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Building 'Transparency' App (updated)

Wouldn't it be great to have a better understanding of where the food in our supermarkets comes from? Imagine if you could scan a bar code and be shown instant information on where the food has come from, who the producer is and how long it took to grow/produce?

Photo of Louise Wilson

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The idea of an 'on the go' App has come from the successful 'seafood watch' App that I posted as inspiration. I would love to be able to go into a supermarket and discover the origin of the item I am buying. It would need a supermarket chain to take it up as a means of creating transparency and showing they are conscious of the need to educate their customers. This of course would be a big PR device and help their CSR credentials.

I have sketched a very rough schematic to show how it might work
1. Use App on smart phone to scan a bar code
2. App let's you look at the distance the product has travelled, where it has come from/where it was grown, cost of the product (to be expanded/developed/amended).
3. an overview page gives you a summary of how each section is rated.

There a number of hurdles that would need to be overcome:
- the information needs to be standardised.
- the information must not stop customers buying the product or the shop will not stock it!
- the information should be an awareness raiser, not a scare tactic
- simple graphics/icons must be used for simplicity.

Building on Tom's 'Windown on the Farm' concept, the App helps the consumer understand the producers provenance and information on their products, guides them and makes them feel they have made an educated choice in what they have bought.

This may only work for fruit and veg or items which are not combine with anything else. The tin can in the sketch is only used to get an idea across ;-)

~ Builds ~

Thank you to everyone who has given me such feedback, fantastic comments, inspiration and community support. I've had a think about the concept I first posted and want to buid on it. (I have 'built' on the inspiration and concepts mentioned below - this has been really helpful - thanks team!)

Let's...
- include a 'what is my footprint at the start of my shop' section. It would allow people to realise how getting to the supermarket affects their carbon footprint - travelling my bicycle would give them a very small footprint to start with whereas driving would give them a fairly large footprint to start with.

- include a simple labelling system (Arjun's graphic labelling idea or printing on packaging idea) which can quickly identify if a food is 'good' or 'bad'.  This can be linked to ....

- ...'miles travelled' which would show the distance the various ingredients have travelled to the site of production and to the store. Adding a GPS system would allow this calculation to be completed (eg see the 'GoodGuide' app)

- include non smart phone users (my mum!) in the process. An instore scan mechanism (think of the hand held scanners that allow you to price up your shop and avoid queuing) would allow access to the same information (it would be important for someone to regulate the information being provided if away from the packaging)

- Capture the story behind the product by scanning the already existing bar code (which would also mean that additional tags/tickets/printing isn't necessary). It would need to be integrated with products that are already associated with a certification scheme so that the information can be successfully captured.

- Add a link to organic meat to help explain why the cost is higher than non-organic is a great addition. It would help demystify the reason for paying a premium.

- include information on the energy and time needed to cook your food would help non-foodie-cooks to realise what impact their preparation has on the environment. If a frozen pizza brings up a 'you will used xxx amount of energy' to cook it, the user will hopefully question the need to eat it in the first place!

Concept builds

A key point to make clear with this App concept is that each consumer would download the application to their smart phone and have an account which is linked to a supporting website. The unique username will allow the consumer to track their purchases and therefore make informed decisions each time the consumer returns to the supermarket. This service also means that consumers with accounts will be able to leave reviews, comment on products and share food experiences. Additional aspects (based on incentives for the consumers) could be: - recipe ideas - grocery store reviews/ratings - price history - BOGOF/offer notifications I have discovered that there is an App in Australia which scans bar codes for allergens! http://bit.ly/j8H2gt - this is great news as it means that the technology has been developed for a similar idea which is already being put into practise. Described as an iPhone app that is designed 'to scan a food’s barcode at the supermarket to determine whether it’s safe to eat', the App is utilising all packaged food products that carry a barcode - it's use has been stated as 'limited' but this is expected for a pilot project. Allergens have been mentioned by the community as something that should be included in the Transparency App but I had to admit I was sceptical! I see the App as starting out using information that is readily available; - nutrition levels, - country of origin, - method of transport, - best before date, - certifications (if any!) Once producers are used to providing the information, the list can be expanded but I would not be keen to suggest new information being integrated at the start of the App development.

What actions would need to be taken to turn this idea into a reality?

some initial thoughts.... - Producer/grocery store partnership. - A clear, clever set of graphics that engage with the consumers. - Advertising campaign to raise awareness. - Co-design with consumers to find out what will make them use the App. - A supporting website which is linked to the App.

Who might make a good partner for this project?

- A grocery store that has strong sustainability credentials. they need to be believeable and respected for the sustainability actions they currently take. - Getting a group of farmers who possibly all sell at the same farmers market might be a good group to get on board. - Partnering with a company who are doing something similar; Patagonia have a great example of engaging graphics, Gaia Herbs http://gaiaherbs.com/pages/detail/38/Meet-Your-Herbs have an App which allows you to 'meet your herbs' and the Seafood Watch are already giving guidance on sustainable seafood. - Food research institutions would need to be included in the process for their insight and knowledge. - Organisations like GreePeace, Rainforest Alliance etc would need to have a say in what information was included so that they were supportive!

What suggestions would you have for potential sources of funding for the development of this project?

I can see local government being a potentail funding sourse or a large technological company who want to be seen to be doing good. The building of the App wouldn't be expensive but getting the producers and supermarkets on board could be expensive. I think it's only fair to say that help would need to be provided for all stakeholders to make sure they provide the relevant information. The fact that similar apps are already on the market and that Google Image API already exists makes this App. fairly simple to realise! Also, simply getting one supermarket to fund, support and produce the App would be a real incentive for them to get on board - being the first to market for repeated consumers, PR and CSR credentials must be a real pull. Teaming up with Sina and his Eatcyclopedia could be a huge help with making this happen.

Virtual team

James McBennett Tom DeLuca Pete C Duncan Ferguson Russell Jellinek Johan Lofstrom Robin Waldroup Ryan L Sarah Fathallah Arjan Tupan Miles Masci Sean Hewens Bob Stark Natalie G. Anne-Laure Fayard Colin Cather Noella Boudart Huw Griffiths Roshua Jarb Tom Hulme

140 comments

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Photo of Congmin Liang

"The fact that similar apps are already on the market and that Google Image API already exists makes this App. fairly simple to realise! Also, simply getting one supermarket to fund, support and produce the App would be a real incentive for them to get on board - being the first to market for repeated consumers, PR and CSR credentials must be a real pull. " It also have a similar apps like Wechat, which is belong to the Tencent that to connect food product and consumption by scan the bar code, and the consumers could even sell their own to others.
Also the sell could even do some promotion on their products to attract more consumers to purchase their products and make a great reputation on the internet. Then through more and more people purchasing, it will also bring more customers and also to produce more kind of products to sell online.

Photo of Congmin Liang

To teaming up with Sina and his Eatcyclopedia will help a lot. Sina is a famous company that doing the social media and social network. It could be a great opportunity to advertise their products to allow millions of people to know and understand it. I believe that all the Chinese people is familiar with Sina and almost everyone are using the Weibo to connect people, even the famous people are also using it.

And here is a great example that to meet this topic: the Domina Pizza. They have their own apps to allow people make their order on their mobile advice and also allow consumers to track their orders on the apps through the working bar. It could show us what they do, such as the order is preparing before cook, food is cooking through the bar goes, and the progress of the order whether it right to deliver or not, which could all shows online to easy to track.

Photo of Fei Xin

I like your point with "the Domina Pizza. They have their own apps to allow people make their order on their mobile advice and also allow consumers to track their orders on the apps through the working bar. It could show us what they do, such as the order is preparing before cook, food is cooking through the bar goes, and the progress of the order whether it right to deliver or not, which could all shows online to easy to track." So it is a good example let people know that how it works, more clearly to understand how to use that.

