Consumers want more transparency about products before making a purchase decision. Product scanner apps for shoppers’ smartphones are booming. However, the evaluation of a product can only be as good as the quality of the data set available in the app. It is worth taking a look at the cooperation between the French pioneers Alkemics and Yuka.
The consumers’ demand for complete transparency about the origin, production conditions and the exact composition of the ingredients of products is immense. Whether it’s rump steak, face cream or frozen pizza: 75 percent of consumers in Germany would like to gain more transparency when buying food and cosmetic products, according to a representative study from 2020 by the digital association Bitkom.
One in two already pays attention to seals or labels, such as the MSC seal for sustainable fishing or one of the many organic labels that exist on the market. The need for transparency among German consumers is particularly strong when it comes to animal products such as meat, fish, milk and eggs. For product groups such as alcoholic beverages, soft drinks or sweets, the desire for transparency is significantly lower, as a survey by the Communications Platform Lebensmittelwirtschaft — based in Berlin — determined.
“Consumers in Germany not only want to know what is in their groceries, they also want to make conscious and informed purchases. To do this, they need transparency at all levels,” says Andreas Schweikert, Agriculture Officer at digital association Bitkom. “Digital technologies are taking us a big step forward: for example, barcode scanner apps for information on ingredients.”
Transparency is also particularly relevant for people with food intolerances and allergies. For this group, it is also crucial to know all the ingredients of food products before making a purchase decision in order to avoid health problems during consumption. However, consumers often do not find all the desired information on a product’s packaging or the information provided cannot be interpreted correctly.
Product scanner apps are just as good as their database
Product scanner apps for the shopper’s smartphone are supposed to provide a remedy. With their use, consumers want to receive information on quality, origin and ingredients directly on the display of their mobile phones in seconds — directly at the POS. With the result of the product scan, shoppers want to be able to decide whether the product meets their personal requirements or not.
Regardless of which app consumers use, the most important pillars of reliable evaluations of all product scanner apps are:
- the number of items made available via the database
- complete and accurate product data
- the quality of the scoring algorithm.
After all, there’s a very simply principle here: the quality of the rating can only be as good as the data stored for each individual SKU.
Although there are numerous providers of product scanner apps in individual European countries as well as in the USA and Canada, these do not always create the desired transparency because data on individual products are completely missing or is not available in an accurate, complete and updated form. It is worth taking a look at the differences in the provider market.
Limitations of the product scanner app Codecheck
The retailer-independent Codecheck app is supposed to reliably reveal for consumers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA whether a grocery or cosmetic product is vegan, contains lactose, gluten, palm oil or microplastics and what additional ingredients it contains. A nutrition traffic light shows, for example, the fat, sugar and salt content. Preferences regarding personal nutrition patterns and possible allergies can also be personalised and stored in the app.
The information stored in the app’s database, such as the name, GTIN or ingredients of food or cosmetics, comes both from the manufacturing companies and from the app’s users. If no information is available on a product, the app users can photograph the product and enter the ingredients and the name.
This approach is inherently sensitive to mistakes. Obviously, the data is not systematically updated and the information is rarely complete. In order to solve this problem better, Codecheck now also uses machine learning and in some cases manufacturer data to keep the database as up-to-date as possible.
CibouScan and Open Food Facts rely on Nutri Score
Similarly, the apps CibouScan and Open Food Facts aim to support consumers in their demand for transparency regarding essential products. CibouScan focuses on the analysis of ingredients and additives, analyses recipes, gives tips for a healthy diet and includes the Nutri Score in the evaluation.
Open Food Facts is a non-profit project of thousands of volunteers who feed the app’s database with information on individual products. However, systematic use of automated processes for verification and for the smooth exchange of data between the FMCG industry and consumer product scanner apps is missing.
Barcoo focuses on price transparency and store marketing for retailers
The free barcode scanner app Barcoo helps consumers not only to rate groceries but also to quickly compare prices, retrieve offers from brochures of individual retail outlets and find suppliers in their neighbourhood. The product guide combines data like those from price comparison portals, test reports and user ratings with information on environmental aspects from organisations like Greenpeace. The user of the app can also enter ratings, comments and price information themselves and add so far unknown items to the app’s database.
After the merger with Offerista Group, brochures, special offers and store information from various retail groups such as Kaufland, Lidl, Norma, Netto, Edeka, Rewe and Aldi Süd were also increasingly integrated into the app.
