By JOHN O'CONNELL
Produce suppliers are largely missing out on an easy opportunity to share recipes, contest announcements, nutritional data and business tidbits directly with customers, argues supermarket expert Phil Lempert.
Manufacturers of processed foods now routinely label packaging with quick response codes -- bar codes directing consumers' smart phones to related internet content while they're still at the store deciding what to buy.
A recent survey by Deloitte Digital found about half of Americans own smart phones, and 61 percent of mobile shoppers use them in the store, whether it's to learn more about products or find coupons.
"Typically, the produce department hasn't capitalized on that," said Lempert, founder of the website SupermarketGuru.com.
A few Idaho fresh potato packing facilities, however, are at the forefront of a QR code produce trend Lempert expects to grow with time.
Potandon Produce, located in Idaho Falls, began adding QR codes to its exclusive Klondike potatoes when it redesigned bags three years ago, said Barbara Keckler, the company's marketing coordinator.
"Eventually we'll have it across the board on all of our products," Keckler said. "I think there are a lot of options with it."
Keckler said one goal her company has for QR codes is getting consumers to try potatoes in new ways to increase sales. They utilize a reusable code, which allows Potandon to instantly change where on the Internet its QR codes direct customers. For example, Potandon uses them to advertise its seasonal recipe contests and sweepstakes. She said Potandon hasn't tracked the number of consumers scanning its QR codes.
Within the warehouse, Potandon is looking into using QR codes to trace the origin of its spuds in case of recalls.
"I think we're ahead of other (produce suppliers). You're going to see more people going to them," Keckler said.
Chris Wada, with Wada Farms in eastern Idaho, said his company was initially skeptical that people would use QR codes. They've begun adding them to bags during the past three years, convinced they provide another way to relay a message to the consumer.
"I still think QR codes are definitely on an upward trend. I don't think they'll take over the world, but for those consumers that like them they definitely have an impact," Wada said.
Wada advises companies to place QR codes on the fronts of bags, accompanied by a description of the content accessed, linking to smart phone-friendly mobile sites.
"I think the mistake a lot of times is it will go to just a company website. Ourselves included have made that mistake," said Wada, who typically links to recipes, Facebook promotions, the Wada growers' stories or nutritional information. "People are in a hurry. They don't need all of your website information."
The Idaho Preferred Program, which promotes Idaho food and agriculture, includes a QR code in its dining magazine advertisements directing readers to a list of Idaho Preferred restaurants, said Leah Clark, Idaho Preferred program manager with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
The Idaho Potato Commission offers a QR code to retailers and shippers linking to a site of spud recipes, said Seth Pemsler, IPC's retail/international vice president.