Natural Foods Merchandiser
Digital tools foster traceability, customization

Digital tools foster traceability, customization

With digital resources such as GoodGuide and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep peeling back products’ many layers, from ingredients to manufacturing practices, today’s brands have to be transparent to earn consumer trust.

Technology can do more than reveal the unsavory truths behind some consumer packaged goods. Cutting-edge, socially responsible manufacturers are using it to connect with customers, enhance the retail experience and establish strong brand identities. As Swisse Vitamins and One Degree Organic Foods prove, the most successful of these initiatives take smart technology into the store.   

Scan here for transparency

Abbotsford, British Columbia-based One Degree Organic Foods, which launched earlier this year, makes nutritious, whole-grain breads and has a cereal line in the works. But the family-run business is more than a food company. “It’s really half food business, half media tech company,” says Danny Houghton, cofounder and vice president of marketing and sales at One Degree Organic Foods.

By using a smartphone to scan the QR code printed on a One Degree product label, a shopper can trace every ingredient in that product back to its source. Farmer videos further tell the stories behind One Degree’s carefully selected producers and lend insights into the brand’s values, including its dedication to “veganic” agricultural practices, which produce ingredients without the use of animal inputs.

This type of traceability has been offered for single ingredients such as coffee beans and fruit, but One Degree is the first to apply the concept to multi-ingredient packaged products. Houghton hopes the practice will help retailers move away from the “heavy commoditization” of packaged foods and satisfy their customers’ craving for traceability, which has been missing among these kinds of products. “The food industry is this big box of inputs and outputs,” Houghton says. “We wanted to tear down that wall, and that’s why we’re named One Degree. There’s only one degree of separation between the consumer and the producer.”

iPad customization

Creating an emotional connection to a product is one way in-store technology can enhance the shopping experience. Another way: customizing purchases to meet customers’ specific health needs.

Six-year-old Australian company Swisse Vitamins is set to enter the U.S. market in 2013 and will emphasize its high-quality supplements (Australia has some of the most stringent supplement manufacturing standards in the world), as well as its in-store iPad education system. Currently used by Australian retailers, this system allows customers to search the company’s comprehensive supplement line by product type or health goal. Ideal for stores that don’t have regular on-staff nutritionists, the iPad system also spices up mundane supplement departments, according to Ulrich Irgens, Swisse Vitamins’ international business director. “When we started this strategy in Australia six years ago, you saw the vitamin market as being fairly dull,” he says. “We want to make it fashionable to take vitamins and be healthy.”

The next initiative on Swisse’s list is to further personalize the process with a webcam that connects customers and health care practitioners for live, one-on-one sessions—right in the store aisle.

Taking tech home

This is a smart move because technology can sway customers’ decisions in the aisle by lending instant access to information. In fact, two-thirds of smartphone owners have used their devices to make purchasing decisions, according to London-based global management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting. But companies such as One Degree also realize the importance of taking the education beyond smartphones. “For someone who is not super tech savvy or doesn’t know how to scan a QR code, every one of our products has a six-digit code that they can plug in on our website to get the same information,” Houghton says. “We tried to make it as accessible to as many people as possible.”

He also notes that even if customers don’t take advantage of the technology, they appreciate that this level of transparency exists. “People know that we’ve laid the information out there,” Houghton says “That’s really what we’ve staked our brand on.”

Idea in action

A lot of retailers realize it’s important for them to start wading into the digital realm, Houghton says. Still, many people have yet to incorporate tech-based practices, even something as simple as scanning a QR code, into their shopping habits.  

To acquaint them with the One Degree scanning process, Houghton takes advantage of trade shows and in-store demos to guide retailers through the technology. But other efforts, such as social media promotions, also get proprietors and customers excited about using technology. Donald’s Markets in Vancouver, for instance, hosted a giveaway on Twitter that required contestants to retweet the contest to win a loaf of One Degree bread. It created “a lot of buzz for One Degree and a lot of foot traffic for Donald’s Markets,” Houghton says. Although the effort didn’t directly relate to One Degree’s QR code innovation, such initiatives make shoppers more digitally aware and attract new, already tech-savvy customers—including millennials—to your store.

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