EIT Food News

The EIT food project Smart Tags – Coordinators review at project end

The Smart Tags EIT food project is a one-year communication project that is about to finish in few days. The project was set to increase consumer trust towards food products by sharing information about the food product value chain during the whole life-cycle of the product, enabling novel service concepts and interactivity between consumers and the food industry. Now at the end of the project the coordinator, Kaisa Vehmas from VTT in Finland, looks in the rear-view mirror to give a constructive overview of the project’s progress and its successes, as well as challenges.

What a year!… When we started the SmartTags project on Feb 2020, we did not know what kind of year was head of us. We kicked-off online, started to know each other step-by-step, even if it was very different compared to face-to-face meeting.

The Smart Tags consortium consists of eight institutions and companies across Europe

The Smart Tags communication project was set to increase consumer trust towards food products by sharing information about the food product value chain during the whole life cycle of the product, enabling novel service concepts and interactivity between consumers and the food industry. Our aim was to screen and evaluate the suitability of different technologies available in the market and understand the needs and expectations of consumers towards how and where interactivity is valued.

The SmartTags consortium included partners from seven different countries: Finland, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Poland, Spain, and UK.

We planned to meet different people from the food value chain. But, most of the year we have worked remotely, from home. However, we have done a lot. Due to the communication type of project, we were not aiming to develop any novel technologies but we gathered our knowledge and implemented a literature review to find if there are other solutions that we are not experienced yet.

We define smart tags as items that will dynamically change their status in response to a variety of factors and will be seamlessly tracked during their lifecycle. We have divided them in three groups: sensors, indicators, data carriers.

IndicatorsSensorsData carriers
Indicators are devices that convey information associated with the presence or absence of a substance, the amount of the substance, or the degree of interaction between two or more substances (Chowdhury and Morey 2019).Sensors are used to detect a wider range of chemicals inside food packages with greater functionalities. Sensors provide continuous output of signals.Data carriers are used as a medium to support traceability of products.
Time temperature indicators Freshness indicators Gas indicators Nitrogen indicatorBiosensors Gas sensorsRFID Barcode

We interacted with stakeholders, by interviewing totally 24 company representatives from all the different participating countries. These interviews were conducted to find out the opinions and experiences of experts regarding Smart Tags and issues related to them; new technologies, consumer communication and consumer trust. According to stakeholders, the biggest motivator for using smart tags is cost, with the benefits of traceability and proof of freshness. In addition, the smart tags should create additional value for consumers.

Consumer felt that the smart tags would add value to the food products by increasing trust and confidence. They liked the possibility to get more information about the food products, increased traceability and helping to decide what to buy. They saw the smart tags also valuable to people with allergies who need or want more information on processing or ingredients. 

In the SmartTags project, we developed and evaluated different concepts that would benefit from using smart tags. Some of these concepts were for different food product categories, like fish, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, beverages, and dairy products. These examples were mainly related to product traceability, and food parameters monitoring. However, there are also some other possibilities for smart tags. In addition, we defined concepts for warehouse management, and logistics, and they could help the stakeholders to create an interactive communication channel with consumers.

During the SmartTags project, we were able to pilot some smart tags solutions in the lab scale. We prepared the nitrogen and oxygen indicators at VTT. These are based on 2D bar codes that have colour-changing areas. Because these types of smart tags are sensitive to environmental conditions, they are dynamic, but they also enable context aware services, as each of them can be unique. Spoiling fish creates nitrogen that can be detected from the package headspace with indicators reacting to changes in environmental conditions (e.g. presence of nitrogen) with visual colour change. The blue bar at the bottom of the code appears when in contact with nitrogen. The reading software can detect colour change in the indicator area. The oxygen indicator is based on the same technical principle as the nitrogen indicator. The third pre-pilot was the temperature logger to monitor temperature history of package. This type of logger can be used to track the temperature of the packaged item to boost sustainable and safe transport as well as storage of temperature sensitive products. This solution is based on an extremely thin NFC temperature monitoring IC for logging and communication, and indicator LEDs for indication of logging and threshold temperature. Temperature data can be accessed via Android application as a user interface.

The results from all these topics are described more in detail in other press releases and reports that can be found from the project web site. Next, we would like to be able to test and evaluate the smart tags solutions in large scale, with real use cases. EIT Food SmartTags has been an exceptional project. During the whole project, we have not been able to meet each other face-to-face. Still, we have received a lot. Looking forward to continue this work in coming projects. Successful and happy New Year!