Smartphone Technology Brings Food Information to Our Fingertips

Smartphone applications are the latest tools being used by companies and Governments in Asia to encourage healthier lifestyles and bring more nutrition and food information to consumers’ fingertips.

With the number of smartphone users in the Asia region reaching a total of 738.2 million last year and total penetration growing quickly, policy makers and companies are looking at how smartphone applications and barcode readers can be used to provide more information on the origin and nutrition of food products.

Last month, the Malaysian Ministry of Health launched MyNutriApp which provides consumers with nutritional information on food products, while the introduction of a QR code scanning and reading system in Thailand in one retail outlet enables consumers to trace the source of fresh meat products sold in the country.

Policy Director Melanie Vilarasau Slade, said smartphone technology offered huge potential for nutrition education and labelling.

“It is great to see this technology provide more information about food to consumers. People increasingly want to know more about where their food comes from and its nutritional value at the point of sale. Good nutrition labelling, through formats such as Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), are one way we can do this and, with increasing smartphone penetration across Asia, smartphone technology allows food companies to provide a lot more information about their product in a simple and easy to understand format.”

Launched alongside the MyNutri website, the MyNutriApp in Malaysia aims to provide Malaysian consumers with on-the-go information about “what to eat, how much to eat and what the caloric contents [of food] are”. It is available in four languages – English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil - in a country that has around 80% smartphone penetration, one of the highest rates in the region.

Through the application, users can provide personal information such as their calorie requirements and then obtain information on the recommended daily meals that suit their needs. The application also recommends exercises people can take part in, to increase their physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Ms Vilarasau Slade said the influence this kind of information can have at point of sale is significant. The results from a 2011 study carried out by non-profit organisation GS1 Australia and Victoria University revealed that 40 per cent of participants would change their purchases based on the nutrition information provided by their smartphone applications.

QR codes are another smartphone tool helping to provide consumers with more information on food products. These codes – a type of barcode that can be read by smartphones with a camera – are able to store information and provide consumers with quick access to a huge range of product information. One scan of a QR code provides consumers with access to everything from nutritional content to product source of origin.

Last month in Thailand, hypermarket chain Tesco Lotus introduced QR code-scanning technology to its fresh meat products to not only meet the needs of health-conscious consumers, but also provide them with additional information about where their food comes from. The scanning function allows consumers to trace the origin of fresh pork and chicken, and provides recommendations on how these meat products should be prepared.

The function also provides guideline daily amount information to help consumers understand more about the nutritional value of products they’re purchasing.

Ms. Vilarasau Slade said “The options offered by smartphones means consumers are far less dependent on the information contained on food labels. Integrating product information with mobile apps and barcode scanning technologies provide an excellent solution to the physical limitations of food packaging as a source of information.

It also provides an opportunity to minimise differences across food labelling, allowing for free flow of goods across borders whilst using the possibilities granted by modern technology to encourage healthy eating and to assure consumers on the safety of the products they are consuming.”

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