It's been done with herbs, tomatoes, watermelon and lettuce. Now, add chicken to the list. Coleman Natural Foods is the first national poultry company to offer consumers insights about their chicken products using HarvestMark, a food traceability solution from YottaMark. To date, HarvestMark is found on 3 billion packages of fresh food.

Launching this week, consumers who buy Coleman Natural brands—Rocky the Range, Rocky Jr., and Rosie Organic Chicken from Petaluma Poultry—will be able to trace where each chicken was raised and check the food safety status of the poultry. In addition, Coleman Natural is sharing images of the farm, farmer profiles, the brand's story and history. The company is a leading producer of organic and free range poultry, working with small farms to provide chicken that's humanely raised, sustainably farmed and free of antibiotics, added hormones or preservatives.

"We know when a shopper traces a product, part of what they want to do is reconnect with the people who grow and sell their food," said J. Scott Carr, president and CEO of YottaMark. This differs from QR codes, which are static and may take a consumer only to a homepage for the purchased product. "But with a HarvestMark code, that experience is about the item I have in my hand, as opposed to the item generally," said Carr.

How HarvestMark works

HarvestMark.com exampleWhen produce is picked or food is packaged, it's given a 16 character code and a barcode. Consumers can use the HarvestMark iPhone or Android app to scan the barcode or enter the HarvestMark code online at HarvestMark.com. What follows is instant information about where the food product was grown or raised, if it's subject to a recall, where it was packed and more.

"We do something that's really never been done before and that's connecting the first mile of the supply chain with the last mile of the supply chain, where we find out, 'What did the consumer think about that product? What was their taste experience? What was the appearance and condition and quality experience?'" said Carr. "We deliver back insights to the retailer and the producer about supply chain velocity, about quality and freshness and about shopper preference that they've never had before."

HarvestMark is able to do this because every time someone traces a product they can choose to fill out a survey about the product they just traced. "Now, suddenly mom at home is saying what her experience was," said Carr, something you can't get that with a QR code.

The technology is simple for suppliers to integrate and can launch in as little as three weeks or up to several months for larger programs.

Traceability programs benefit retailers and producers

Food recalls are frequent occurrences, with 15 food recalls documented in July alone according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Recalls cause consumers to second guess the validity and safety of their food purchases. It's no surprise that the traceability trend is gaining steam, joining the larger health and wellness trend. And for retailers, knowing where ingredients come from is important to empower shoppers to make healthy food choices.

As consumers become increasingly curious about the origin of their food, nutrition companies are responding with transparency initiatives, such as Gaia Herb's Meet Your Herbs. And when it comes to the fresh food industry, HarvestMark is making its mark as the go-to transparency solution for fresh food.

This provides a huge opportunity for traceability and mobile marketing. Instead of just a QR code, HarvestMark tracks consumer preference. "You're giving up real estate on your labels to do something that I could have done by typing in a URL," said Carr, speaking of QR codes. "So it's convenient, but is it really delivering value?"

Beyond delivering valuable consumer insights to retailers and suppliers, YottaMark found in a 2010 study that having HarvestMark on a package increases purchase preference by 12 percent and increases a shopper's loyalty to the retailer by 10 percent. "We hear things from shoppers like, 'The retailer has my back. They know where my food comes from and now so do I,'" said Carr.