How have you enhanced Zego’s proactive food safety directive?
Kavanagh: Adding the “Call to Action” to our boxes really ups the food safety ante, it is our communication tool for informing the clean food movement, and doing so beyond allergens. It calls on consumers to email other companies they buy from to ask for the same transparency we provide.
We’ve also started a glyphosate testing program for our organic and conventional products, and we tell consumers about it on the box as well. Glyphosate is the most concerning chemical in Round Up herbicide and it is in everything we eat and drink because it is in our rainwater. The test for glyphosate reside is fairly new, and what the testing done in Canada and by others is showing is that even organic food sometimes is very high in the chemical.
By including glyphosate information on our boxes, we are broadening our transparency conversation and increasing the audience beyond food allergic individuals.
What sparked the tipping point to develop the on-package Call to Action?
Kavanagh: One company that I had encouraged to use our Z-Code system in 2016 had a recall due to dairy contamination not four days after we had our most recent conversation about it! If they had used batch testing, those products probably would never have made it onto store shelves.
That same year, another company had bagged the wrong product, which certainly would have been caught before being released from the plant if it had used the Z-Code.
And these were allergy-friendly companies. I knew I had to do more to get the word out and drive consumers to demand these companies offer a higher level of safety.
First, however, I had a consumer education problem to solve—people can’t demand more safety if they don’t know what that looks like or how or who to ask for it. To that end, I developed a three-pronged strategy:
1. By expanding our line for the fruit and fruit + chia bars, we will be increasing our flavor appeal and gaining and educating more customers.
2. The “Call to Action” on the side of every box encourages consumers to email companies they buy from and ask them to adopt the same level of transparency we provide.
3. We are reaching out to the investment community to build our financial resources so we can dramatically increase our presence across the entire region west of the Rockies.
Why was packaging the best way to message the Call to Action?
Kavanagh: The Call to Action is critical to educating our consumers about how they can take action to make their food safer. As a company, we can’t possibly talk to all our customers about what we are trying to do and how they can be a part of cleaning the supply chain, but our boxes can do that. Most people want better, safer food. They want someone to offer them an effective way to advocate for it. Our Call to Action does just that—we suggest a simple but powerful way for consumers to advocate for cleaner food – email the companies you buy from and ask for it.
What do you hope to achieve with the Call?
Kavanagh: I want to empower a consumer-lead revolution to clean up the supply chain; I know that sounds big, but it’s a big problem so you need big, bold strategies. Big, bold strategies don’t have to be expensive and complicated. That’s the beauty of our Z-Code system. We take advantage of testing technology, smart packaging technology and the communication conduit of our packaging. Once a company starts testing frequently, it will find more problems and then will be able to trace down where the problem came from in the supply chain and work to fix it.
Congress can’t fix our food system, neither can individuals. But companies can, if we can get enough of them involved.
How will you know the Call is working?
Kavanagh: We will first measure our success when we see other companies starting to tell their customers how frequently they test and what they test for on their websites.
Next we will want to see them publishing their results on-line.
The final step, and the one most useful to consumers, they will make the batch test results obtainable through technology on their packaging, like we do with our Z-Code. It will just take a few allergy friendly companies to embrace this higher level of transparency to force the entire category to change its safety standard.
What consumer feedback have you received?
Kavanagh: After we introduced the Z-Code a few years ago, I started advocating with other allergy-friendly companies that they do the same. I was surprised by their resistance to adopt the idea. I talked to many good, conscientious companies who said that unless there was consumer demand for it, they wouldn’t take on the extra step to protect their customers.
To be fair, it is hard for companies to evaluate the comparative risk of testing each batch and possibly finding contamination versus not testing. As a result, a child can have an allergic reaction and/or the company has a recall, both of which happen infrequently. It’s so risky and expensive to produce an allergy friendly product, and companies are worried more frequent testing adds to the risk and expense, though I argue it decreases both in the long run.
A central goal of Zego is to be a catalyst for cleaning up the supply chain, and allergens are our starting point because the results of contamination are so dramatic, even fatal. To do this, we need to inform consumers so they can demand other companies increase their testing and adopt this new level of food safety.
Consumers, buyers and clean-food advocates love the transparency. It’s the other companies that are uneasy about it. There were so many more companies at the New Products Expo West this year making “Free From” claims—the category is exploding. It’s the right time for the allergy-friendly industry to take it up a notch to adopt this new batch-level testing and reporting standard.
PACKEX and four other events are part of the Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Expo Toronto—Automation Technology Expo (ATX), PLAST-EX, Design & Manufacturing and Powder & Bulk Solids (PBS)—found under one roof May 16-18. For more, visit http://admtoronto.com