Rising Scrutiny Over Food Sources And Journeys

Rising scrutiny over food sources and journeys

Linda Venables talks to RetailWorld about traceability for consumers and suppliers.

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22 March 2024

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The food industry is aiming to strengthen local food supply chains, while consumers are showing a growing interest in provenance and sourcing.

Increasingly, as consumers, we're demanding more knowledge about the food we eat. In today's supply chains, traceability is crucial, not only for proving provenance but also for food safety and effective product recalls.

Linda Venables, TMX Strategic Advisor

Traceability benefits suppliers just as much as consumers.

Linda Venables

"A premium price often applies to food source location and food quality, and consumers want to know that organic food has been certified as organic, that 'Western Australian beef' is from WA."

According to Deakin University, traceability also supports the tremendous effort growers put into their premium certified organic products as they're delivered to consumers in an increasingly complex food supply chain that is now both global and inherently dynamic.

"Traceability is not just about the origin of the product, but also what happens to the product as it moves through the chain," said Future Traceability for Agricultural Trade Principal Director Joanna Bunting.

"Accurate and timely traceability systems show consumers that Australian products are safe and sustainable from paddock to plate, driving our access to premium international markets."

Health and environment

Rose Elphick-Darling, Research Fellow at Deakin University's Centre for Regional & Rural Futures, said: "Fresh food - unprocessed - has become increasingly a focus for consumers, due in some part to covid and a desire to improve immunity-enhancing properties from fresh produce.

"Plant-based and flexitarian diets are gaining recognition due to animal welfare concerns and consumers seeking sustainable production methods and more information on the origin and circumstances of production."

Food sourcing awareness

Ms. Elphick-Darling says consumers are also more aware of global sourcing and the many 'touches' on a product, while food companies are being held to account for greenwashing by shareholders and consumers alike.

"Millennials are also prepared to shop more frequently and at more outlets to purchase foods they deem ethical and sustainable," she said.

Technology for traceability

The emergence of technology tools to trace product along the supply chain to end consumers in real time is enabling data to underpin claims and prove freshness and nutrient content, Ms. Elphick-Darling says.

"Consumers got used to using QR codes, and these can provide great information about the origin, the grower and the movement of the product," she said.

"One recent example is Melons Australia using QR codes to trace products from the supplier to the supermarket, Australian Eggs, a non-profit company, launched EggTrace in June 2022, a digital platform that allows farmers to capture and store egg traceability information."

Such technology can assist consumers with their choices to buy locally. In 2022, 27 percent of surveyed consumers said they try to buy locally sourced products and services, according to Euromonitor International's 'Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey.'

Additional requirements

Ms. Elphick-Darling notes another factor driving adoption of traceability for fresh product is the introduction of additional requirements for traceability of melons, leafy greens and berries (FSANZ) and retailer specifications for industry certification of products such as seafood (MSC, GDST, BAP) and fresh produce (HARPS/Freshcare) that require traceability.

Food fraud

Ms. Venables says consumers and Australia's international customers must know what they're buying, especially as in certain geographies, 'food fraud' is rife.

According to a spokesperson for the Marine Stewardship Council, around a third of all seafood traded globally is not what it is claimed to be.

"This is called seafood fraud, which can be intentional or unintentional and can pose many issues, such as health risks," the spokesperson said. "A consumer might inadvertently eat a species of fish they're allergic to."

The MSC program is helping to eliminate seafood fraud through the MSC 'chain of custody standard.' This ensures that seafood with the MSC blue fish tick label comes from fisheries that are MSC-certified sustainable, meeting global standards for a well-managed and sustainable fishery.

Where the MSC claim includes the species and the brand owner provides more information about the fishery the fish comes from, consumers can use the 'Track a Fishery' website to find out more about the MSC-certified fishery.

"Brands and retailers that want to do more can provide more information about where the seafood comes from, on packaging and at the point of sale," MSC said.

Dr. Flavia Fayet-Moore, dietitian and CEO of FoodiQ, a food and nutrition science research consulting business, says she has noted this rising scrutiny in the export market in the past few years.

"There's a lot of interest in authenticating Australian wines - for example, because of fraud, with wines claiming they're Australian wine, but they're not," she said.

"So, right now I think it's more of an international market, but I think there's a huge opportunity for the national market as well. And with that, you just need retail and consumer education, so they understand what it is."

Role of retailers

Ms. Elphick-Darling says retailers often have poor visibility of multiple supply chain partners, yet they bear the brunt of NGO and consumer criticism regarding product claims.

"There may not be a premium for traceable products in a climate where consumers are unwilling to pay for this assurance," she said.

"Traceability involves partners along the whole of supply chain. These can be businesses with poor capacity to create transparency and adopt digital tools and systems, so there's a vital role for retailers to take leadership in supporting suppliers."

This article was written by Tracey Cheung and originally published by RetailWorld on March 22, 2024.

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