Bye bye, bar code?

The standard bar code may be getting a shopper-friendly makeover

One of the food industry's most ubiquitous elements may be on its way towards a big overhaul.

The basic bar code may be getting a makeover as consumers now want to know more about their food and its origins and retailers need more help on the inventory end of things.

According to some food consultants, the bar code that's been used since the '70s is due for some big changes to keep up with the times. Rather than simply give information on the weight of an item and a straightforward description of its contents, insiders say today's shoppers and retailers want much more info. The former group wants to know about allergens and ingredients (and wants to read about it online or via a smartphone app) and the latter group wants to know sell-by date and batch number.

A recent article in The Globe and Mail includes commentary from Kees Jacobs, a consultant trying to establish new global standards for labels by working with food makers and retailers. As Jacobs says, "The current bar code is not sufficient to be the carrier of much more granular information that is needed."

Collecting, storing and then standardizing the information is a very tricky task. To that end, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) is working towards getting retailers and manufacturers on the same page when it comes to product data and labeling. This is all part of an effort to ultimately have new global data standards.

In the meantime, retailers are making initial steps towards providing more transparency about the food they sell. An enhanced version of the traditional bar code, the "data bar" is a bar code that includes information such as lot number, expiry date and quantity. It was created by GS1, the group that allots the special numbers included in bar codes.

The "data bar" is being used in Germany by retailer Metro in conjunction with a smartphone app that helps on the transparency front. Customers can check where fresh fish was caught, and when, along with when it was processed. This helps build trust with consumers looking for sustainable and safe products, according to the retailer.

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