Is your brand being sold in other markets – and you don’t even know?

counterfeiting in fresh produce

Have you heard the one about the Australian farmer who found out his Wagyu beef product was being sold in China as a cheaper cut?

Unfortunately, it’s true. In late 2014, Victorian producer David Blackmore, of Blackmore Wagyu Beef, found out his premium product was being undermined in China by counterfeit products. Blackmore, who had been selling his product to high-end restaurants in China for years, decided to pull his product out of the market.

And that’s not the only beef Australia has with product being targeted and counterfeiting in fresh produce.

Some 20 or 30 years ago, it was luxury products and electronics that were being counterfeited, but today there has been a rise in counterfeit food and beverage products. And while it’s obviously a global issue, counterfeiters are increasingly preying on Australian goods, taking advantage of their reputation as superior, high-quality produce.

Patrick Vizzone is the National Australia Bank’s Asia regional head of food and agribusiness. He told the Ag in the Asian Century Conference, held in Toowoomba (Qld) towards the end of last year that demand is growing in China for branded and packaged fruit and vegetable products — particularly packaged snacks — rather than just dairy, beef, and grain products.

In what might sound like bizarre counterfeiting efforts, Australian citrus is so popular in China, that Chinese-grown fruit is counterfeited as “Australian-grown”. The differences are somewhat obvious — at this point: the Australian fruit is sweeter, the fake fruit has to be dyed and is often packaged up with odd motifs (such as lions) and spelling mistakes.

Then in In June last year, Tasmanian cherry growers exposed produce being sold in counterfeit “Tasmanian-grown” packaging in China and Vietnam. The investigation revealed, to their horror, that the fakes were outselling the real deal five to one. Worse still, the fake fruit allegedly made a consumer sick.

While pulling out of the market, as David Blackmore did, is certainly one option, there are other ways that food and grocery brands — and fresh produce, in particular — can make it harder for counterfeiters to break into the supply chain.

Protect your fresh produce with serialisation

Globally, growers and processors are looking to serialisation as one of the most effective methods to counteract counterfeit produce and establish proof of provenance. (Here’s how winemakers are doing it. Scan the QR code below right; it’s an example of what wine producers are using.)demo QR code how wine makers can beat the counterfeiters

Serialisation means marking products with a unique code that can then be traced and tracked through the supply chain. Where a barcode or QR code is used, the end consumer can then check the authenticity of the product before they open the packaging, by simply scanning code via their smartphone app. (See how Camperdown Dairy International has done this. You may find this blog on serialisation and this one explaining how to implement it, useful, while this “Serialisation 101” presentation gives some great starting points.)

The first step is to choose a serialisation partner, like Matthews, who can help with establishing the process of track and trace.

For fresh produce suppliers, there are then four main technology options to apply the code. Which one you choose will depend on your unique product, the existing coding or labelling technology you have and the environment: 


  1. Unique code on film packaging using TTO

Thermal Transfer Overprinters (TTOs) are already a popular coding method for fresh produce processors because they can produce crisp and durable marks on flexible packaging films. Use TTOs to print a unique code onto film packaging. Because a thermal transfer code is highly resistant to any chemicals, humidity, UV rays, abrasion and climatic changes, you can be sure that the code will remain clear and crisp right through to the end consumer.

  1. Laser coding and marking a serialised code

Lasers are an extremely fast, cost-effective way to mark high quality, permanent codes onto packaging. Lasers can code onto a range of substrates, including cardboard, glass and metal packaging. This is often the preferred choice for serialisation because it creates a high quality, indelible mark authenticating your brand.

  1. Printing and applying labels with a unique code

Many fresh produce brands use a cost-effective, print-and-apply labelling solution. This can also be used for serialisation, as the unique code can be added to the label.

  1. Security labels with a unique code

Security labels make sure the product is uniquely identified with a number while also being resistant to scratching and abrasion that may occur through the supply chain.



Whether you’re already exporting your food to Asia or seriously considering it, the first thing you need to think about is how to protect your brand. Because the minute your product is in demand, someone will want to copy it.

Get the facts about serialisation in our infographic.  

Work with Matthews Australasia to determine the best solution for your product. We are the experts in providing serialisation-ready devices and solutions for fresh produce suppliers.

For some interesting comparisons, this piece has some interesting facts on the pharmaceutical industry’s approach as a leader with serialisation. A linked area is traceability, which this article explains regarding recalls.


Photo credit / mastersky


Matt Nichol
Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.
Matt Nichol

by Matt Nichol

Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.

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