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5 Star Food Labels

** Updated :) ** Imagine if you could walk into a market or store and know quickly which are the best products to buy in terms of local and good. This concept proposes a really simple 5 star labelling system to give you people this information.

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Written by DeletedUser

I was at my local supermarket earlier thinking about this challenge. As I shopped I thought that no matter how much I grow myself or source from a local butcher there are always things Ill need to buy that I just don't know what their origin is without checking every label and reading small print or asking repetitive questions. So I thought that it would be great to have a simple way to compare products to each other.

What’s the Big Idea?

The big idea is that every single food item will come with a simple food label showing how good it is to the world.

How does this work?

Lets’s imagine we’re in a shop, and in front of us are 3 apple pies, each looks delightfully yummy, but one costs a little more, and I have no way of telling which one I want to choose. Imagine if there were simple 5 Star labels on each showing how good it is in terms of how it’s grown, produced, and transported. Would it be easier to choose an apple pie then?

To understand how the system could work, let’s follow an apple pie through it’s life.

When the farmer grows an apple, he goes online and fills out a simple questionnaire about the way he farms, ranging from organics to fairtrade. With the help of experts who set up the questions and analysis of the answers, at the end of it his apple gets a score out of 5 stars. Every ingredient needed for the pie arrives at the bakers with a score. The baker enters the pie recipe into the same website, (but a different form!) and also completes information about how he runs the bakery, again ranging from energy consumption, packaging to fairtrade. With the help of some more experts, at the end of this his pie gets a score out of 5 stars.

The apple pie now goes to the distributor, who enters the previous score, and the details for how and where the pie is going, and voila! The pie now has a final score out of 5 stars, and the shop that sells it puts on the final labels.

But wait! What if someone buys an apple that was grown by the farmer right down the road? Well, if either the production or transportation stage don’t happen at all, then the item gets full marks for that stage. So the more local and unprocessed an item is the easier it is for it to score high.

Thanks to all the help with examples and ideas on how to shape this system Amy Fuller, Keme, Randy Steward, Simone Gourguechon, Sean Hewens, lavourCrusader, Andreas Petsas, Ronan Harrington and especially alfredo achecar and  Jonatan Wentzel who helped me think through questions I had.

What if someone lies?

This system is complex enough without every single piece of the food production world being visited by a range of experts to assess it. So this concept pools their knowledge into creating the right questions and assessment system for the rating system.

But what is someone lies? Well every producer has to be open for inspection up to once per month, and this could be done by volunteers. The world is full of wonderful people who care enough to take a little time to visit a farm or factory and afterwards fill out a simple form reporting on what they saw. Additionally the 5 Star system send out it’s own inspectors on random visits, sometimes to check the producer, other times to check the volunteer assessment.

But what if someone lies? The item automatically loses 1 star from it’s final store rating for every link in the chain that has been recorded on the system as lying.

Thanks so much to Jonatan Wentzel for the idea of adding a 'truthfulness score'.

How does it look in shops?

No matter how complex the system behind it is, the label must stay simple, it’s always just 5 stars! A possible add-on could be a QR code, or identification number, which allows people to visit a website and track the produce they’re eating, from farm to mouth. Some lovely concepts that I've built on show this potential wonderfully.

Why will people choose the higher ranked products?

I’m hopeful that people will choose the higher ranked foods based on 2 simple reasons:

1. There will be a large information campaign letting people know how the system works and why it’s important. There have been so many wonderful OpenIDEO concepts created around making people aware of the benefits of locally produced and good food that I trust one could apply perfectly for this situation.

2. The 5 Star way of ranking happens all the time in daily life, from films and books to restaurants. I’m hoping that the natural cultural psyche will automatically lead people to picking the higher ranked items.

Thanks to Andreas Petsas for helping me think about this part of the concept.

This looks very complicated, where would we even start?

Simple, begin with the things which can easily be marked, raw foods like fruit and vegetables, small scale locally produced stuff, and produce that goes direct from farm to buyer. Create the demand among consumers for the Star rating, then grow the system organically as more and more producers want to get involved to reach show their credibility. Eventually, when the system has become robust enough it can be made law that all packaging has to feature this label.

What’s the Big Idea?

That people will be simply able to make better choices and that pressure to rank highly will reform the way food is produced and consumed.


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Thanks so much to everyone's comments, suggestions, ideas and examples. I've updated the concept to take it the feedback and my work on figuring out how the system works. As you'll see I left figuring out the 'good' level metrics to experts, because simply I don't know enough to figure it out and I trust other people in this regard far more than myself. I was influenced quite a bit by the Good Guide in this, who pool the knowledge of experts in how they measure products. Let me know what you think of the updated concept! Thanks a million :)

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