A funny thing happened to me at the market the other day. Drawn to a trendy new cheese boutique (you know the type, sawdust floor, great cheese and expensive prices), I tasted some highly recommended low fat cream cheese. Indeed, it really was delicious. Rich, full bodied, with exactly the right butter thick consistency and tart saltiness. And at only 5% fat it seemed too good to be true! Being the skeptic that I am, I simply had to check it myself. So, to the astonishment of my hipster server and several innocent bystanders, I whipped out my SCiO and scanned the cheese. We barely had time to draw breath before the results were back – this incredible ‘low fat’ 5% cream cheese actually contained …20% fat! To the disbelieving objections of the shop owner I scanned again and got the exact same result. They say, ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is’, well, it was – and it’s not. We’re not talking plus/minus 2% here, we’re in full-on, full fat territory!
And the whole experience got me thinking: knowledge is power, and a little power can go a long way. What would happen to grocery shopping if all customers had the power to verify quality and nutrition for themselves? Will consumers exercise people power and demand higher quality goods once they can actually verify quality on the spot? And how will this impact the whole supply chain, right from the seed growers, farmers, through to distributors and retailers? Imagine shoppers empowered by SCiO, taking control and actually inspecting and verifying the nutritional value of the food before them, a real people’s revolution.
And it’s coming soon to a shop near you! We already have early adopters thinking this way. At the recent EuroFresh show, SanLucar, a distributor of high quality produce, presented a vision of equipping consumers with SCiO devices for exactly this purpose. In the near future it will be entirely possible for your average shopper to pick up their phone at the produce stand and scan. And people power may well be a double-edged sword for the food and beverage industry. What will the consequences be for a grocery store if users don’t like the BRIX contents of their tomatoes and vote with their feet? And will a store be able to differentiate itself with measurably excellent tomatoes? I can well imagine a savvy store advertising today’s BRIX on their storefront or website, but how will that translate commercially?
And other interesting issues will arise – as The Economist’s 1843 magazine wrote, will a new ethics of on-the-spot food validation become an issue for grocery stores? Will they even allow it? Will they have a choice if consumers insist? And how will these dynamics evolve as material sensing capabilities become a standard feature in mobile phones, making them available for anyone, anytime, anywhere?
Ultimately, I didn’t do much about the mislabeling of the cheese. I still bought a tub of the delicious, but not so skinny cheese, and while I may not munch on it too often, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it on the odd ‘never mind the calories’ occasion. But I’ll think twice about buying again at this store, or recommending it to a friend – I don’t feel I can trust them (and, after being called out in public, I have a sneaking suspicion I’m no longer on their favorite customer list). And perhaps this is one more lesson for manufacturers and retailers in a measurable world – the impact on consumers may not always be visible, but it will be there for sure.
Power to the people! Viva la Revolution!