Photo of Fei Xin

I really like this idea. Building 'Transparency' App can let people know the food which factory production? know the food production process and which supermarket will be delivery? Besides, people also can check whether the food is fresh, and it will not be harmful to people's health. In addition, the 'Transparency' app is a very convenient system for people, which can be downloaded at any time in the mobile phone, so people could scan the food to know the food souces and more informations. Nowadays, it is very useful for people. Because more and more people pursue to eat fresh food and have healthy body. So I will looking forward to know more development about that.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Another hurdle I could see is the quality of information about each product. How much and what ranking would be generated by producers? farmers? users?

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

I'm in love with this concept. I think the evaluation qualities are mostly right (distance traveled, etc.). I'm on board with some of the folks below about not adding yet another layer--like a QR code--to the food labeling process. Is it possible to add a level to the product's barcode or food label (for fruit)? For example, there are apps-like ShopSaavy--that use existing barcodes to add info.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi Louise,

This is great news re. the allergens apps. I've sent the link to two grad students (in a creativity elective) who did a project last fall which was the idea to develop an application for vegetarians and people with allergy. It's funny because originally I was a bit skeptical about the needs / demands. :-)
I think it's a great way for you to build upon something already existing.
I agree with you that it's better to start with a restricted amount of information and build up rather than getting people overloaded with information.

I also like your idea to collaborate with people who do engaging graphics.

cheers,

al

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Hey Louise!

Great idea and i am sure the amount and level of product details can easily be amplified according to needs.

But, i believe that in this modern world filled with high tech. It is not the technological barriers that we should worry about. But, the question is how would you stimulate people to be drawn to the concept?

This concept has done very well to answer that question. Rather than having a tag on the product, which will only be a fad, the idea of having an online service with several add ons is a great idea!

Coming from a developing country like India, I am tempted to think about the benefit of having price history associated with the concept. I am sure people would love to have an idea of the price movements.

Great Concept!

Big Applause!

Cheers!
Srini

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi Louise,

I was thinking of you the other day while buying some fruits and vegetables. In one case, the tomatoes were from Holland so I did not buy them... but in other cases, I was not sure where the fruits and vegetables were coming from. I used the difference in prices as a proxy... not really anything new but just to show that you're already having an impact. :-)
cheers,
al

Photo of Louise Wilson

Ahh, that's so lovely! Where do you live if you weren't happy to be Dutch tomatoes?? Price is a hard measure to judge distance by but I'm sure a number of people do this!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

I live in NY. I agree that it might not be a good proxy, but I'm sure people do. :-)

Photo of Louise Wilson

I'm sure people do too! Good to see you checking the origin ;-)

Photo of Tom Hulme

Hi Louise

Your concept got a great reception with the workshop participants - everyone agreed that it had the potential to bring communities together and to change eating habits for the good.

One of the participants came from http://foodconnect.com.au/ - we discussed ways of setting up the simplest possible trial with him. We wondered if we could generate barcodes or QR codes that link straight to his farmers' pages that consumers could scan initially.

For example, you can see a QR code generated by Bit.ly at the top right here: http://bit.ly/mf9Kfi+

If it's scanned it would take the user straight to the producer's page: http://bit.ly/mf9Kfi

It could be a fun way to run a trial and start taking steps toward your full service... Congrats on a great concept - I love all of the builds that you have included

Cheers
Tom

Photo of Johan Löfström

Tom, that pilot project seems to be extremely easy to set-up.

the only hurdle i see is that users need to be able to download a QR-reader-App with only a simple click on a button, perhaps a huge graphic instructional poster in the entrance of the store is enough to give them this?

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Tom. Great to hear 'live feedback' from the workshop and I love the ideas you have shared. A simple barcode or QR system is necessary to start with. Once the app has created momentum and people are engaged with it, it can be developed and scaled to reach more people. I see it being a common app for anyone going shopping but it needs clever app development first!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi, I like the quick prototyping idea. You could test the type of information people would really want to see as well as the interaction style. al

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Anne-Laure. I want to see the principle proven before trying to be too ambitious. I love the ideas being introduced to this concept but it needs trying on a small scale first

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Great idea, by the way. I have spent a lot of time thinking about something similar, so I'd like to help you make it work!

The key to this idea, I think is to be able to provide services to every actor in the supply chain (farmers, vendors, distributers, grocery store, and then consumers). This is because without offering everyone a service, they have no business incentive to: release data for your application/carry products that use your application/actually use your application.

For example, a distributer could use a similar system for their own business operations (visualizing their own supply chain, where they sell, expected traveling costs, etc). Similarly, a farmer could plan who they will sell their produce to, what farmers markets they will go to, how they can maximize their profits (so they can continue operating in the future!)

As your concept mentions, this is also true for the grocery store. If they aren't getting any benefit from the app (or the app is a negative incentive for some products), then they won't include it in their store.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Agree Bob, everyone in the supply chain needs incentivising for a service to be successful. I see the key stakeholders for this app. being the Grocery Store and the consumer. Both need to benefit while remembering that the product marketing team will be keen to add value to their product and the farmer will be keen to promote their produce. this is why I love the Patagonia inspiration - it lists the positive and negative points of a product. This is not about making one product look much better than another but about adding transparency to the product so that the consumer can make informed decisions!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Exactly my thought. Also, if a supplier doesn't have an incentive, they won't tag the product and the grocery store won't have data about shipping. Similarly, for more processed food, there are even more organizations in between the farmer and the grocery store that need to be incentivized in order to make the supply chain tracking work. This is, in my opinion, a very hard problem, so kudos to you for tackling it!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

However, if you were to start with isoloated markets like schools or summer camps, the incentive for producers to be transparent would be that we put them in touch with schools and camps that demand transparency. That is, if a local farm has his transparency/production/distribution information- we recommend it to companies who are using a producer who is not transparent/organic, and hopefully for a competitive price.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

P.s. The Business incentive could also be that they get a Checkmark/Some sort of verification and if they do not comply/deny our request to take part in the guilty. We list them on the site- accusing them of being up to something dirty- so giving them incentive, however harsh, to comply.

Photo of Louise Wilson

I agree Josh (?) but it would be hard to set up a verification mark at the start. This would require policy involvement and an organisation to keep track... I think having a 'review' section which consumers update could be more powerful. It will take time for momentum to be gained but empowering the end users to be in charge of keeping track of how producers are doing could be better!?

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

True--- The only worry i had about the review section would be that corporations would, like they have with wikipedia, go and edit entries to make them more flattering. . .

Not sure how to deal with that. As long as it was explicitly a review section and the users weren't editing the actual entries, that would work. Also- bad press/controversy about the companies involved should be posted so consumers can be aware of ongoing litigation against the companies practices.

Photo of Johan Löfström

@ Roshua Jaab that issue is a non-issue. if a company makes an edit on wikipedia, there are at least 10 others that re-edit or backs up the history so the facts are facts.

And imagine if you have a peer-review system like Facebook "Like-thumbs" it would be clear if you will get one up and 5-10 thumbs down. You could probably see that the one good rating is from "an insider". it is very transparent as long as you get more actual independent users than possible insider trolls.

Photo of Louise Wilson

that was the point I was trying to get at too, guys. Peer pressure and consumer engagement is a powerful tool!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

@Johan

Yes. A rating system is needed like Trust/Boycott (haha). . . But really- while I try to be positive about peer-review, they are more subtle changes than straight lying or denying which can be much more deleterious to the transparency initiative. See this trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1YYv_J2csk especially starting at 1:20. . . . . need to find a way to stop that sort of control over the content. Perhaps giving the companies a place on the site where they can offer official statements on some information. If it is litigation or a factory death or a blatant omission (like the ingredients of Coca Cola's "secret recipe") companies should have the opportunity to save face (since they are not always evil) without having to sneak around.

Photo of Louise Wilson

It will require a good industry partner who can keep control on the data too. Patagonia have made it work but mainly because they are a trusted source with sustainability credentials. If they made a bad claim the press (and regulatory bodies?) would be all over it in seconds....