Yuka handles automated product data updates with the branded goods industry
A new standard in database quality has been set by the cooperation between the two French tech start-ups Yuka and Alkemics: Brand manufacturers working with Alkemics maintain their product data in the Alkemics platform for their retail partners. Via an interface, brand manufacturers can also give Yuka access to this constantly updated, accurate and controlled data. Yuka thus receives verified data via the Alkemics platform, which enables an accurate evaluation and creates the desired transparency for the consumer.
The interface between the Alkemics platform and Yuka is part of the consumer transparency initiative, launched in summer 2019, and will allow Yuka’s database to be constantly expanded and kept up-to-date in an automated way.
Yuka is the leading app in France in terms of number of downloads, active users and scanned products. Besides France, the country of origin of the founders, Yuka’s app is also available in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Spain, North America, Australia, Italy – and most recently in Germany – in the App Store and the Google Play Store.
Scoring of the consumer app Yuka
Independent consumer app Yuka helps shoppers decode grocery and cosmetic product labels to evaluate their impact on health. Yuka now has more than 20 million users worldwide. Consumers scan products they use on a daily base in the Yuka app using the Scandit Barcode Scanner SDK. The Yuka database now includes a total of more than 1.5 million food products and more than 500,000 cosmetic products. In addition, 800 new products are added to the database every day. Yuka uses a simple colour code to indicate a product’s impact on health — excellent, good, moderate or poor:
- Excellent / no risk (green dot)
- Good / low risk (yellow dot)
- Moderate / moderate risk (orange dot)
- Poor / high risk (red dot)
This colour code is accompanied by a rating from 0 to 100 and a detailed sheet showing the positive and negative components of the product is displayed to help understand the rating of each item.
The rating of grocery products in the Yuka app is based on three criteria:
1. Nutritional quality according to Nutri-Score (60 per cent of the score)
The calculation method is based on the French originated Nutri-Score system. This method takes into account the following criteria, for example: Calories, sugar, salt, saturated fat, protein, fibre, fruit and vegetables. The Retail Optimiser reported. The method of calculating the Nutri-Score was smoothed in the Yuka rating to avoid the stepping effect of the Nutri-Score, which can lead to unjustified scoring differences between two products with similar nutritional values.
2. Additives (30 per cent of the score)
According to Yuka, the score takes into account the current state of science, statements of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the National Food Safety Agency ANSES as well as many independent studies. According to the study results, each additive is assigned a risk level: no risk (green dot), low risk (yellow dot), moderate risk (orange dot), high risk (red dot). Details of the specific risk associated with each additive and the corresponding scientific sources are displayed in the application.
3. Organic dimension (10 percent of the score)
Products that have an approved national or international organic label are upgraded in this score. If the label includes the avoidance of chemical fungicides, pesticides and herbicides as well as contentious additives.
In its early days, the Yuka project relied on Open Food Facts, the crowd-researched database that uses a kind of Wikipedia model. But back in January 2018, Yuka decided to create its own database to implement advanced systems to monitor and verify data changes of a huge number of products in the market.
Brand manufacturers who today make their product data available to retailers via the Alkemics platform in a complete, verified and up-to-date form can, with a single click, also make it available to consumers via the Yuka application in an automated way. This applies to all publicly available information about their products such as composition, nutritional values, allergens. After approval by the brand owner, the Yuka application is automatically kept up-to-date via an interface.
As a result, not only retailers but also consumers have access to complete and accurate information on an even larger number of products, as well as information that is automatically updated when, for example, recipes change. The best basis for reliable product evaluation.
“Our challenge is to bring more transparency to the composition of products so that everyone can make the best decisions for their health,” explains Julie Chapon, co-founder and CEO of Yuka: “Access to constantly updated, accurate and controlled data from a larger number of products is essential. For brand manufacturers, it is also a way to concretise their commitment to transparency and benefit from immediate feedback when making improvements in formulations.”
Product master data is transmitted to Yuka in real time via the Alkemics platform. This gives brand manufacturers, large or small, the assurance that Yuka always has up-to-date information about their products in its database to better inform millions of consumers based on verified data.
“Consumers are demanding better and more comprehensive information,” says Antoine Durieux, co-founder and CEO of Alkemics: “We help manufacturers interact with apps like Yuka to improve their products and communicate more transparently. Our first goal is to enable the 20,000 FMCG manufacturers represented on our platform to connect across Europe to Yuka to facilitate their data exchange.”