food information

Num-Alim: the takeover of food information by food manufacturers

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Food safety issues are increasingly on the minds of consumers when they shop. They want to be increasingly informed about the content, quality and source of the products they buy. A plethora of applications has emerged in recent years, independent of the industry and often fed by information gathered from consumers themselves. This is a danger that food manufacturers have quickly spotted. Their response: the implementation of a gigantic product data platform, which they will be able to control and which will be the law in consumer information.
 
On knew about applications such as What's in it?launched last September by System U, which tracks "controversial" substances, or Yukathe most famous, 100 independent %, which deciphers the nutritional information usually found on the back of food packages, or Foodvisor, Is My Food Good... consumers are looking for more and more information about food products: product composition, allergens, nutritional information, origin of ingredients, environmental footprint, production conditions... Three out of five consumers shop smartphone in hand.
These applications change purchasing behavior based on information from open and cooperative information bases such as Open Food Factsand consumers themselves. Apps that are unexpectedly successful: more than 7.5 million downloads for Yuka for example.
 
As Daniel Nairaud, Director of the French Fund for Food and Health, explains, ". The meaning of the story is personalized nutrition! In 15 years, it is highly likely that we will be eating according to our genome and microbiota. Digital tools can therefore play the role of decision support, in order to better match our food choices to our needs. ".
 

Counter-attack by industrialists

Faced with the multiplication of these initiatives with a strong consumerist focus, which do not work with any brand or manufacturer, food manufacturers are reacting. All the more so as certain information, such as that relating for example to additives used in the manufacture of products, could be highly detrimental to their commercial performance. Not wishing to leave this sensitive information out of their pre-square, they have therefore decided to go on the counter-attack and to launch, with the blessing of the public authorities, their own platform : Num-Alim.
 
Within 18 months, this gigantic database will establish the food identity card. It will contain information on the modes of production and consumption of food and its mapping, individual consumption. It will enable research to be carried out to find out our real needs and to feed ourselves accordingly. Stated objective: to buy in a more enlightened way.
 
The promoters of the NumAlim platform say they want to provide a real service for consumers. First, in the choice of the foods they buy but also on the associations between them, the preparation of balanced meals, promoting healthy culinary practices. They claim that their database will be a mine of reliable information on products in order to eventually create nutritional profiles with a link to the health of individuals.
 
They add that this platform will also be useful to farmers, who will be able to make their farming practices, manufacturing and breeding processes better known and to promote the many quality approaches in their sectors. SMEs and VSEs will be able to make the specificities of their production better known and improve their visibility with the major retailers, who will find it easier to source their products.
 

The big brands in the maneuver

The platform is the result of a collaborative effort led by ANIA, the national federation of food manufacturers: it groups together almost all the brands found on the shelves of supermarkets and hypermarkets. The Fonds Français pour l'Alimentation et la Santé (FFAS), the Fondation Avril, representing the upstream agricultural sector, and GS1 (the entry point for all barcodes) have joined the initiative. Their objective: " Digital technology gives us new means to better understand our manufacturing processes and to promote the many quality approaches in the industry. With Num-Alim, we are moving up a gear in terms of transparency. Finally, we will have a reliable, exhaustive and up-to-date source to guide consumers in their choices. Num-Alim is a priority and strategic project for ANIA and food companies. "says Richard Girardot, President of ANIA.
 
18,000 French agri-food companies will have to provide data on their products with common rules and a common language in order to feed this large digital catalogue. The Num-Alim platform will directly record the conditions of production and breeding with the upstream agricultural sector.
In addition, information on purchases and eating habits will be collected via the sales receipts or loyalty cards of three supermarket chains. Finally, information on the nutritional status of the population will be collected.
All these data will be cross-referenced and analyzed to give them value and create artificial intelligence.
 
The budget needed to create Num-Alim amounts to 6.2 million euros. It will be co-financed by the public and private sectors, with investors that are not yet known.
 

Where it hurts

But the problem is that this platform is informed directly by the manufacturers and by them alone. The logic is the same as that of mandatory product labelling. This digital food platform will gather data updated in real time by manufacturers on all food products by establishing their digital identity card, gathered in a single digital catalogue which will aggregate other information such as production methods, Nutri-Score rating, labels, environmental footprint, etc.
 
On paper, NumAlim's data will be open to anyone who wants to analyze, interpret and publish it (scientists, startups, citizens...). They will serve as a quasi-obligatory reference base for all new mobile applications. All this would be perfect if access to the data were truly free. But this is not the case at all. Companies, interested in the platform's services, will have to join GS1, the body that publishes standards, such as barcodes and QR codes, for an amount ranging from 80 to 4,000 euros per year, depending on their turnover. A barrier to entry that will inevitably limit the deployment of new initiatives on the one hand, and on the other hand, will create a costly dependency on a single "official data provider". We have seen in other areas, on another scale such as the GAFA, how this type of dependency produces perverse effects.
 
Will consumers trust Num-Alim? Scalded by repeated food scandals, they are suspicious of manufacturers and are increasingly suspicious of the ingredients that product manufacturers concoct with more or less transparency. The same people who will enter their data into the new platform...
 
 

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