How PwC’s Food Trust Platform uses micro tag technology to protect Australian brands from food fraud

It’s not just Australian people who enjoy our lucky country. Take the average Australian cow – large open spaces for low-stress grazing, great weather, some of the world’s highest standards for animal treatment and protection from disease by ocean-sized moats.

Qualities such as this have made Australian beef some of the most desirable in the world, as well as other produce such as cherries, olive oil and honey. The quality of our produce is world renowned, and that means there are legions of international consumers willing to pay a premium.

Food Trust

However Australian businesses are facing a serious food fraud problem, with labels from well-known Australian brands being put on fake, cheap and often dangerously substandard products.

The problem here is more than that Australian producers are missing out on sales that should be theirs – it’s the potential for damage to our national brand. Australian produce enjoys an enviable international reputation, not only due to its quality but also its safety.

One of the factors driving the huge demand for Australian infant formula in China is that Chinese consumers know that our food safety standards can be trusted. The same goes for beef, honey and myriad other agricultural products.

But what happens to that brand when consumers try counterfeited versions of Australian products and find the quality lacking? Or worse, what happens when someone gets ill after consuming fake Australian produce? Reputations built over decades can be ruined overnight.

Globally, food fraud is estimated to cost somewhere between $40-50 billion a year. The cost to Australia alone could be $2-3 billion. To put that into perspective, Australia’s total food and agriculture exports sit at around $45 billion.

At best, international consumers are being duped into buying a substandard product; at worst lives are being put at risk. Horse meat has been sold as beef in the UK and Ireland, fake Parmesan blended with wood pulp was sold at a US supermarket, and toxic infant formula was sold in China with devastating consequences.

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Undermining trust

2008: Six babies die and more than 300,000 fall ill after drinking infant formula contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine.
2012/13: The US FDA finds fake parmesan cheese that is a blend of cheaper cheese and up to 9 per cent wood pulp.
2013: Frozen 'beef' products in supermarkets across the UK and Ireland were found to contain horse DNA – up to 100 per cent in some cases.
2015: Chinese authorities seized 800 tonnes of smuggled meat, some of it dating back to the 1970s.

Cracks in the supply chain

Up until now, counterfeit food has been difficult to identify. PwC national agribusiness leader Craig Heraghty says that “most jurisdictions rely on low-tech anti-counterfeiting solutions, which have been ineffective in exposing food fraud.”.

Most of the better known examples of fraud were ultimately uncovered using DNA testing, which came only after customers had been consuming the products for a significant period of time.

One of the biggest problems for Australian producers when it comes to food counterfeiting is the lack of control they have over their supply chain. Once their products leave our shores, they are largely out of their control.

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For example, before a kernel of Western Australian wheat can become part of a loaf of bread in Egypt, it has to undergo a cross-jurisdictional journey involving an estimated 200 interventions from a variety of partners. At every step of the way (at least once it leaves Australia) there is an opportunity for fraud and tampering.

That is the crux of the challenge facing Australia: how to ensure end consumers, whether they are in China or the UK, are able to verify that the product they have in their hands is genuine Queensland beef or Victorian olive oil. The PwC Food Trust Platform is designed to meet this problem head-on, illuminating every step of the supply chain for consumers.
 

“The premium is vital to protect, and the premium is only as good as our ability to deliver against it.”

Craig Heraghty, Partner, PwC

Combating counterfeit with verifiable data ledgers and micro tags

The Food Trust Platform combines microscale scannable tags with verifiable data ledger trillian technology, along with Google cloud platforms, to empower consumers to track the provenance of a product using only their smartphone.

Under this system, products are marked using covert tags that the consumer can scan to follow it back through the supply chain to its original source.

Food Trust Platform process

Food Trust Platform process - Step 1
Food Trust Platform process - Step 2
Food Trust Platform process - Step 3

“By having the tag on the product in multiple locations in multiple-form factors, the consumer at the very end, wherever they are, can scan that product as it goes through the supply chain and track it back to where it came from.

“It's essentially the brand owner sending a direct message to the person who's buying it,” he said.

Mr Heraghty says the TruTag technology is designed to be as frictionless as possible for producers and businesses along the supply chain. The tags can be applied quickly and easily and will not add significantly to production or processing costs.

“Also it’s a brilliant way for the brand owner to reach out directly and connect to a consumer who's buying a product, and also reinforces the exclusivity of that product,” he said.

The benefits could be huge, ultimately preserving the premium Australian products receive overseas.

“The premium is vital to protect, and the premium is only as good as our ability to deliver against it,” he says.
 

Contact us

Craig Heraghty

Agribusiness Leader, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (2) 8266 1458

Joanna White

Senior Manager, Ventures, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (2) 8266 5878

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