to being certain about the quality of the food that is on their plate, but food traceability carries a lot more value to the brand itself.

A food traceability system allows brands to have complete visibility and control over their products at every stage of the supply chain. If an issue were to arise at any point of time, the brand can trace it back through the product’s history and identify the specific glitch, taking corrective action before it is too late. But more than the dollars saved in potential losses that were rectified before disaster strikes, the biggest boon to brands is the confidence it hands out to customers about the authenticity and quality of their products.

After all, you can’t really put a price on that.


Further Reading

Learn how Cropin’s solutions helped a farmer producer organization (FPO) in India become one of the biggest exporters of grapes in Asia.

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Vijay Nelson

About the Author

Vijay Nelson is the Chief Product Officer at Cropin, the Agritech pioneer who has built the world's first purpose-built industry cloud for Agriculture - Cropin Cloud. He has two decades of experience in product conceptualization and E2E product development for businesses and consumers, bootstrapping new product teams, building product strategies for new businesses, cross-functional team leadership, people management, and software development.