QR codes ripen as social commerce moves from seed to store

1 Jul 2011

Fruit and veg distributor TopFruit.com has discovered the essence of how QR codes have sparked a new social commerce movement that combines health and safety with infotainment and 21st-century business savvy.

When you talk to Vincent Dolan of Topfruit.com, a spin-out of fruit wholesaler Fyffes, it is a refreshing reminder of the world of wonder that is emerging thanks to smartphones and QR codes and how this new technology is becoming more compelling and rapidly more real in our day-to-day lives.

I didn’t ring Dolan to talk about QR codes. I rang him initially to talk about a viral video that has attracted 140,000 hits on YouTube in just one week (see below), created by Topfruit.com and social media marketing outfit SimplyZesty that involved the creation of a giant iPhone shaped by:

·         Eight boxes of aubergines

·         Two boxes of watermelons

·         And various quantities of raspberries, blueberries, limes, oranges, lemons, limes, kiwis, cantaloupe melons, bananas, grapes and tomatoes

Assuring me that the fruit and vegetables used in the video were about to be disposed with and that nothing was wasted, Dolan explained that social media is becoming a real game changer for Topfruit’s business, helped along by innovations in smartphone technology and increasingly present QR code apps.

What are QR codes?

Put simply, QR codes, or quick response codes, are the barcodes of the 21st century. Readable by dedicated QR readers but mostly by smartphone cameras, they consist of black dots arranged on a white background. Scan one of these with your phone and you can be brought to a specific URL or can download an app.

Typical QR code scanning apps include QR Droid on Android devices and ScanLife on iPhones.

“Bord Bia did some research last year and 800 people sat down in a focus group and were asked why they didn’t eat enough fruit or vegetables. Mostly they professed ignorance of what was available and how good it was for them and nine out of 10 said they would be interested in learning more.

“So that’s where the QR code idea came from.

Seeding a new plan

“We were part of Fyffes but were largely unknown among consumers so we decided to do something different and in keeping with our plan to be a consumer champion.

“A person out doing their shopping can simply scan the code and we will give them recipes and nutritional information. As far as I know, we’re the first FMCG firm to be using mobile technology in this way.

“We believe this is the way forward. We’ve spoken to Apple and O2, for example, and they predict that more people will be accessing the internet and information via smartphones than laptops in the next 18 months.”

Dolan laughs at the irony – an ordinary firm in a standardised, commodity industry doing something really unusual for fresh produce in the retail environment. “It certainly raises a smile among our fresh produce suppliers and they love the fact that we can provide consumers in the store with real knowledge about what they might buy.”

Topfruit’s goods are being sold across Europe with QR codes on the packaging. Irish retailer Dunnes Stores was the first retail partner to put the packaging on their shelves.

“It’s a new concept and many admire the genius of a QR code taking the consumer to a hyperlink. Here’s an example: most people don’t buy pears because of ripeness. Our QR code on our packs of pears links them to a video of how to ripen pears. This is genius because it gives the consumer the information they need and in turn it helps us to sell the product.

“Our apple packs contain QR codes aimed at parents with a video showing 10 easy ways to get more fruit into a kid’s diet. It’s about getting web information into the heads of consumers who aren’t exactly in a place where they can sit down and surf.”

The versatility of the platform recently came into its own during the recent E.coli scare in Germany. Topfruit.com shot a video at its Dutch cucumber supplier showing consumers the entire supply chain and the journey of the cucumbers to the shop they were standing in and all the quality protocols that were observed. “They simply scanned the code and saw the product’s journey from the seed to the store.”

Dolan is aware QR code technology is still at a nascent stage and the biggest challenge is getting consumers to download the various QR scanner apps onto their smartphones.

“When Fyffes introduced bananas into the UK in the 1880s, they had to supply a leaflet with every piece of fruit so that people remembered to peel the skin. But now you can embed a world of safety, knowledge, information and entertainment into a single code that you can stick on each piece of fruit or packaging.

“We believe that Apple will have QR code scanners embedded in the upcoming iPhone 5, so the opportunity is ripe,” he said.

Looking ahead, Dolan and his team are trying to figure out new ways of using QR codes to entertain and inform consumers. “We’re looking ahead to Halloween, for example, and are planning content for the QR codes we can put on pumpkins. We’re also investigating linking our QR codes to downloadable games, like Fruit Ninja, so parents can shop in peace while their kids play the game.”

Dolan sees a competitive advantage in being a traditional businessman in a commodity sector being at the spearhead of a move into a new commercial landscape.

“Put simply, it’s an opportunity to talk directly to the consumer and empower them to buy more.”

iPhone 5 video 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years