The basic barcode is just not up to the job in an age where shoppers demanding far greater transparency about products and store owners need more information to help with stock taking and product recalls.
Tech-savy consumers increasingly want to be able to read such information as ingredients, allergens or country of origin online or with their smartphone, according to Kees Jacobs, consultant at Cap Gemini. Jacobs is working with the world's top retailers and food manufacturers to try to agree new global standards for labels and product data.
"The current barcode is not sufficient to be the carrier of much more granular information that is needed," he told Reuters.
The bigger challenge remains gathering, storing and standardising the information in the first place, he said.
According to Reuters, companies and groups such as the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global network of some 400 retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, is now coordinating efforts to harmonise product data and labelling.
Most firms accept that more transparency is needed after food scandals, such as the horsemeat scandal in 2013. But it can prove hard to persuade them to share data that many see as commercially sensitive.
GS1, a non-profit organisation that assigns the unique numbers in barcodes, has developed a double-layered barcode it calls the ‘data bar’ which can carry some extra details such as expiry date, quantity, batch or lot number. It already holds data from 30,0000 companies on some 18 million products.
"I am convinced we will have a day where pretty much all information about all products will be available to all consumers," said Malcom Bowden, president of global solutions at GSA1.
Bowden predicts different systems will probably have to coexist for the next decade or so as retailers and logistics providers gradually upgrade their scanning systems.Reuse content