US: Interacting with consumers could be big in 2013

As 2012 draws to a close, produce suppliers and retailers are realizing how important it is to interact with consumers. While food safety issues have drawn attention to the need for enhanced traceability, focusing on tracking produce affords opportunities to connect with consumers. This focus on reaching out to consumers could be big in the coming year.

“A lot of the folks I've talked to have realized that the way to go is item-level traceability,” said CTO and founder of YottaMark, Elliot Grant. YottaMark specializes in traceability solutions and are the developers of Harvestmark, a platform on which fresh produce can be tracked from field to consumers. From the way the industry has been moving this year, Grant believes that more people will become aware of the benefits of taking an item-level view when tracking produce.

“They feel it's a way to directly reach shoppers,” he said. “It's a trend I'm hearing. Suppliers are saying they want to go straight to the item.” The benefits include a granular view of produce that allows one to better determine the freshness the product, but they also extend into food safety.

“There was a recall earlier in the year where we tracked the percentage of people who looked up their product to see if it was part of the recall,” said Grant. “We found that 15 percent of people who looked up their product found that it was part of the recall, so we were able to tell that 15 percent not to eat that product and we were able to reassure the other 85 percent that their product was safe. I think that's the future.” But in addition to food safety, item-level tracking, via quick response codes on packaging, can also facilitate communication between suppliers and consumers – and that's where the future lies, according to Grant.

“We will see more and more QR codes,” said Grant. “But I think, more importantly, that shippers will use them more thoughtfully going forward.” He noted that, many times, QR codes lead consumers to sites that provide irrelevant information or don't provide any information at all. That's a missed opportunity, and it's one that Grant thinks will be better utilized going forward.

“Shoppers don't just want to go to a site and get irrelevant information, they want recipes, they want coupons, they want to know how to select the right product,” he said. They also want to communicate with the people who grow their food, he added.

“Consumers want to tell you if the produce is good – there's a pent-up desire to communicate,” said Grant. “That's an untapped opportunity, but in 2013, I think it will become more of a two-way channel.”

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