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

yes- patagonia is also known for how well they treat their employees. . this should perhaps be an important detail of a companies credibility?. i.e. the coffee might be certified single source, but that might be a slave run farm. etc etc. - patagonia is ( i believe) employee owned, maybe how a company treats their employees should be rated as an aspect of food transparency.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Great to see all your iterative goodness playing our here, Louise. There was significant interest in your concept during our workshops at the Ideas Festival in Brisbane. You're updating so fast that many of the kinds of things that were being suggested are being also discussed here and added my you and your virtual team. Loading this kind of information for all products in a supermarket is seen as a challenge. Who would govern and handle this process? How would potential data suppliers be incentivised to take part? (We're noting that Arjan starts to talk about potential partners below) Excited to see what might ensue in the remaining few days of refinement – top job on collaborative concepting!

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks OpenIDEO. This type of concept is only possible with the amazing online collaboration that's been happening. Hats off to you for gathering such a great crowd of people!

Photo of Johan Löfström

Another aspect of the "energy-use for cooking" is that foodies can create challenges and compete with their friends, like : i spent only "X energy-units" for cooking this whole week, because i ate mainly salad and sandwiches.
( kwh could be too complicated to use , perhaps invent a name/title for this "energy-unit" )

Maybe the power and utility companies would not want to sponsor this electricty-saving scheme, but other organisations would be interested in funding it, perhaps Greenpeace or those lobbyorganisations that are against coal and nuclear power?

Photo of Louise Wilson

Lovely build, Johan! Defo an idea for version 2! Let's get the consumer using this app. on a basic level to understand the food they buy directly from the supermarket, then we'll get them competing against each other for a more sustainable lifestyle!

your contributions have been invaluable!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

You should start by working with summer camps to pressure their suppliers to be transparent and then offer the kids grocery lists of participating grocery stores/producers for when they go home.

Photo of Louise Wilson

can you ellaborate? How can you get summer camps on board? May be a US thing!?

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

mass consumers like schools or summer camps can pressure companies into being transparent by "threatening" to switch to a more transparent/honest/healthy supplier. In this case two things would happen, an already transparent (or listed on the site) company would get new business or a product/company that was before unlisted will upload information in order to keep their clients. . . something like that?

Photo of Louise Wilson

thanks, understand better now! I think this also relates to the point made further up about consumer engagement and getting a body of people behind it. I haven't added this into the build simply because I think it needs trialling on a smaller scale before taking these kind of actions but it's definitely being kept for later development

Photo of Timothy Li

Great concept! What about placing these app tags at the sign. This would reduce se tagging costs esp if food comes in lots from the same farms and picked from the same time. Also what about doing some cool augmented reality stuff (like making signs that are invisible, but when you hover your phone camera over appears next to the stand)? Just a thought!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Not even- the google image search api can recognize any product by just taking a picture of its label.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Is the google image search API good for all products? How would it work with a banana for example? doesn't it rely on bar codes?

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

for bananas you would take a picture of the sticker OR be able to enter the company name. Otherwise, yes there would be no way. But i don't want a barcode on my banana.. . most have stickers there are only 4-5 big banana producers in the whole world (as far as I know, Chiquita, Dole.. etc). The project I had in mind would not be intended for fresh produce so much as it would be for processed foods like doritos or anything packaged. . . No?

Photo of Louise Wilson

yes, that works and I agree that you wouldn't want a bar code on your banana. I would like the system to work with fresh fruit and veg too. This challenge is about connecting the rural farmer with the urban consumer which to means screams fresh fruit and veg. People often don't associate fresh fruit and veg with travelling large distances which can be harmful to the environment. And, people often don't see value in local foods because they simply see a cost and not a story.... I'd like to include a shelf labelling system too to include these!

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Hi Louise,
About the possible partners for this concept: I think there are two basic angles to look at it. First the data collection. For this app to work, you need to have the right data. Possible partners are the Seafood Watch app you mentioned, but also the GoodGuide and the Australian allergen app. Also, you could consider some governmental organisations or food research institutions.
The second angle would be implementation partners. I would start with a supermarket chain that has a proven track record in sustainability. But maybe producers associations or the Farmers' Markets Association (I believe there is such a thing in Australia) could be good partners for this app.
Hope my 2 cts add something :)

Photo of Louise Wilson

Your comments are much appreciated, Arjan ;-) Thank you. Finding a supermarket with strong sustainability credentials is key....

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Another idea: allow consumers to have their own account. This way, they can login to a web site and look at/analyze their past purchases and make personal goals for their future purchases (like Mint.com). Also, it could allow them to social network with other people (e.g., post about a new product they bought that they loved) and even act as a digital grocery list replacement (i.e., plan for things they want to buy based on what they need).

Photo of Louise Wilson

This should have already been mentioned in the app. Sorry if it's not clear. I see each consumer being able to keep track of their actions so that they can trace their shops and make improvments on what they are purchasing.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Yes, indeed. It would be good to make it clearer in the post if you intend to have an out-of-store entry point. The graphic makes it look like scanning the product is always the first step. Hope that helps!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

it should be like a less democratic wikipedia- we verify employees of the companies and allow them to add their defense or accusation.

It could be fairly simple in the starting stages- getting participating companies to offer coupons or free stuff to users that do data entry for each product.

No QR code is needed- the google image API searches all products perfectly and could link you to the relevant page.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Good insight about google image API! Thanks ;-) I like the idea of getting participating companies to offer coupons for data entry. It would be a good incentive for consumers to use the app effectively.

Photo of Johan Löfström

I wrote about some of these related points in Kirks Discover-Card-concept, but I had your concept in my focus at the same time ,so here you go :

Incentivising ideas :
if I did just start to use this App, i would be much more inclined to use more frequently if I could see statistics from the "top 10 users in my region" (perhaps remove identification so you cannot see their names but only their shopping patterns and how much they saved this month and in what proportion they choose local-organic-foreign)

If users could form or join an informal and virtual "group" in their area or with a special interest (see Kiva.orgs user groups) the users can probably on facebook or another social forum give advice to each other on bargains and what time of week it is best to shop, to get freshest produce that just got delivered to their closest shop. (based on delivery routes and gps-markers on what area each customer lives in)

Perhaps getting groups to create informal second-hand-markets for coupons/recipes? and helping eachother out to find temporary bargains? (could become a valuable source of collecting fees to pay for the system)
Making groups compete to get higher energy-efficiency in their kitchens and less fossil-fuels spent on their trips from the stores? Make the store-owners pay for awards and price ceremony? (cheap way for them to get publicity)

Perhaps shop-owners will be able to locate and recognize a couple of the App-users that often recommend certain recipes that require some types of in-season crops that generally are not selling so much, if there was functionality to discover the pattern of these groups, what they recommend to each other. (Identifying who is the early-adopter and spreading the good rumours to many?)
Letting shopowners test new products on these early-adopters? Helping shop buy in temporary big batches of some certain products that the App-users promote amongst themselves to create the buzz and clearing the big batch at a quicker turn-over than the shop would normally have!
Letting chain-stores create competitions to spread information about their best products. Letting them send messages in the App to create more awarenes and motivate more people to become "early-adopters" and enhance the average customers eagerness to test new products.
That is very valueable to chain-stores, and they would definitely profit from this functionality!

I hope you can get something out of all of my last-minute-ideas! :D

Photo of Johan Löfström

Hi, if you get this system adapted by only one big food chain, it would be possible to piggyback inside their bar code system, so you don't need printing any extra labels or a huge labelling system. And shops have already routines on adding new products and incuding data inside the bar codes.

