Knowing the origin of food is becoming more of an issue for consumers. In January 2013, the European Consumer Organisation conducted a consumer survey on origin labelling and found that almost 70% of consumers in central Europe considered the origin as an important factor when buying food. Given the recent food scandals with meat, this number has more than likely increased over the last three years. In a recent trends article we featured on FoodBev.com about the rise of the socially conscious shopper, Nikki Austen said that “there had been a huge drive in recent years to educate consumers about the processes, politics and often, the injustices involved in the worldwide food chain and how the food we buy and consume is obtained”.
With the aim of educating consumers about the origin of their food, a company called OriginTrail has created an app that allows users to track the entire supply chain of their product before they purchase it. While aiding consumers, this app is also a big breakthrough for brands that now have the opportunity to showcase their ethical practices and stand out in the market. We spoke to co-founder Tomaž Levak about the app and what it means for the market.
Tell us about OriginTrail. What inspired it?
OriginTrail was inspired by a project that the three cofounders (Žiga Drev, Tomaž Levak and Branimir Rakić) did back in their student days. Back then we were trying to find the most efficient way to explain to shoppers how one brand of organic meat was really special because they knew exactly which farm their meat was coming from. We helped them with their marketing and really felt that, in their case, full transparency of their supply chain is something that shoppers would value. The result of this work was the first version of the system which was still based on QR codes, and it has indeed shown tangible value for that organic meat producer.
After finishing our studies we decided to turn this project into a more coherent product that would be interesting for more food producers. We entirely redesigned the concept and started basically from scratch. For example, we quickly dropped the QR codes based on market feedback and instead focussed on information that is already available on the product (EAN codes, expiry dates, LOT numbers). This means that products no longer have to be modified to enter the OriginTrail system, which brought implementation costs close to zero.
The entire OriginTrail system consists of several parts, out of which the most visible to shoppers are the OriginTrail mobile application and iframes on the websites of food producers in the system. Behind the curtain we can also find an online dashboard for producers that make it easier to control everything that is displayed to shoppers through a single interface.
How does the app work and how long did it take to create?
The OriginTrail app allows shoppers to scan barcodes on any food product that is included in our system. Scanning the barcode immediately gives users general information about the product (nutritional values, description, etc). In order to access the information about traceability, users enter the expiry date and/or LOT number that is printed on the packaging. By doing this, the entire trail of origin is unveiled for shoppers all the way back to every single farm that provided ingredients for a particular product. A similar process can be carried out directly on the website of a producer through the OriginTrail iframe that can be implemented there.
The entire system took around ten months from pen and paper sketches to the first version being on the market. With our team expanding in the meantime, we have shortened our development cycles for new functionalities.
Why do you think OriginTrail will help brands stand out and differentiate themselves?
The origin of food is becoming ever more important for shoppers that want information about food they are consuming. Trends like eating organic and eating local are just two instances proving this point. It is not surprising that so many food producers are going the extra mile to convince shoppers their products have special provenance.
With OriginTrail they gain a tool to do that more effectively. As we know, “actions speak louder than words” and with our system brands can now unveil the story of their product all the way back to every farm that provided the ingredients to make it. Such transparency builds much more trust than simply stating something in your marketing communications or on the packaging.
Tell us about the in-app messaging system. What is its function and what effect will it have?
This functionality was developed with a view to making the relationship between shoppers and brand owners even closer. By including messaging capability in our mobile application we effectively turned every product on the shelf into an interaction point between a shopper and brand owner. This can also be used for special marketing purposes, lucky draws and so on. Since this has been added fairly recently, we are still waiting for it to be fully exploited.
Do brands or consumers have to pay for the app?
All shopper functionalities of OriginTrail are free for shoppers. Brand owners of food products, on the other hand, pay a certain monthly fee that is determined by the type and number of products that are entered in the system. There is also a possibility for “white label” customisation of the mobile application for potential partners with several brands (retailers, e-commerce, etc).
Where is the app available and how many users do you currently have?
The OriginTrail system is currently live in Slovenia and we are seeking to spread it across other European countries soon. In Slovenia, the mobile application was downloaded more than 5,000 times and the number is still growing with new producers entering the system. Another positive thing that we have noticed is significant use of the OriginTrail iframe implemented on the websites of our partners.
In what sectors of the food and beverage industry will the app be most successful?
According to some research we were able to find, shoppers are most interested and concerned about the origin of the following food categories: meat, vegetables and dairy products. This is also why we believe OriginTrail can bring the most value in those verticals. These three groups of food products are also where our system is currently operational. We have implemented it on premium quality poultry meat, packed vegetables, and dairy products. Our plans for the future include spreading the system to products with special designation of origin where provenance is also highly important.
Significant value can also be delivered in the case of retailers that are specifically careful with selecting their suppliers and wish to communicate this with their shoppers. This can be done for traditional “brick and mortar” grocery stores as well as for e-commerce platforms.
What are you working on in 2016?
Our goals for 2016 are to expand the OriginTrail concept to other European countries and to keep delivering value for brands that are a part of our system. We also have some new upgrades up our sleeve that we wish to test and develop in cooperation with our current and new partners. ￼
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