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RFID helps olive oil industry fight back against fraud

It has been almost a year since the 60 Minutes television news show aired a story about tainted Italian olive oil reaching the U.S. retail market. The industry has reacted swiftly to correct the issue, and is relying on an RFID-based solution that allows consumer to verify product authenticity.

Several olive oil brands are integrating NFC tags into bottle labeling to ensure product authenticity.

According to the 60 Minutes report, half the oil sold as extra-virgin in Italy and 75-80 percent of the oil sold in the U.S. does not meet the legal grades for extra-virgin oil. The most common type of fraud is mixing Italian extra-virgin with lower quality olive oils from North Africa and around the Mediterranean. In other cases, according to the TV show, a bottle labeled “extra-virgin olive oil” might actually contain a seed oil like sunflower made to look and smell like olive oil.

It’s all part of a $16 billion Mafia-led mission to counterfeit Italian foods. But now RFID is stepping in the way.  Thin Film Electronics ASA is integrating its NFC SpeedTap™ tags in the packaging of Italian olive oil brands to enable product authentication, enhance consumer engagement, and propel online sales. Participating brands include BuonamiciLa RanocchiaiaSPO, and Il Cavallino.

The growers, each of which produces its oil on farms in Italy’s Tuscany region, will use the NFC technology in combination with an award-winning app called iOlive. Launched in 2014, iOlive has created a comprehensive electronic guide and tracking system that catalogues vital data on more than 150 of Tuscany’s extra virgin olive oils.

iOlive was launched at Agrietour, the national exhibition of agritourism and multifunctional agriculture, held annually in Arezzo, Tuscany. At the event, the ground-breaking iOlive app was named winner of a 2015 “Green Oscar” for innovative ideas in agriculture.

“The olive oil industry is very similar to the wine industry in that each has a rich heritage that is centuries old,” said Pietro Barachini, the founder of iOlive and a professional olive oil taster. “But the wine industry has done a much better job of educating customers on how to evaluate, buy and enjoy wine. That’s why I created iOlive and began working closely with brands in Tuscany. I believe it will do for olive oil consumers what the leading wine apps have done for wine lovers. And I’m very excited about using Thinfilm’s SpeedTap technology to take it to the next level.”

Thinfilm’s SpeedTap tags are thin, flexible devices that integrate with a product’s packaging or label and can be read with the tap of an NFC-enabled smartphone. Each tag is uniquely identifiable and is virtually impossible to clone. Once tapped, the tag wirelessly communicates with the cloud, enabling brands to connect directly with their customers and instantly deliver authentication messaging, product information, and other relevant content.

“The iOlive app digitizes the IOC (International Olive Council) profile sheet for the assessment of olive oil, which is used in 44 countries to certify extra virgin products,” Barachini explained further. “Professional tasters use our platform to digitally capture their evaluations – including sensory analysis – and consumers are able to view that information through the iOlive app. The SpeedTap tags make accessing the data simple, instantaneous, and seamless.” The process has been validated by Agro-Lab, the laboratory arm of PromoFirenze, an agency of the Florence Chamber of Commerce.

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