If you get a couple of food chains involved there will be a reason for them to use same info of bar codes, (maybe this is already existing as a standard across stores?) but i could see an eventual funding opportunity if this system around the App took over some of the administrative side of bar codes, "out-sourcing" this from the shop-managers, would save them lots of time and energy.
---
And possibly you can add High-tech-features that allow the shops to have alternating prices that change gradually daily or hourly depending on current demand and season and what estimated future demand will be the next few days for this batch of produce (using virtuality inside the App-system)
---
(and by the way, you mention in the last few notes : ad-campaign as promoting the system. Let the stores do the promotion in-store, that is more efficiently. And the stores will get incentive to do marketing campaigs for the system if they see the effect and potential it will have)

If you are lucky and one big food chain sees the huge potential, you could even try to get them to pay a big fee to prevent you from selling it to any of their competitors! :)

Photo of Johan Löfström

Probably you could add a feature about how to practically sort and recycle the different packaging materials, and maybe the companies that collect and purchase recycled materials in bulk could be paying for the ad space to place their messages in the system.

Because, if they can get cleaner and more well-sorted materials to reuse, they save costs and can quicker reshape this material at faster turnover-rate.

This would help customers aswell, as it will help them save space in their kitchen trash-cupboard, reduce the frequency they need to take out the regular garbage bag, and help them find the closest collection-containers in their neighbourhood.

This could also help the shops, because it will probably become visible if there is few collection-containers in a region and lots of shoppers. So the shops could organize convenient collection-spot (permanently or scheduled temporary) in their parking-lot to cause shoppers to bring the recycling on their way to the shop.

If they make it scheduled they could use info from this system to figure out when most shoppers are interested in bringing their recycling from their home. (depending on season?)

so the shop does not need to occupy valuable parking spaces all the time, if the recycling-containers only stand there on a couple of days/evenings of the week.

Messages can be sent through this App to the customers in the area about reminders on what days the containers are on-site, before they are becoming full. (these messages should of course be paid for by both the shop and collection company) (when containers are full a message goes to collection company, this prevents people dumping their stuff outside the container)

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Part II: Perhaps a color coded system that references an "Impact Quotient" as @Russell Jelinek mentioned. The larger issues here are whether to use an adopted standard for the quotient or whether to use an existing standard or use and implement a new standard. At the point of this decision, a different color can be coded to symbolize different parameters. This can be represented in as simple a way as a colored sticker on an item. The original idea of Louise can then play in as the different layers that people can access information as needed at different times. An example is a clerk scanning a barcode and the resulting information of all the cumulative consumer's choices being tabulated into a corresponding (colored) bar graph displayed in view of all check-out stands. This way, it is clear how all the consumers of the particular store are buying without alienating any particular brands but leaving behind a general awareness of the impact based on the parameters set forth. The simpler the better. Red= many miles travelled... down to White= grown very close to home. As mentioned, the standard that defines the quotient can be very simple or can grow to accommodate a more complex set of data. This system is very clear to the entire general public. More complex apps that link your purchases to information regarding length of travel down to "impact of nutrient renewal from rural areas" (@Pete C mentioned) can then be added to a database of information from the barcode scanned. The impact comes from repeated visits and better decision making rather than relying on someone to do all of this research in a shopping environment (as mentioned in other comments).

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

This is a good idea for using current technology to help capture and distribute information in reference to the topic at hand. This idea pre-supposes that anyone/everyone is going to download and use an app. The basis of the idea alienates a very large and important demographic from the process. It seems like it would serve as more of an "A" on the report card of people who already are interested in the topic. I think a very simplified and clear mode of communication will be most effective.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi Louise,

very nice idea. Last fall, I had two Indian students in one of my classes (on creativity) who developed the idea of an apps that will allow you to know the exact ingredients in food. Their original issue was because they were vegetarian, but then they extended their concept to allergies (big in the US). So that links to suggestions you have in terms of other types of information you might include.

Yet, this leads to a limitation or constraints: how much information do you want to provide / can you provide? I'm just thinking of the way I do the food shopping. I would not want to spend hours going through tons of data about the products... and based on my observations of people in local grocery stores or at Trader Joe's, a grocery store based in the US (selling a lot of organic products).

Maybe there's a way to think of a first visually simple, user-friendly "overview" and then for people who want to know more they can explore more.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks for your comments, Anne-Laure. I want to make sure that the information provided is easy to access, easy to understand, can be related to and is visual. As this will be a database of information, the basics can be accessed on a smart phone with a link to more information on a supporting website. Although supporting information is great to have, it's more likely that people will take in small amounts of information at a time, building a bigger picture over time

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DeletedUser

Hi Louise - great idea...have you come across the Baa-Code?
http://www.icebreaker.com/site/baacode/index.html

might be some learnings, the thinking's far from woolly (sorry)

Photo of Louise Wilson

I hadn't come across the BaaCode before, thanks for the link. I love how easy they have made it to understand 'find it, type it, trace it' - great learnings!

Photo of Louise Wilson

I am totally overwhelmed by the amazing response I've had to this concept (wish I had put more effort into the original sketch now!) - thank you to everyone for your fantastic comments, help, support, thought joggers and builds! Please watch this space for my refinement but please keep your comments coming.

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Congrats Louise! When redoing the sketch, it might be better to use Waitrose as they were the first major supermarket in the world to sell organic food. Tesco, not so much....Although on second thoughts, maybe using the Australian companies might be better.

From my other idea to the one posted below, worth adding features

1. Allergy / Compatibility Ingredient Search - Meena
2. Goes well with - (Customer Vetted) ...Barcode on Pesto, shows a range of Pesto dishes. -Meena
3. Footprint (Water, Carbon, Energy, Waste) -Arjan
4. Recommendations from personal social network, at moment we buy Jamie Oliver's Sauce or Martha Stewart's, to take some of the OpenIDEO community, we might buy Arjan's Pasta, with Louise's tomato puree, Meena's choice of organic beef, Sina's Spices, Sarah's bread choice, Kirk recommended the wine and Johan chose the beers. Anuja and Krassimira endorsed the dessert. Also could include independent food critics and newspaper/magazine recommendations.
5. Price history - brings transparency to annoying marketing changes.
6. See comments section on every product submitted by personal social network, or local community.
7. Like-Tag buttons. Note Facebook changed the world again yesterday http://bit.ly/l1Zmvr
8. Compare products. Scan a few barcodes, and ask app to compare.
9. App gives reminders if the product is going out of date.
10. The Idealist: Important to remember product packaging is a product of a world that is not digital, not connected, corporations hiding data and so on, this may not be the world tomorrow. I expect packaging will change considerably reborn to the new app generation, going far beyond applied ornamental barcodes. This may be the standardisation of the barcode location, and guidelines to make sure it can be found within a nanosecond of looking at the product. But alot of thinking on this last point.

Photo of Louise Wilson

i love point number 4!!! Thanks for the comment

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DeletedUser

Love the social interaction of 2, 4, 6 & 7, but wondering if these may be better in a separate but interconnected app. This app has transparency at it's heart, and transparency is only trustworthy when the source is independent of commercial vested interests. The app must be entirely focused on the facts; once you start adding opinions (recommendations, favourites) that sway consumer buying habits, big commercial interests come into play – suddenly you go from a honest public service to a brand battlefield – PR/advertising agencies get paid big to game the system. Interconnection!

Personalisation of 1 is perfect. Personalisation is a real treasure trove. Users could even choose what they value in life, such as 'no animal testing', and products would be ranked accordingly. (I briefly touched on this in 'On standardisation and labelling')

On point 10: Yes packaging is undergoing major changes, which means designers have a big part to play. 2D and 3D Barcodes will be history before the decade's out in favour of NFC/RFID tags.

Photo of James McBennett

where is "On standardisation and labelling" .....link?

I would have thought user-ranked systems make PR manipulation much harder (Not impossible, but not far from it.) Therefore comments, and social networks can bring further transparency to this app.

E.g. "The greatest shoe in the world" with 8 applauds, 20 dislikes and negative comments, I think's that pretty transparent to the customer not to listen to anything that organisation say.

