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Zego’s packaging aims for a new level of food safety

Zego’s packaging aims for a new level of food safety
Zego’s new product launches feature the allergen-reporting QR code woven more seamlessly into the packaging design.

Superfood snacks maker Zego improves its proprietary batch-level QR code and adds an on-pack Call to Action to further promote awareness of food safety through allergen reporting.

Springtime is for many a season of flowering trees and plants and, alas, allergens. But what can be done about food allergens that are perennial, often serious concerns for a number of consumers?

Zego, a forward-thinking, San Francisco-based maker of superfood snacks, has a new twist on a food safety solution it pioneered in 2014: An on-package Quick Response (QR) code that provides batch-level allergen data on every product (see Food safety bar set higher with allergen-reporting QR code from April 2014 and Zego packaging boldly recasts allergen-level QR code from January 2015).

This spring, in conjunction with a three-product launch (shown above), Zego again pushes the envelope on allergen safety. Colleen Kavanagh, co-founder of Zego, shares news about the brand’s latest initiatives including a revamped, highly-flexible on-package QR code and proactive Call to Action on product boxes that aims to spark a consumer-driven movement.

Tells us about your new product launches.

Kavanagh: We have a fantastic new line of bars made from “ugly fruit” harvested from farms in Oregon, Washington and California that pack a huge burst of natural fruit flavor from just 2-3 fruit ingredients. For people looking for protein and heathy fats, we have another version with chia seeds added to provide protein and 600mg of healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

And for our original sunflower butter-based line, we are adding a new flavor called Lemon Ginger that features a deliciously spicy, anti-inflammatory combination of ginger, turmeric and black pepper.

Summarize your consumer-friendly, allergen reporting program.

Kavanagh: Every one of our bars is batch-tested for cross contact with top allergens and gluten. The products are manufactured in an allergy-free facility, which is the traditional standard for allergen safety, but cross contamination can occur anywhere from field to factory. So in addition to the many other precautions we take, we test the end product to see if anything slipped through. We call the Zego Quick Response Code our Z-Code food safety system. It’s the way people access the test results using their smartphones for the specific batch from which that bar was made.

What were the biggest challenges with the new look and design?

Kavanagh: We had two challenges. First was on the boxes. I really wanted to integrate the code into the artwork—it was a metaphor for how the transparency is integrated into our company, but we still had to make it clear that it was a QR code.

As background, smartphone cameras have evolved to a point where brands can integrate the QR codes into the packaging design without affecting the graphics, which makes the codes so much more usable for designers and brands. In fact, I had to ensure that they were still identifiable as QR codes.

We have a picture of the fruit the bars are made from on the boxes and wrappers and tried putting the code inside a piece of fruit. That didn’t work because fruit was the most important indicator about what was inside, and the code design interfered too much with that. Consumers didn’t first notice the fruit, they noticed the code—most of our customer actually don’t have allergies. They just love the clean, delicious superfood snacks.

But it worked perfectly when we put the code inside a leaf that’s part of the fruit’s artwork. The consumer first sees that the product inside features raspberries, for example, then they notice the cool leaf with a code in it and wonder and investigate why it’s there. 

A related challenge came about because the one-inch-wide fruit bars are smaller than our sunflower butter bars; we couldn’t fit a scannable QR code into the leaves in the fruit image for our wrappers. We opted for a square code that took up less space, though we were able to work with colors to make the code fit in with the overall design better.

What advice do you have about QR codes?

Kavanagh: When looking to place your QR, take care to put it in a part of the design that is unlikely to get crinkled or wrap around an edge if your machine is a little off. QR codes can be quite small and still scan, but they need to be as flat as possible.

Can you credit your design company?

Kavanagh: I’ve been using contractors from for my projects lately. If you have some background in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, you can get what you need for a fraction of the cost of a traditional designer in the SF Bay Area.

Next: A bold Call to Action


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


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


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