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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

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Photo of Congmin

"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

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

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.

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