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DeletedUser

oooh I love point number 4 tooo it is definitely a brilliant concept...

Photo of An Old Friend

I would imagine that parents would be particularly interested in this information.

Through a simple concept, it is easy to imagine several potential uses. At heart, it is not only an "app" but a database and network that would be of interest to many.

Photo of Louise Wilson

exactly, it's a database which has a 'skin' on it that looks good for an application and makes it mobile. The clever thing is making sure that the most useful information is included in the database and that the skin is visually appealing!

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DeletedUser

Hi Louise,
Teriffic concept and excited to follow it in refinement stages.

I wanted to share "The Footprint Chronicles" with you (in case you haven't already seen them). Patagonia's done an amazing job of telling the story of several of its products from design mode to finished product. You may want to check them out: http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=23429

Another website that hits some of the elements of your concept, and touches directly on produce is here: http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/resources/fruitveg/fruitveg.php
Perhaps you'll find it helpful! :)

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DeletedUser

Great inspiration!

A concept out of this:
Companies could build their own branded mashup of TransparencyApp content and embed it in their own apps/websites – driving traffic back to TransparencyApp and making the content accessible to the masses.

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DeletedUser

Another concept from the beautiful "The Footprint Chronicles"…

Companies could be given space to respond to the data – "We're working on changing this to x by doing y!"

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DeletedUser

Pete, I really like this idea of allowing companies a space within the application to indicate how they're making progress.

This sparks a further idea to create a function within the application where by consumers could also measure how their consumption is "improving". They could be given a "score" after each shopping expedition totaling the carbon footprint of each product they bought and possibly factoring in other factors to their "score" including seasonality of the produce and efficiency of packaging. Even bringing their own bag could earn them healthy consumer "points".

Photo of Louise Wilson

Noella, your inspiration is excellent. Thank you. I had no idea that Patagonia have a footprint chronicle. Very innovative and honest of them!

Pete, I love the idea of opening up the App to companies and driving traffic. I do, however think this needs to be kept fairly simple so that it is effective and easy to use instead of being overwhelming!

Let me include your ideas into my update!

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DeletedUser

Hi Louise. Great simple presentation of this idea - sketch is fine as it is ;-)

if you need any ideas for the "back end" systems to make this work, feel free to pick out / build on any of the ideas in my concept which went into more detail as to how to implement this sort of idea for all suppliers and retailers: http://www.openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/make-product-information-more-accessible-and-useful/

Good luck!

Photo of Louise Wilson

I will do, thanks Huw. I need time to properly digest all the Builds, similar concepts and comments....!

Photo of Anuja Singhal

What I love about this idea is that it opens up so many different possibilities. I agree with you Louise on keeping the picture big and clear right now. I love James' break up of the different ideas thrown around in this space (and yes..I love no.4 too!;).

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DeletedUser

Great Idea Louise. But few things I thought could be mentioned as well. Recently I was talking to a farmer and he told me there is a certain % of healthy fertilizer or pesticide basically which doesnot have a negative impact on us. Mentioning this kind of information can be great.

One of the ways this can be implemented is targetting biggers super marts first and slowly seeding it to small local markets etc. This kind of information as you mentioned should not spook someone. And, supermarts always have perfect fruits and vegetables so if one was able to trace back those, the choice to eat good and healthy food can be made better.

These are some of my thoughts for now.

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Way to go on making the Shortlist on the Local Food Challenge! Selecting 20 concepts out of over 600 was a tough job and we're excited to have you move through to the Refinement Phase. You can get a low-down on how the phase works over on Field Notes: http://bit.ly/refine_lowdown

Basically over the next 10 days we'd like you to further fine-tune your idea. You might explore opportunities and challenges to implementation, visualise further, expand on engagement strategies or connect various dots and details that would assist bringing your concept into fruition.

If you hit the Update This button on the right of your post, you'll see we've added 5 new fields to help you refine: Concept Builds, Actions, Project Partners, Funding Sources and Virtual Team. Check them out and feel free to keep updating your post throughout the phase – based on feedback and collaboration with fellow OpenIDEATORS and your own ideating goodness!

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Louise, My "life of" idea was all about transparency, feel free to take anything from it.

http://www.openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/the-life-of-a-___________/

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DeletedUser

Hi Louise! This is all really great including the suggestions and comments. As it stands, however, a missing element is the impact of nutrient removal from rural areas or 'asset stripping' of developing countries for what is predominantly urban area nutrient gain. When considering the link between consumption and food production, one should also consider the fact that cycles are open and the nutrients and energy are falling out one end. While this is not a concern to most people, once soils begin to degrade, it becomes a real problem for the producers. Importantly, most of the nutrients concentrated in urban landscapes (from delivered foods) are not recycled, but lost to landfills and aquatic ecosystems. While this is partially addressed through application of fertilizers in developed countries, less developed countries suffer from a continued decline in soil quality and nutrient capital as removals are not matched by inputs. Even in developed countries, nutrient replenishment is normally limited to NPK while micronutrient losses go un-noticed. This is working okay for now, but P resources are dwindling and trace element losses may prove to be crippling in some locations in the long run. Conversley, over application of nutrients in various parts of world to maximize yields (e.g. China) result in high CO2eq emissions and major impacts to marine ecosystems. It is possible to partially estimate this impact in terms of fertilizer demand and associated C emissions, but that assumes that nutrients are being replenished and does not address the other environmental impacts of overapplication.

So, my question, is it possible to have the app provide the user with a more holistic view of such losses above and beyond C emissions? While you will not be able to assess nutrient redistribution (no one is going to have those numbers and the individual buyer scale would be too small to be impressive) the app could provide user with a notion of whether the origin of the produce is from a country that is expressing net nutirent deprivation, balanced nutrient inputs and outputs, or excess nutrient inputs and associated environmental impact. This sort of fits with Pete C's categorization concept. Just a thought!

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DeletedUser

Wow Prof Tom that's some serious understanding of agronomy. (I had to read it three times, please excuse the simple answer! You must have some concepts for this project up your sleeve.)

Do national databases of soil nutrition information exist? Can geographical areas be easily stamped with an industry standard classification? If so this could be translated into simple labels for consumers -- like fairtrade, the product gets a "Soil Friendly" badge.

I know of maps published by geologists detailing below soil level, which I bookmarked for adding intelligence to gold/copper/etc commodity chain analysis, but historical data on soil would be of value here. The WHO strikes me as a likely source, with their famine warning systems. Country-level regulation and aggregation could be fed back into the individual product's data.

Your point on landfilled nutrients is more to do with post-retail consumer behaviour, I'm not sure transparency in the value chain would challenge that. Certainly a valid point for this openideo project overall though.

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DeletedUser

Or more likely the UN FAO actually.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Wait a sec, guys, you're leaving me behind...! Really interesting comments, points, additions from both of you but I do wonder if this is getting complicated.

It's great to be pushed and to make my brain work in a way I wasn't expecting, especially as this is definitely an area that needs to be thought about. I do, however want this app to be simple and effective. It is supposed to be an educational tool to help people gain a better understanding of where their food comes from.

'always in beta' leaves me open to updated versions but I think it might be best to develop a means of capturing this information which can then be translated into the app for an advanced, developed section. I'll have a better think about how best to approach this and if the concept goes into refinement, I'll looking to you for more help ;-)

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DeletedUser

Totally Louise, concepting must stay focused on the big picture of outcomes and human experiences -- adding methods and resources dampens the free creativity of ideation.

At the refinement stage I think we need to be asking "might this idea actually be feasible?" After all, we are suggesting that trillions of international trade transactions can be reduced to a few beautifully simple metrics, like carbon footprint. There's a lot going on behind the scenes. So how do we decide which metrics are most practical and useful, suitable for a prototype? I think that's where experts come in. Unfortunately they know too much so it's up to the designers to refine their insights into a simple human-centered interpretation.

