The Secure Product Fingerprint for the food supply chain

How farmers in China protect their specialty produce against counterfeiting and increase its traceability.

Problem

Specialty agricultural products from a particular region are often subject to counterfeiting. This jeopardizes the business of local farmers and misleads consumers. In addition, producers have little transparency as to the product journey along distribution channels. They also lack direct feedback from consumers.

Solution

Together with Bosch.IO, Zhejiang Chuangji Electronics has created a comprehensive solution designed to protect agricultural products with a geographical indication across the Chinese market. The solution includes a platform for tracking produce and verifying its authenticity, based on the Secure Product Fingerprint.

Benefit

The Secure Product Fingerprint by Bosch.IO provides customers with a reliable and easy way of verifying a product’s origin and authenticity. It also gives farmers a direct channel to their consumers and delivers insights into the supply chain for their produce.

"By safeguarding the value of traditional produce, this initiative enables us to lift rural communities in China out of poverty. We hope it will effectively resolve the issue of the counterfeiting of GI agricultural products on the domestic market."
CHEN Pin Chairman of Zhejiang Chuangji Electronics

Regional specialty products

Across the world, customers place a high value on agricultural products that are considered a regional specialty. Such products have a reputation for being of superior quality that is hard to come by elsewhere. Their distinctive characteristics are the result of unique environmental conditions and traditional agricultural practices specific to the region they come from.

For this reason, the origin of such products is usually highlighted on the product label. Origins that create an association with a product’s quality, reputation, or other characteristics are called geographical indications (GIs). GI marks are recognized by World Trade Organization members, including all European Union member states and China. The purpose of such product marking is to avoid misleading consumers and to stop unfair competition.

Global examples of products with a geographical indication

  • Darjeeling tea: A special sort of tea grown in the Darjeeling or Kalimpong districts in West Bengal, India. One of the most popular black teas in the world.
  • Champagne: Sparkling wine produced from specific types of grape sourced exclusively from the Champagne region of France.

High risk of counterfeiting and a lack of traceability

Such regional products not only attract customers; they are also subject to a higher risk of counterfeiting. Indeed, for some free riders, the opportunity to boost sales of lower-quality products simply by misrepresenting their origin is just too much of a temptation to resist.

In China, this particularly affects local farmers who supply fruit and vegetables with a geographical indication to the domestic market. These farmers put a lot of effort into growing the traditional crops for which their region is known. This means, conserving the natural resources essential for their farming and ensuring a continuity of traditional knowledge. Alongside counterfeiting, their business also suffers from a lack of traceability and proper quality-assurance mechanisms.

To address these challenges, Zhejiang Chuangji Electronics has launched a dedicated digital platform for farmers and consumers in 2020.

About Zhejiang Chuangji Electronics

Zhejiang Chuangji Electronics Co., Ltd., established in 2003, is located in Yongkang, the hardware capital of China. It is a technological enterprise specializing in the development and production of pest-control/insecticidal appliances, solutions for plant protection and crop farming, and agricultural IoT. The company’s portfolio includes 17 patented products, which are sold in China and more than 50 other countries.

A digital platform for GI agricultural products

The solution consists of two parts. The first part is a multifunctional platform that enables eligible farmers to obtain a digital certificate of the geographical indication for their product and to create a detailed profile. This profile includes, for example, a description of the product’s distinctive features, the specific methods of crop cultivation, any awards and certificates received, and promotional photos and videos. The online platform also stores any relevant records documenting that the production process complies with the country’s official regulations. Having a centralized platform makes it easier for supervising authorities to ensure proper quality-control procedures for agricultural produce.

The second part is the Secure Product Fingerprint – Bosch’s patented anti-counterfeiting solution, which is based on computer vision and AI technology. Participating farmers can order Secure Product Fingerprint labels via the platform. These QR code labels are enhanced with special micro-features that make it virtually impossible to copy them . The labels are then added to product packaging and registered in the cloud database. Each time a label is scanned, the data is sent to the platform, thereby ensuring product traceability. This way, the platform provides tracking of agricultural products right along their production and distribution channels.

When the product reaches a retailer, the consumer can easily verify its authenticity by scanning the QR code label with a smartphone camera. The system then checks the label data against a sample stored in the cloud so as to confirm that the product is genuine and comes from a particular region.

How it works

The platform was launched in July 2020. By October 2020, there were already 18 agricultural estates participating, with 15 GI crops ranging from ginger to grapes to waxberries. Chuangji Electronics acts as a platform operator, delivering the solution as a SaaS out of Zhejiang province to farmers and customers across China. Farmers pay a small monthly fee to use the platform. This fee is kept affordable thanks to a dedicated government subsidy. For consumers, the solution is free.

Waxberries are a regional specialty produced in Zhejiang province. (Image: Bosch.IO)
A box of waxberries protected by a Secure Product Fingerprint QR code label. (Image: Bosch.IO)
Verification of product authenticity after scanning its QR code label. (Image: Bosch.IO)

Traceability for farmers, greater confidence for supply chain partners

Various incentive programs can encourage supply chain partners to scan the QR code label as products pass along distribution channels. This gives farmers greater transparency as to the path to the customer and the overall geographical distribution of their produce. The system can also be linked to the vehicle-tracking system of a shipping company, thereby providing extra information on the carrier and the product location at any time. This transparency enables farmers to make informed decisions on distribution issues and to assess the performance of their distribution partners.

In turn, for wholesalers and retailers, the solution provides a reliable confirmation of the origin and authenticity of the specialty products they deliver to the marketplace and thus protects their business reputation.

Bridging the gap between farmers and consumers

The main benefit for consumers is the knowledge that they are getting what they pay for. After scanning the QR code label with a mobile phone, customers first receive verification of the product’s origin. They are then redirected to the product website, where farmers can provide more background information on their produce and its special characteristics. Here, customers can also opt to give direct feedback on the quality of the purchased product. Together with this feedback, farmers receive the GPS coordinates of the point of sale (subject to the customer’s consent to provide location data). Customers can also upload pictures and videos of any product they found unsatisfactory, so that the producer can then take quick action to rectify the issue and increase customer satisfaction.

Safeguarding traditional agricultural communities

The main aim of the platform is to protect and encourage the production of local, traditional crops, to help raise farmers’ income, and to promote economic growth in rural communities. In turn, the recognition and protection of GI products will enable local communities to invest more in maintaining the specific qualities of the product on which their reputation is built. This means sticking to the principles of sustainable agriculture and conserving the natural environment. At the same time, increasing the profitability of traditional farming will also help prevent labor out-migration and protect the cultural identity of local communities.

The Secure Product Fingerprint solution is currently available in China. Contact us to inquire about its availability in your country.