Researchers at Rice University have discovered a way to convert the outer layer of food into graphene, creating an edible barcode “tattoo.” This technology, which can be applied to any substance with a high level of lignin, such as potatoes and carrots or even wood and fiber, has significant implications for how product information is communicated to consumers.
These graphene “tattoos” can do away with the separate labels, stickers, and tags commonly found on grocery store products. Instead of sticking a paper label, embedded with data about the product’s origins, onto a potato, the potato itself can become the label. This means improved sustainability (by doing away with excess paper and other material usage) and fewer inconveniences for consumers (by eliminating sticky, hard-to-remove labels).
Thanks to graphene’s ability to conduct electricity, these “tattoos” are more than just for show; they can also be embedded with detailed product data, just like a traditional label. The tattoo can therefore be used to provide consumers with in-depth information on the product’s journey from farm to fork.
This technology paves the way for a potential new market of “interactive” food. Consumers can have a wealth of information about the products they buy at their fingertips, without creating any additional waste. But are consumers ready for this new wave of innovation? Only time will tell.
Where does this data come from?
While this new labeling technology can transform how information is shared with consumers, it does not address how information is gathered in the first place. Before brand owners and retailers can take advantage of innovations in labeling technology, they need a system in place to build their supply chain networks and collect the necessary data. In other words, they need to achieve transparency.
Implementing a chain of custody platform, in which every supply chain partner shares information about their products and facilities, enables businesses to discover who their suppliers are and where their products come from—down to the source. This end-to-end transparency arms businesses with detailed knowledge about their products that they can then share with consumers via edible tattoos or their method of choice (such as traditional labels, QR codes, or augmented reality, among others).
New innovations are certainly exciting, but businesses cannot effectively leverage them until the platform feeding these technologies has been implemented. Without it, these labels—regardless of what form they take—do not have any real value for brands or consumers.