During a Product Recall, What If Your Food Could Tell You It’s Safe to Eat?

March 9, 2017

There’s never been a greater focus on what we eat and drink. Following numerous high-profile food recalls in the last few years—such as Mars’s massive international recall of candy bars made in its Dutch factory in early 2016 and the Tyson Foods chicken nuggets recall in September of the same year—consumers are more conscious than ever about what goes into their food.

And rightly so. Last year, the number of recalls in the UK relating to food and drink increased by a whopping 50 percent. In the US, research shows that FDA food recalls rose 12 percent in Q4 2016, reaching the highest level since Q1 2010. With these spikes in product recalls, food and beverage companies face rising costs and risk sinking brand reputations as a consequence of the current status quo.

Right now, when products need to be recalled, companies do their best to identify affected stock through their current information systems to quickly pull products back from retailers. They’ll then understandably adopt a catch-all method, which is “if in doubt, recall it,” whereby the defined affected product batches and pallets of stock produced between date x and date y will be isolated in the supply chain, be it in the company’s supply chain or in that of a third-party logistics providers (assuming they’re sharing data access). Then there’s the arduous process of pulling all compromised products from shelves, losing out on potential sales and causing havoc through the subsequent product flow inefficiencies triggered through the supply chain.

These things already combine to result in food recalls costing a brand millions of dollars, but there’s an even bigger potential loss in consumer trust, as the real challenge lies in advising people who have already purchased compromised products at retail to avoid consuming them—and to maintain their trust and positive attitude toward the brand.

The problem is there’s no quick-fire way for people to find out if the food or beverage they’re about to put in their mouths is safe before they swallow it. The best companies can do is issue a blanket statement to the press along the lines of, “If you’ve bought x product within y date range, please dispose of it,” and then just hope that everyone who purchased the defective product sees the warning and takes heed of it. It’s neither the most consumer-centric way of handling a situation nor is it the most efficient way of minimizing reputational and commercial damage.

So what can we do to turn this around? By giving individual products a unique digital identity, companies are now able to unlock “farm to fork” traceability of manufactured goods throughout the product lifecycle, giving a line of sight beyond the point of sale and bringing greater accuracy and efficiency to the entire recall process. This means critical real-time product information can be accessed wherever a product is in its journey, from point of manufacture, through retail, and into a consumer’s home. Through the digitization of food and beverage products, companies can not only pinpoint individual batches of compromised products once they’ve left the warehouse, but they can also directly connect with the end consumer when they are holding a product in their hand—something never before possible.

Let’s say you love eating soup, but you recently heard about a recall affecting the brand you have bought. By simply scanning a QR code on the label with your mobile phone, you’ll be served content that allows you to know immediately if this individual product has been recalled, while also informing you of ingredients and new varieties of soup from the brand. On the off-chance your soup has been recalled, you’ll receive a helpful message such as: “Thanks for scanning me! We’ve identified a rare batch problem that applies to me, and I should be thrown away. So sorry for your inconvenience. I’ll send you an e-voucher for a new one of me for free.”

Internet of Things smart products and packaging technology allows CPG companies to optimize their supply chain transparency and greatly simplify product recalls, all while communicating better with consumers. Moreover, companies can actually turn a potential public relations nightmare into a more positive brand interaction. Think about it: If you hear about a recall, but you can easily find out if your food and drinks are safe to consume, you’re going to feel better, and more taken care of, simply because a brand is able to tell you right away (and does its very best to make it up to you).

No company can prevent product recalls from ever happening. But by giving products a digital life, you can make a giant leap in saving time and potentially millions of dollars, while directly engaging with consumers to regain any deteriorating trust and brand reputation.

Learn more about what smart products can do for your business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simon Jones

Simon Jones

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