QR Codes in the food industry

I want to follow up on last week’s article about barcode applications where you can see an example of a QR code, extending a little more about adaptation in the food industry. QR Codes have been developed by a subsidiary of Toyota Motor corporation and have been globally standardized in ISO-18004 in 2006. Originally, barcodes were designed to carry information in a machine readable format. With the foundation of UCC\EAN (today known as GS1), supply chains started to standardize barcodes to make them interoperable between organizations. GS1 did so mostly by defining a data element structure. Most applications know today what information they read out of a bar-code and what to do with that information. Recognizing e.g. a GTIN in a barcode means that I can take this 14-digit number and lookup in my company’s database or in a public data store like Gepir provided by GS1 the information behind it. The data elements, which GS1 defines, are business related, they contain highly defined data such as Product codes, Address locations, Document Numbers and Container identification and others. There is very little room in GS1 standards to encode information for other applications.

QR Codes are defined on a different level. QR codes are also data containers, but its data elements are of technical nature. QR codes in its most common application contain a hyperlink or some plain text. QR codes are mostly being used with the build in cameras we have in our smart phones today. Data entry on our smart phones is still very cumbersome. Typing is still slow and somewhat error prone, even for the fastest fingers, voice data entry is even more unreliable. The fastest way of getting a lot of data into a phone today is via the camera and a QR code. The current technical specs of a QR code allow more than 4 Kilobyte of information, that equals the amount of data in a 2 page text file. In practice, we cannot use this to the full extend just yet, since camera resolutions, display resolutions and other factors influence the readability of QR codes. It is basically the case, that with the amount of information encoded in a QR code, readability decreases. We need to keep in mind though, that the technological progress of cameras, printing and display technology will further evolve allowing us to put more and more information into these codes.

As I mentioned earlier, QR codes are a technical standard which has its unique advantages with the applications of mobile Applications that may or may be integrated ERP applications via mobile-ERP (M-ERP). Today, we can create different applications using QR codes for the food industry. Here is a list of technical standards and ideas for applications in the food industry:

  • Website: You can easily imagine to provide links to highly customized promotions for your clients. You could generate unique numbers that allow you to track by the individual that redeems e.g. a coupon any related information in your database. You can very efficiently evaluate the effectiveness of any campaign. You could link to further information in your companies ERP system, whether this is related documentation such as product specs or duplicates of invoices, BOL’s or weight sheets.
  • Telephone number: You could provide direct phone numbers for customer service as a QR code. You could have on your promotional material a phone number encoded, that a user can scan and that instantly dials the sales desk, customer service etc.
  • Email Message: you could again provide an easy way for somebody to contact your marketing or sales department by generating an email automatically with predefined content. You could customize the email content for each piece of promotional material and not only track from what piece of literature it has been scanned from, but also more specifically the type of product they are interested in. By default, you would get with that scan the contact information people have in the footer of their email plus the email address anyway.
  • Contact Information: The contact information of your sales people could be encoded on e.g. order confirmation forms, so that people can scan it and have directly in their address database. QR codes allow encoding of vCards, which are common to exchange contact information between contact management systems such as outlook.
  • Event: As you send out information and direct mailing pieces with invitations to trade-show events, you can encode the time and duration as well as your booth number in a QR code, so that people can scan the code and it become instantly an appointment in their appointment book.
  • Geo-Location: As part of your traceability strategy, you may want to encode the exact location of growing or rearing your food products, so that consumers can read the code and zoom in via google maps or bing maps directly to the location, perhaps even see an aerial picture of the facility.
  • Social Media: Social media are today the cheapest form of marketing. QR Codes enable you to faster build communities. Instead of providing a link at your booth with the call to action “Join us on Facebook via http://www.facebook.com/ourstuff”, you can make a picture of the QR code that people can read while they are visiting your both and have them join right there.

This is only a partial list, and we are still in the innovation and technical evolution phase. It is expected that the type of information we can encode will increase, and this is only a partial snapshot on what is possible today.

Smart Phone adaptations are increasing, Internet adaptation is increasing and the time we spend interfacing with our mobile application is increasing. The online thing that stays is the time we have in our lives. We all will get to the point that we need ways to more efficiently interface with our apps on our cell-phone and as long as there is no other way to make data acquisition on our mobile devices more efficient, we will increasingly use QR codes.

For those among you that still doubt my predictions, checkout Heidi Cohens blog about QR Facts. The blog provides not only hypothesis but plenty of facts and figures from the US and elsewhere on the planet.

If you want to play around and create some QR codes yourself, checkout QR-Stuff, a website that allows you to create a variety of different QR codes free of charge. The site does not indicate any copyright limitations, so it seems that you are allowed to create the codes for commercial use in your organization.

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