I hope that's what I did in suggesting a "Soil Friendly" badge, akin to the FairTrade label, or food miles/carbon footprint. I can see people enjoying learning from that!

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DeletedUser

The beef industry has been working on this for a long time and it was helped by the establishment of global standards for data and messaging by Meat and Livestock Australia in collaboration with GS1.

I'm unsure what has happened with the technology from the following release, but the advent of smart phones must be able to build on this in a much more dynamic environment.

http://www.optibrand.com/images/Optibrand%20Partners%20with%20Swift%20to%20Deliver%20U.S.%20Beef%20Traceability%20Information.pdf

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Duncan!

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DeletedUser

1. Woah, detailed consumer-accessible traceability already exists? Gold dust. As to its current status, I can only assume they heavily branded the service with a different name all in japanese. FWIW, an AU site from 2007 alludes to that very "domestic traceback system" http://www.cattle-country-lifestyle.com/quality-control.html

2. The advertised purpose for tracking beef is FOOD SAFETY. To my knowledge, the subject of food safety has not been mentioned at all in this concept, or indeed anywhere on this project! Tapping into this consumer need could bring the project out of the cushy realm of ethics!

Photo of Jay Vidyarthi

I think this is a fantastic idea. I love the "narrative" element... I think it can be very powerful to tell a story to people. It would be beautiful to see grocery stores or restaurants communicating the faces and processes of the actual farmers and marketing their real food stories.

I think this idea stretches well beyond the app, into basic media portrayal of food service. Applause!! :)

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DeletedUser

Consider eliminating the need for barcodes with produce and track the origin simply by taking a picture of the fruit or vegetable! Borrowed from the "trace your apple" comments:

http://www.foodquality.com/details/article/1047987/New_Smartphone_Tool_Tracks_Produce_Provenance.html

http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/trace-your-apple/#c-a1023ee9a0c72e99f6fc2dc109be236a

Produce generally has minimal labeling as it is - NEC's concept would eliminate waste generated by paper bar codes or QR codes. Obviously the technology is still in development, but it sounds promising.

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DeletedUser

Also, I think it would be great to incorporate the "miles traveled" data into your grocery list, so you could see total impact of a trip to the grocery store. You could sort your list by miles traveled and plan ways to reduce your environmental impact before you go shopping.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Russel, the links are really useful. I'll have a good think about eliminating barcodes. It would need a slightly different approach but is definitely worth considering. Your comment about miles travelled has already been introduced into the app. I feel it's very important to know where the food has come from and how it travelled to the supermarket. I also took Johan's comment on board about adding in a section to work out your own personal carbon footprint before you have bought the food. Is this not clear in my concept??

Photo of Johan Löfström

I do not know if you just wrote a typo? I appreciate very much that you included some of my ideas, (also on the cooking side)

but we cannot calculate food miles at the start of the shopping trip. because it is only at the checkoutline I have all weight and all number of products in my bags, and then the App can calculate how much is to share the fuel consumption and carbon emissions from my ride home.

Perhaps it is best done when you get home and unpack your items into your kitchen? maybe arriving as an automatic text message when the GPS notices your trip is ended and you are "stationary" at home for 30 minutes? :D

In practice it would be very easy for a smartphone-App to have buttons where I could choose between : Walking, Bicycling, Bus, Car alone (size of engine? distance to home?), Car shared (with 1 other person, with 2 persons ....) and then compare food miles and carbon emissions "pre-shop" with "post-shop-trip".

I can bet that at least 10% of App-users would plan to not taking their car, at least 10% of the future rides to the shop, if only they could see this on a simple black and white graph.

Many just blame carbon emissions on transportation and farmers, and don't see their own impact as a relative proportion to the whole picture.

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DeletedUser

@Louise, I am envisioning taking an app that creates grocery lists from barcode scanning, such as "Out of Milk", and combining them with the miles traveled data you mention, so the shopper could see the complete impact of their entire trip before the store. The list could also highlight the highest impact and lowest impact items so the customer could make changes to their weekly meals and shopping list to minimize miles traveled before they travel to the store. If you are already planning on including, I apologize for missing this in your original concept. Here is the out of milk app:

https://market.android.com/details?id=com.capigami.outofmilk&feature=search_result

@Johan, you are correct that you cannot calculate food miles before a shopping trip, but you can estimate them, and possibly inspire shoppers to make changes to their weekly meals based on those estimates. For example, if the shopper has regularly been buying locally grown strawberries, the app could show when the mileage of strawberries spike visually on their grocery list (with a red exclamation point or something similar) when they are no longer in season locally, and the customer could buy fewer strawberries or none at all, replacing them with another fruit that is grown locally.

You also make great points about the impact of the use of a car, and distance to your store. Building on both your comments, perhaps the "miles traveled" could be improved with an "impact quotient", similar to the openIDEO design quotient:

-Score should be assigned for both individual items and total trip to the store.
-Shoppers could compare their estimated pre-trip impact quotient with their more accurate post-trip impact quotient.
-Similarly to the Design Quotient, the Impact Quotient could have four components: Shopper travel, food travel, chemicals, and packaging/processing. (These are subject to change.) :-)
-Shoppers' mode of transportation and miles traveled traveled to the store would make up the shopper travel portion.
-the food travel portion could be scaled based on type of transportation: Miles in a truck would have more of an impact than miles traveled via rail or sea. This could be calculated into a single score.
-Use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizer would make up the chemical portion.
-Excessive processing or packaging would make up the final score.

In the end, customers can see a nice, neat pie chart similar to the open IDEO design quotient chart. The impact quotient could also be graphed week to week as Johan suggested. Perhaps 4square-esque badges could be awarded as shoppers hit impact quotient benchmarks or sustain quality impact quotients over long periods of time.

Anyway, thanks for the comments - you have my mind churning!

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DeletedUser

Building even further on these ideas and into one that could possibly have been a second concept (if I hadn't been late to the party) or incorporated into Louise's idea.

Personally, before I go to the grocery store for a week, I like to plan my meals for the week. It would be great if there was an app that would let me easily select recipes for a week of meals, and automatically add the necessary ingredients to my grocery list. Each recipe could have a brief description and denote a "total miles traveled" or "Impact quotient" I described above. Low impact recipes could be highlighted and change based on the season. The app could also account for Johan's great points about shopper travel to the store by checking local store inventory - if you have to drive to a distant health food store for quinoa, a recipe with rice at your local score might have a lower score.

There would have to be an option to deselect items you already have on your list, but I think it would be a great way to both plan a week of meals and think about the connection to the food source at the same time.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Wow, Russell, there is some deep thinking here, thanks! Your points are very valid and build on a number of intersting aspects.

The carbon footprint aspect (and Johan, it wasn't a typo, it was taken from a comment you made v early on - maybe I took it too literally though) could work by adding a bonus button where the user types in how they travelled. This could affect their overall carbon footprint or simply give them 'a pat on the back' but in the long run, teach them what the different transport methods mean.

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DeletedUser

(Continued, Part 2)

On supermarkets revealing costs and miles travelled:

No publicly-traded company has ever, to my knowledge, revealed raw accounting costs or logistics data, apart from what is required by legal regulation, or as premium product advertising. I'm not an economist but I assume this is because it would hand all their hard work of maximising profit margins with deal negation and such like efficiency measures to the competition on a platter.

Secrecy is often key to commercial success – Capitalism would need to fundamentally change. If there is ever a good time to disrupt, it is around a recession. There is hope in the OpenSource, OpenGovernmentData, and OpenCourseWare practices which may in time prove to successfully buck the trend. (Maybe the Co-op Food would be interested, as its shareholders – only customers and employees – have a different agenda?)


On information availability:

Supermarkets are just one distribution node of the global commodity value chain. They only know the journey starting with the importer – there's a whole world of warehouses, ships, and opaque bulk importer's sources or methods that supermarkets don't have data on. Traceability (lead by the organisation GS1) is in it's early stages, and each company is keen to keep it's cards close.

