News . Labelling

08 Jan 2019

The food industry has in many ways come full circle – and labelling has never been more important as a result. A hundred years ago, many people were much more directly involved in food production. They would have known exactly where everything they ate or drank came from – often because they had grown it themselves. The twentieth century and the Green Revolution saw farming become just another industry, and most of the population were no longer directly involved in agriculture.

Seasonality became meaningless – we can walk into a supermarket in the middle of our winter and find fresh raspberries or kiwi fruit that were grown on the other side of the world. Airfreight has removed the relevance of distance and weather.

However, more recently, consumers have become increasingly concerned about where their food is from, and how it was produced. Worries about the treatment of animals and food miles (the distance our food has travelled to reach us) have led to a much greater interest in locally produced food.

Artisanal, organic, small-batch – these are more than just fashionable tags used to justify higher prices. But to have any true meaning, the items they are applied to, need to be traceable. That’s where food labelling comes in. Auto ID technology can be used to track food throughout the (ideally shorter) supply chain. It enables retailers and consumers to buy and sell with confidence, while QR codes and other content-rich labelling methods can be used to educate and reassure people.

Shoppers have proven willing to spend more on handcrafted or local food products, but there is an important question of trust here. This can best be answered by farmers and other food producers being completely transparent about their methods and ingredients.

Food traceability through labelling – being able to identify when and where an item was picked, processed and packed – becomes vital should anything go wrong. The 2018 listeriosis scare in South Africa caused widespread panic and confusion, and resulted in at least 180 deaths. It took over six months from the first cases being diagnosed to the source of the outbreak – an Enterprise Foods polony plant in Polokwane – being identified.

The economic losses and human suffering that resulted from this outbreak were very significant. This  illustrated once again the importance of food labelling and being able to trace food items and their ingredients not just back to their source, but also through every step of the production and transport process.

In this case, it was clear that improved traceability – which can only be achieved through impeccable record-keeping and effective food labelling – would have saved lives. The more recent – and equally alarming – case of strawberries in Australia being deliberately contaminated with sewing needles  further underlined this point.

While these are extreme examples, labelling also has an important role to play in our daily lives. Labelling solutions can help safeguard allergy sufferers, and assist with stock-keeping levels at every stage in the supply chain.

Even non-dangerous quality issues can undermine a company’s reputation and impact on sales. Consumer trust is hard to gain and easy to lose – especially in this age of social media. Labelling allows manufacturers to identify batches of products where a problem may exist. It can help limit the extent – and therefore the costs – of any recall drive.

Today’s consumers are used to being able to access information on any topic almost instantly. Combined with the growing interest in food and flavour, this change places more of an onus on accurate, informative and effective labelling.

Used well, labelling can be an effective marketing and brand-building tool. It’s when labelling is absent or implemented ineffectively that disasters such as the listeriosis outbreak can more easily occur.

For information on how labelling technology can improve your customer service offering and protect your company’s reputation, contact Kemtek to learn about our labelling solutions.