Increasingly, consumers are concerned about what is in the food they are eating and how ethically it was produced. There is a growing pressure from the man-in-the-street for food producers and retailers to be more transparent with the origins of their products, and this calls for technology that can deliver such a pertinent task.

According to Thomas Robbertse, CEO of traceability experts, IQ Logistica, there has been a gradual power shift from the supply side to the consumer, which has been brought about by consumers becoming more knowledgeable about food products.

“Consumers are anxious about food safety and want to know the truth about a food product they buy – what exactly they are eating, its origin, product attributes, how it was produced, was it produced in a socially equitable manner, its environmental friendliness, etc,” Robbertse said.

The advent of the Internet and social media has increased the consumer’s knowledge base, with platforms like Facebook and Twitter giving people a voice that can spread news, for instance on contaminated food, like wildfire.

“The tide has turned and there is no going back. The demands of consumers are on the up, whilst compliance regulation is also becoming stricter. Stakeholders in food supply chains are left with little choice, but to ensure that real traceability of their supply chains is implemented.”

Robbertse believes proper traceability is a win-win situation for the supply chain and the consumer. Traceability gives the supply chain increased certainty because of the greater operational visibility that is established. This in turn builds trust with consumers, which should lead to increased preference towards the specific products.

Earlier this year, Doug McMillon, president and CEO of the international retail conglomerate Wallmart that has the majority shareholding in the local Massmart group with brands like Makro and Game, predicted that customers will demand increased transparency around pricing and the supply chain into the future. He said they will have less time to research the products they buy, but they will care even more about how they are sourced.

“They’ll choose to shop with retailers who provide that transparency so they can feel good about the items they purchase. This will require retailers to work with manufacturers to source items responsibly and sustainably. Retailers who do this and share the information will further earn customers’ trust,” McMillon said.

Hennie Ras, principal specialist of traceability and operations visibility at IQ Logistica, says the IQ Thentic  technologically advanced communication system that they have developed, ensures that traceability and sustainability can be proven within a supply chain.

“IQ Thentic can integrate a supply chain that deals with different commodities – from the raw product in its original state to the finished item on the shelf – that all need to be tracked differently, all using the same system and within the same database,” Ras said.

What makes the IQ Thentic technology remarkable is that it can handle all the transformation and value adding processes that a raw product undergoes in a value chain. In simple terms, it means the final food product on the shelf can be traced back to the farm on which it was produced.

“And when it comes to quality issues, the system can drill down to a specific event to identify the problem or to recall products.”

Traceability is tracked by way of a unique identifier. In IQ Thentic’s case, this is a QR code that identifies each individual item within each product line and also establishes an audit trail within and between the different organisations in the supply chain. When fully implemented throughout the supply chain, the product information is available immediately. The QR code on the final product is also the means by which the consumer can track the evolution of the product from its origin.  “We can do this regardless of the number of participants in the chain because the traceability platform is cloud-based – therefore it covers the value chain as an umbrella and links into each role-player’s own system,” Ras added.

By Dirk De Vynck