Unless we can get every producer, importer/exporter, and retailer to publish or at least collaborate, a large amount of generalisation and estimation will be necessary using existing, and rather generic, government databases on trade and agriculture. Categorisation is key here – if you know about a similar type of product, or a product produced in the same area, the chances are the journey was the same. There are some great ones used in industry, such as the UN WTO's Harmonized System.

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DeletedUser

Great insight, Pete. You are a wealth of knowledge. :-)

If every product has a "miles traveled" score or label (which is valued by consumers) and companies could improve that score simply by disclosing supply chain information, it could be easier to get companies to provide information.

I do not think this would be easy unless the consumers began demanding transparency.

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DeletedUser

The beef industry has been working on this for a long time and it was helped by the establishment of global standards for data and messaging by Meat and Livestock Australia in collaboration with GS1.

I'm unsure what has happened with the technology from the following release, but the advent of smart phones must be able to build on this in a much more dynamic environment.

http://www.optibrand.com/images/Optibrand%20Partners%20with%20Swift%20to%20Deliver%20U.S.%20Beef%20Traceability%20Information.pdf

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DeletedUser

Here's a great start to this concept!

SourceMap - crowdsourcing knowledge on supply chains
http://www.sourcemap.org/

Check out the trace of a Strawberry Yogurt
http://www.sourcemap.org/trace/Strawberry-Yogurt#

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DeletedUser

Fantastic idea, Louise. I don't have much to add other than mentioning that some kind of scan mechanism could exist within stores to allow customers without smart phones to access the same information.

Also, not sure if this is kosher, but if you need any help in terms of realizing the app visually, I would love to help as a graphic design (student). This is an idea where simplicity and ease of interaction could really knock it out of the park.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Ryan! Always good to know keen graphic designers!

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DeletedUser

Great idea Louise. I would love to be able to access this information at my fingertips. But I'm glad Ryan brought up this point. Education and awareness should not be limited to people who can afford it, so some type free access should be made available along with the labeling. As others have pointed out, it might take some deep-rooted upheavals to create a shift across the industry, but the movement has to start somewhere. Like with a great concept!

Photo of Louise Wilson

I agree, Robin. It may be a case of designing an app, then simplifying it for shelf labelling. It needs inclusive design thinking and a campaign to get momentum rolling!

Photo of Sarah Fathallah

Hi Louise! I must admit that I haven't read all the comments below, but I just wanted to add something that might help, on the technical side of things. Lately at StartInParis, there was a start-up that pitched their app called Prixing: http://www.prixing.fr/
The link is in French, but you can understand from the video how it works basically (you scan the bar code of any product, and you can get information on its price, location, ingredients, including the ones that could be toxic or allergenic, etc.). They focus more on the price side of things, but this shows how easy it is to implement your idea: there is a considerable initial work to be done in terms of data collection and building the database first, but once this step is met (it could also be done on a participatory basis, asking producers to enter their products), the app itself is easy to build. Actually, Prixing's API is open-source, and as of what I understood they were open to collaboration, esp. to spread the app geographically.

Photo of Louise Wilson

oooh, Sarah, that's so helpful, thank you! Yes, i get the basic understanding but luckily my boyfriend is a french speaker so I'll get him to translate it properly for me! It's really great that Prixing's API is open-source!

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Pete, great sharing of knowledge! Super cool. And some interesting food for thought.
From the picture you sketch, I think it's important to come with disruptive solutions. In terms of simple labeling: if a producer cannot verify or certify where the ingredients come from (or a third party can't), I'd say: slap a 'red' label on the product.
As for standardisation and existing certifications: I think it is important not to reinvent the wheel. Do you have any thoughts on how information from Fair trade and FSC can be incorporated in such an app?

I would agree with you that buy-in from international supermarket holding companies would be helpful, but sometimes it could be even better to amplify consumer demand.
I'll read the article you included in your first comment later, so some of the things might be in there as well.

Photo of Louise Wilson

good addition, Arjan. There is no reason why you can't simply highlight those that aren't providing enough information. A red 'cannot verify/certify' label would soon get those suppliers running round to provide the information

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DeletedUser

Arjan, certification labels exist for many types of object – a whole company can own a label (eg. ISO 14000), or the facilities/factory (eg. nut free, halal, hygiene, FairTrade wages and practices), or the product (Nestlé has one FairTrade-labeled brand). In my implementation I have left all the options available. This makes aggregation on the final product page (ie. displaying the label's consumer-recognisable branding) awkward to simplify, but is the most accurate and flexible to real world scenarios.

Some of the weaknesses of certification labels I have noted are:
• Most labels only audit arbitrary parts of the process; While farmers may receive a Fair Wage (FairTrade), a lorry driver further down the line might be a slave!
• Most labels allow for arbitrary tolerances; all but basic commodities have multiple ingredients, and rarely are all ingredients certified despite the final branding.
Glossing over these missing links undermines the objective of "transparency".

Photo of Louise Wilson

interesting weaknesses you've noticed. I've noticed there's a real problem with multiple ingredients. A number of products say 'certified organic' ingredients but it doesn't stop Monosodium glutamate being added... very frustrating especially when most people will gloss over what they don't understand

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Interesting, Pete. Thanks for your continued insights. Does that mean that we could include certifications as a basis for a 'final grade' but with the need to keep informing consumers what these certificates actually mean? Doesn't make the job easy, but you could have it as a added function of the app: an information campaign on what the certificates really stand for. One of the downsides of ISO certification, imho, is that it looks at procedures and not at real product. You can get a certification if you have a procedure book, but there is less control on whether these procedures are actually working in practice.

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DeletedUser

(Continued, Part 3)

On standardisation and labelling:

Supply chains are not lacking in standards. They require ruthless levels of internationally-recognised detail in order for everything to work smoothly. (cf. organisation GS1). Neither are certification bodies lacking standardisation. Certification bodies fight hard for mind share of their logos. Only a few, like the FSC, FairTrade, and UK's "traffic light" nutritional GDAs have succeeded. By labelling a product as good/bad (eg. by miles travelled) you are effectively starting a new certification organisation. Every certification scheme represents a specific set of values and verification systems. This is not a new phenomenon! The problem is information over-saturation, lack of sharing, lack of human-centred communication, and lack of personalisation to each consumer's priority of ethics.

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DeletedUser

Thanks for sharing your expertise and knowledge of this area, Pete. Do you think vertically integrated retailers who run their own farms (such as the Co-op in the UK), have the detailed product information this concept would require available internally? (Tesco would probably find it difficult to figure out exactly where their bananas came from, and how much it cost to transport, but the Co-op is in a much better position to figure out where their broccoli come from--they just need to synthesise it and make it publicly available.)

Photo of Louise Wilson

to add to your comments, Michael. I saw this as being very simple to start with. It would be very difficult to get all information regulated at the start but simple 'where has it come from' could be achieveable. Think about the 'origin' labelling you get at the moment. I'm pretty sure most it would be easy to know if it was air, sea or road transported too. Just having a distance and a means of transport would be a good start.

I also think that if suppliers want to increase their stock, then they will do what it needs to add this information to their products

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DeletedUser

Michael, my primary reason for suggesting the co-op is because transparency is in their commercial interest. You idea to focus on their own verticals is a good one, and yes they already publish some curated information on that, eg. http://www.co-operative.coop/farms/grown-by-us/product/Example-product-page4/ They'll know more about bananas than Tesco because their strict ethical requirements require that audit research (cf. "Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct"), but I doubt they know all the middle men.

A major roadblock to getting data from supply chain nodes is that they work in transactions (purchase orders, contracts, supplier companies, delivery schedules) while we are after relational networks. All the data is theoretically available, but turning paper trails into simple and intelligent topologies and maps takes much systematised analysis. The author of the above web page has done this manually, creating a narrative on a macro level, generalising in ways which make the data digestible by the readership.

