From star-rating systems to Australia-made symbols, and trusted data to recalls, food labelling and barcoding has been hitting the headlines over the past few months. But for the industry, what does all this really mean? Are there bigger challenges ahead?
I sat down with Andrew Steele, GS1 Australia’s Industry Manager, for a coffee recently, and he shed some light on what his industry organisation is planning to do about it.
What’s the deal with labelling and barcoding in the food and liquor industry?
Andrew: More and more space on packaging is now being devoted to things such as product advices, warnings and symbols. There is also uncertainty in the food industry regarding labelling requirements with the introduction of the health star-rating system, which was formally introduced and backed by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation. This will be voluntary for two years, then will be made compulsory if the industry doesn’t adopt it widely.
The health stars are designed to help consumers quickly compare the healthiness of foods, however the Australian Food & Grocery Council — or AFGC — has now withdrawn its support of the program. It’s argued there are inconsistencies with the algorithm used to calculate the number of stars.
The council also believes that it will be too costly — it will be approximately $14,000 per product to introduce the changes. This equates to almost $200 million in total across the current $108 billion industry.
In liquor, we have different market legal requirements, sometimes resulting in the need for country-specific labels. Plus, there are voluntary industry initiatives such as DrinkWise, which have developed information logos for consumers, giving them evidence-based information on alcohol consumption.
Which companies will be impacted?
Andrew: These are, by and large, local requirements and industry initiatives, so I would argue that they impact Australian manufacturers the most.
How is the industry working to overcome challenges?
Andrew: For years now, the food industry — through the efforts of the AFGC — has taken a collaborative approach to self-manage labelling requirements versus the additional information that consumers require today.
And this year marked the launch of one of our own major projects. GS1 Australia worked with major retailers, leading food companies, the AFGC, Australian universities and national health organisations for three years to develop the GS1 GoScan smartphone app We launched this in March, to a huge reception, which was great.
What does the app do?
Andrew: GoScan empowers consumers by giving them detailed, personally tailored and trusted product information. And it does this in a way that’s quick and consumers are comfortable with: a free iPhone application. We’ll also have an android version this year. The app’s development included trials that highlighted the potential of GS1 GoScan to influence consumer behaviour and product selection. It has very positive benefits for people suffering allergies, diabetes, who have impaired hearing or special diets, such as Halal, Kosher or vegan.
I’m happy to say that the integrity and reliability of the GS1 GoScan data is unsurpassed: brand owners authorise and directly supply it to us.
Also, GoScan also gives brand owners additional channel to communicate directly with consumers, and increased engagement via product alerts and targeted advertising.
GS1 has just celebrated the barcode’s 40th anniversary. How does it remain relevant in the industry today?
Andrew: Forty years ago, retailers asked brand owners to put the barcode symbol on their products. This symbol is now being used to communicate an expanding array of product information to today’s digital consumers, and it enables selling in the rapidly growing e-commerce environment.
What started off as simple core data to support the supply chain — such as net weight and product type — has evolved to include retailer data to improve retail operations. And now it’s exploded, as consumers want more and more information about the products they are buying.
What it comes down to is manufacturers, retailers and suppliers all need the barcode to carry more information than ever, while maintaining accuracy and avoiding unnecessary costs. This is our goal.
So how will GS1 meet this challenge?
Andrew: We have a vision for the future: Next Generation Product Identification. The industry can potentially realise greater benefits, across the value chain, by providing more product information to participants.
Phase one of the NGPI project identified five data items as the most desirable to include in a future information strategy. We expect these to evolve over time, but for now they are:
- product variant number,
- expiry date,
- lot number, and
- serial number.
To deliver this vision, we want to build new capabilities using existing GS1 carriers, such as the EAN code, QR code, and Data Bar. In this way, companies and trading partners can choose to use those capabilities in situations where value can be added.
So really, it’s an exciting road ahead for the world of barcoding.
GS1 Australia is a not-for-profit organisation working with more than 16,000 Australian businesses of all sizes to help them become more efficient and drive costs out of their value chain. It is the only authorised provider of GS1 barcode numbers in Australia. Matthews is a Strategic Alliance Partner of GS1 Australia.