/ Food & Drink, Shopping, Technology

Co-op’s QR codes on food labels – will you go scan-tastic?

Tomato with QR code

We’ve long been challenging food manufacturers and retailers to provide the right information on their labels, but The Co-op is going further by introducing QR Codes. The question is; will you be scanning them?

Just last month we printed our first QR Code in Which? Magazine and directed it back to a Conversation asking if this technology, which involves scanning a type of barcode with your smartphone, is a ‘fleeting fad or a future must-have?

Your responses were mixed – some (mostly non-smartphone owners) felt the codes were one technical development too far. Others are already finding lots of great uses for them in their day-to-day life, such as on boarding passes and to access train timetables.

A gap in the QR code market

Our technology researcher, Ben Stevens, who started the Conversation also presented some positive and negative examples, as well as one area where this tech could be used more:

‘I can think of several other examples where this would work. What about nutritional information or recipe QR codes on food packaging?’

I think he’s hit the nail on the head with that suggestion. I’ve got a fancy phone and I’ve downloaded a QR reader, but so far I’ve only been inspired enough to use it a few times.

But, as a shopper who wastes far too much time scanning labels and store information to find out if I’m buying British, whether my meat was reared outdoors or how much salt is in my sarnies, seeing more QR codes on food would be sure to make my life much easier.

The Co-op leads the way

So I’m applauding The Co-op for leading the way among food retailers. The supermarket chain has just announced its plans to trial QR codes on packaging for apples, pears, onions, and potatoes, produced by British growers including The Co-operative Farms.

The codes will direct shoppers straight to The Co-op’s mobile site and information about its food, suppliers, nutritional information and recipes. They’ve even thought of people without smartphones by providing a text service to the same information. But why? Helen Bridgett of The Co-operative Food explains:

‘Customers want to know what they are buying, where it’s from and how it got here, as well as the health benefits and what they can do with it in the kitchen. QR codes present an opportunity to raise awareness and inform customers about the foods we sell.’

I completely agree, Helen, but I guess others won’t. Still, the beauty is that these little black and white patterns are small and pretty harmless, so if you couldn’t give two hoots about whether your steak came from a happy cow then simply ignore them.

The only possible downside I can foresee? Retailers relying on the information provided by QR codes to replace essentials that should be on the actual packaging. Luckily, this is increasingly covered by law, so it’s unlikely to lead to that.

Are you as keen as me to get down to your local Co-op store and start scanning? If this idea takes off we could be better informed about what we’re eating and even go home with some new ingredients and recipe ideas to try out.


With the cheaper foods available at the German discounters and oriental supermarkets, I don’t need to shop at my local Co-op… only thing I ever bought there was Hellmann’s Real Mayo… at £1.00 reduced from £1.99 for a 400 g jar when Waitrose was offering twice as much at 800 g similar stuff at £1.49, half-priced from £2.99. Works out cheaper there and they keep an awfully long time, and I naturally stocked up in no small quantity!

QR codes could link to an app that helped those with food allergies and intolerance select safe products.

They could also alert the rest of us to products that might make us obese, such as Hellmanns’s Real Mayo (inspired by the previous message).

Perhaps a novelty to start with but I think we are going to see a lot more of QR codes soon.

I envisage that QR codes could replace bar codes, providing information that is useful to both the shop and the consumer.

Another phone app using QR codes could allow you to compare the price of an item with prices in other stores and online suppliers.

I’ll just have to get an iPhone then. Cue groans from the family as I meanderalong the aisles. Maybe the info could be stored for digesting at leisure?

Just bookmark the websites if you want to go back to them.

Just a rather Basic coment:- What Phone is required to be able to read a “QR” code?
I have a fairly recent Nokia 5280 but I do not think it has “Scanner” ability. Does it? Or what do I, as a Pensioner, need to Upgrade to?

I think you might be out of luck, unfortunately. See:

In short it works for us – however you need to have everything right for that to happen. http://www.scanandgo.co.uk/Package/

5 Top Tips for using QR codes
1 Do NOT link to a web site that is not optimised for mobiles
2 Do have a landing page for that specific offer
3 Do add value with video,  audio, competitions and surveys
4 Do track responses
5 Do offer downloadable coupons that can be redeemed
Do NOT use QR codes if you can’t do all of the above at least!  Your customers will get annoyed and there is such a thing as negative marketing!