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DeletedUser

Louise, reverse engineering the origin labelling is possible with a simple routing engine based on estimations. See "On information availability" para. This routing+classification data method is used on http://www.sourcemap.org/ In the short term it's probably the most realistic.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Pete. I'm tempted to 'report this comment' as you are too knowledgeable ;-)

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DeletedUser

(Continued, Part 4)

On usability:

I agree, a clean visual symbology and succinct analysis (like the goodguide numbering system) is essential for engaging the casual user.

On accessibility:

Consumers can access the app from home too. All they'd need is a webcam. Most purchases are repeat, so they can decide whether they should buy it the next time. This also allows you to present more detailed reading material about the value chain, such as video documentaries which are not appropriate for hasty and noisy store environments.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Wow wee, Pete! this is invaluable information! Thank you. I have scanned it all but need more time when I can sit down and take it in properly. I will update appropriately

Photo of James McBennett

Great ideas Louise! A similar concept, you might be able to adapt in some of what had been learnt over here.
http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/interactive-shelving/
I particularly like Meena's allergy mode.

Also check out my comments on Tom's Window to the Farm regarding how multiple barcodes could be scanned quickly, and then the gap in time or button being pushed would compare those items. e.g. Quickly scan over four brands of milk and upon a ten second delay, the four items are compared, Distance/Cost/Energy/Allergies and so on......

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks James. Yes, good to be pointed towards other comments I may have missed - will update with appropriate additions

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DeletedUser

Louise,

I'm currently in the middle of building a website (inc. mobile UPC scan) which is prettymuch doing exactly what you so excellently propose, only consumer created.

The guy who commissioned me wrote about his grand vision here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/dec/09/global-dependency-content

So, a few quick notes from someone with several months of research…



On supermarket co-operation:

There are millions of food items from millions of locations, transported via millions of routes. And everything is constantly changing. Most of the food consumed is imported.

Getting the multinational supermarket owners involved would make the scope of this project realistic. (There is little worse than a consumer scanning 20 barcodes and only getting information on one.)



On plausible traceability:

Often food is all mixed together. For example, grain from many sources is poured into bulk carriers (ships with one giant hold), loosing all but the most generic national-level (or worse) traceability.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks for all your comments - I have updated my concept and would love as many comments as possible on this before the concepting phase is up!

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DeletedUser

This a great concept. I really appreciate the fact that, as Maricarmen pointed out, this would actively encourage suppliers to source locally. This level of transparency allows consumers to push food suppliers to make more local stocking decisions, and food producers to make efforts towards more ethical production practices.

I'm glad to see people working out these kinds of ideas since it's such a great model for empowering the public to make positive change through their individual purchasing decisions.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Exactly, a small amount of pressure to encourage local sourcing is what's needed. I would hope that it would naturally make it happen without being too pressured. Empowering positive change is what it's all about! ;-)

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DeletedUser

I love this idea. As food producers we would love it. I posted another concept that would go well with this.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Excellent, glad the concept has sparked another concept!

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DeletedUser

Great idea, Louise. I just posted a similar idea before I saw this of creating labeling to tell the same stories. (http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/print-the-process-on-the-packaging/?status_message=Successfully+Updated)

I love the idea of apps and technology helping us understand our food and where it comes from better. And I think they can be great pieces of a larger solution that also includes lo-tech options that are accessible to all. That said, it might be easier to set up apps like yours before a whole labeling system could be done, so I think it's a great vein to pursue too.

I see a lot of your comments and concepts all around--keep the great ideas coming!

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Dave. Good to see similar ideas - it shows that the concepts are all valid and deserve to be ellaborated with different creative minds to come up with a sustainable solution! If you have any suggestions on how to combine this concept with my Community Kitchen one http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/pop-up-community-kitchen/ comments/suggestions will be welcomed. I want to find a way to add technology to the kitchen...

Photo of Miles Stahmann

This is right on the money. Transparency will be key in a market where many times the farmer doesn't know what the final price or final product of what he produced is. I look to two companies that I feel have made some progress on this front: Sustainable Harvest with their coffee http://www.sustainableharvest.com/relationship-coffee/ and Taza Chocolates http://www.tazachocolate.com/ where you can enter the batch number on your bar and see how it was made. I agree with Sean that it would work well with product that is already certified since they already have some infrastructure to capture that story.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Sorry for the late reply, Miles! Thanks for the links, I haven't seen this before - it's great! Building on an existing infrastructure is pretty much essential for this to launch successfully.

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DeletedUser

I love this idea Louise! It not only informs the end consumer, but also obligates the companies to think about their footprint and make that information accountable and accesible to the end user. I wonder who could objectively develop the app for the companies, trying to be as transparent as possible?

Photo of Louise Wilson

Good question, Maricarmen! It needs some thought into who could develop this app but the other builds on this idea have opened up much more thinking on my part and possibly made it simpler. Accountability is a great word for this concept - thanks

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DeletedUser

Awesome idea Louise! I know from several supermarket chains in Europe that they stating the Name and address of the farmers where the meat is coming from. Your App would just go one step further and could link the meat with useful or interesting information. I think this should especially developed for organic food so that people know why they are paying more.

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Jakob, this is good to know. I will do some research on it!

Photo of Louise Wilson

Hi Timothy, you are right, it would probably be best if the tag was at the sign.... and I love the idea of the tag not being visible until the camera is placed over it! Great ideas, thanks

Photo of Timothy Li

Great concept! What about placing these app tags at the sign. This would reduce se tagging costs esp if food comes in lots from the same farms and picked from the same time. Also what about doing some cool augmented reality stuff (like making signs that are invisible, but when you hover your phone camera over appears next to the stand)? Just a thought!

Photo of Louise Wilson

Thanks Danielle and Sean. I feel a 1.2 version coming on already!

Photo of Sean Hewens

This is a great concept and might work very well with the "Certification Scheme" concept that I posted a bit earlier along the lines of the organic approval process currently in use. http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/wage-livable-certification-scheme-/

As one of your hurdles, you mentioned the "standardization" of information. It would be helpful to study the USDA organic certification procedure, not so much for the substance of what is being certified, but the process that was used to impose the evaluation criteria.

Additionally, I wonder if at a certain point, customers will not have the time to do the research on every article of food they are placing in their cart. Instead, this information should be available when they want to access it via the app, but more generally the graphics / icons that you envision can be glanced at and impart the bulk of the knowledge at a glance. As an example, an iPhone app user could learn that a particular ear of corn was harvested in Wisconsin on April 4th and traveled to Chicago on April 10th, along with a whole host of other information. However, a simple glance at the simple graphic / icon you mentioned would pass along the knowledge that the corn was grown locally and organically by a farmer receiving fair price for the crop, presumably enough information to make a purchasing decision.

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DeletedUser

You could also include nutritional information since we don't get to have those handy nutritional labels on things like produce and meat.

Photo of Louise Wilson

oooh, lovely builds, Johan. I'll have a good think about how best to incorporate your comments. Thanks

Photo of Johan Löfström

Lovely. And since sometimes the most carbon emissions in food chain can be from the customers own car, you must also give options to people to calculate and show included in the totals depending on if they walked, took their bicycle, car or a bus home from the shop. (see also Carpool2Food)

And sometimes the energy and time needed to cook your food is vital to the final overall costs. If it is deep-frozen meat it takes many times longer to prepare than a tuna-salad-sandwich.
So perhaps it is relatively simple to add recommended cooking method and time, temperature in this bundle of info? ( see also http://www.appropedia.org/Updated_cooking_methods_in_modern_kitchens )

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Well... I think especially items that combine several ingredients in them could be good targets. How many miles have the ingredients travelled combined to the site of production, and then from the site of production to the store. That would mean that the app would also have a GPS reading in it, so that it can calculate the last miles.
It would be a very good add to the GoodGuide app that already exists as well.
Great thinking, Louise!