You go to great lengths to make your brands and their products stand out. But what happens when those brands and their products are victims of counterfeiting or theft, and you need something more?
As product counterfeiters and diverters become ever more sophisticated, new track-and-trace technologies are being developed and integrated into package designs to help safeguard brands’ reputations and bottom lines, and consumers’ safety. And brand owners are using tracking technology to tap into a valuable demographic—consumers who care about the origins of the products they buy.
Farm to table
Developed in the 1990s for the automotive industry, Quick Response codes’ easy implementation and use for brand owners and consumers have made it a go-to tracking solution.
BioPet Vet Lab recently launched IntegriMeat, a livestock tracking program aimed at the natural foods market that enables farmers to track their cows and consumers to track the meat they purchase.
First, a DNA sample is taken from each animal. The sample is sent to BioPet, which logs the info into a database. If a “safety incident” occurs (think E. coli outbreak), BioPet would be able to determine the source of the tainted meat—all the way back to where and when the cow was raised, transported and slaughtered.
Consumers can scan a Quick Response (QR) code on the product packaging to access information about where and how a cow was raised. For brand owners, this means potential access to the valuable organics market.
“Studies show that consumers are willing to pay something like 20% more for beef they know is raised in a certain way.” says Meg Retinger, chief administrative officer at BioPet.
Red’s Best Seafood in Boston is also using QR codes. Owner Jared Auberbach wanted to create a system to streamline the supply chain, let fishermen know where their catch ends up, and let consumers, using a QR code on the packaging, in on the entire process, from catch to table.
The company is currently developing a tracking system that enables fish to be purchased online as it’s being unloaded from a boat. That very evening, the prebought fish will be packaged in a tamper-evident zippered pouch with a QR code on it.
“We can use this technology to offer people a peep-hole into the supply chain,” he says. “And the packaging is amazing. No smell, minimal waste, all you’re throwing away this tiny plastic bag, or you’re washing it and recycling it, hopefully.”
Adding QR codes to product packaging needn’t be intrusive or unattractive. Quite the opposite, and Vancouver’s Ethical Bean Coffee is proof that tracking and design can work together.
Wanting to give consumers the ability to obtain in-depth information about where its coffee was coming from, Ethical Bean added QR codes to its packages. The bags are silver—a homage to Apple design—and the design incorporates color coding for each coffee type. Lloyd Bernhardt, president, says the brand originally had tried putting the QR code on the front, but it was too distracting, so Ethical Bean placed a large code on the back where it would be easy for consumers to see, with the directive “scan me.” “We’ve had a lot of really positive responses from retailers and consumers,” he says. “It’s a point of differentiation for us as well because there’s a lot of coffee in the world.”
Track-and-trace arms race
For brand owners who want—or need—to protect their products from counterfeiting and diversion, new package design technologies are at the forefront of the fight.
What products are actually the targets of counterfeiters? Everything, says Dr. John Spink, professor at the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program at Michigan State University. “We had this misperception that it was limited to luxury goods,” he says. “But probably only 5 to 10% of all counterfeiting is in what we would consider luxury goods.”
“Brand owners and designers should stay one step ahead of counterfeiters with a portfolio of anti-counterfeiting features available for quick implementation,” says Spink. “All built in a series, so everything builds off the previous series. That’s how the best-run companies line it up.”
The aim is to make counterfeiting and diversion challenging enough so a brand’s products will be an unattractive target, and the counterfeiters and diverters will give up. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, will often use a proprietary bottle and cap, according to Spink, which counterfeiters would have difficulty obtaining, and so would have to make their own—likely enough of a barrier that they’d move on to another victim.
“A countermeasure can be very simple like upgrading certain types of packaging materials themselves or the types of printing and then it can evolve from there to some type of taggants,” Spink explains.
But what if you need to take brand protection to the next level? Then it might be time to employ covert track-and-trace technologies that are much harder—if not impossible—to detect and duplicate. “We’re starting to see brand owners thinking about the design of the packaging and where strategically they can place, not just overt, but covert marking to protect their brand,” says Keith Cutri, director of business development for Kodak Brand Protection.
Covert markers are garnering favor among brand owners. As counterfeiting has developed into a complex global business, counterfeiters are able to reproduce almost anything visible. “It’s not just rudimentary level type of analysis,” says Cutri. “There are counterfeiters in various countries that have very sophisticated means by which they can look for and detect different security measures.”
“Thus overt security applications are falling out of favor,” says Steve Delapine, vice president of business development of Brandwatch Technologies, a brand security solutions supplier. “What we found is you could have one of the most complex designs as a hologram on your product and within a week that would be copied almost to perfection,” Delapine explains. “The counterfeiter’s equipment and access to paper and substrates means if you can do it, they probably can. And consumers don’t know the difference between a real and fake hologram anyway.”
“A redesign shouldn’t be the first weapon in a brand owner’s arsenal if they’re having problems,” says Delapine. Instead, he advises clients to keep their package designs and add a covert feature, such as a taggant in the ink, to establish a baseline of how big a problem they have on their hands. But if a rebranding is on the horizon, it can be the ideal event to implement a track-and-trace plan. “Prior to the rebranding, we could look at implementing the covert feature first, to see how big the problem is and then as we do the rebrand implement further technologies and solutions.”
Kodak commonly receives requests from brand owners to design a covert taggant for specific locations on packaging, for example, directly on the trademark, or in a particular layer of ink or varnish on the trademark. “It’s a legal measure,” explains Cutri, “that can help prosecute a diverter who tampers with a trademark.
“If you want to apply a covert mark, you might do it across a logo, within a knock-out area, in a certain ink color, or a flood coat within the varnish covering the entire package,” he says. “You can embed a covert mark in any area of your packaging design where you’re laying some sort of ink on substrate, and you can do a combination of any of these as a layered security.”
In this war of attrition, brand owners are only as good as their line of attack to protect their products—and their loyal consumers. Cutri says: “It’s not just the technology, not just the profile of the track-and-trace, it’s the strategy deployed by the brand owner in staying one step ahead of the diverters and the counterfeiters.”