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Digital app empowers consumers to better track allergen information

Article-Digital app empowers consumers to better track allergen information

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For consumers who suffer from food allergies and face dietary restrictions, understanding the contents of food and drink products is vital. Norwegian food- and health-tech startup CanEat is on a mission to boost transparency and accessibility in the food industry by empowering consumers to make more informed food choices.

Transparency is of major importance to the majority (85%) of consumers, research by Innova Market Insights shows.

Founded in 2020, CanEat has developed a mobile tech solution that allows consumers to track individual food allergies and dietary restrictions and identify potential food safety risks in food and drink products, using one simple app.

“CanEat provides the consumer with more power, it aims to provide more transparency through barcode scanning,” said Cecilie Hauge Ågotnes, CEO at CanEat.

Empowering consumers to take control of their diets

Founded in collaboration with the National Centre for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders and the Norsk cøliakiforening (Norwegian Celiac Association), the startup has built a product library of around 100,000 food products to date, which is continually expanding.

“CanEat as it is today, is our minimum viable product (MVP) and is only a small part of what it will be when it is finished. However, we have seen that we are having a huge impact on our users already,” Ågotnes said.

CanEat empowers consumers who may struggle to read or understand food labels to take control of food safety decisions directly, as well as offering a tool to registered dieticians to help better treat patients by accurately understanding their unique needs.

“Children can suddenly feel free to go to the grocery-store without having their parents by their side. A mother with dyslexia with a child with coeliac disease suddenly feels empowered, as she no longer needs to read and understand ingredient-lists.”

AI for good meets AI for food

Consumers can compile a list of allergens and ingredients they wish to avoid eating using the startup’s proprietary mobile app, which combines artificial intelligence (AI) technology and healthcare sector expertise.

This data, which can be shared and merged with others, helps consumers to make informed food safety decisions by providing a clear yes or no answer as to whether the product is safe to eat based on the users’ personal data, after they scan a barcode on the product via the mobile app. The app also provides users with detailed information on the nutritional content, ingredients, and allergens contained in products in a format that is simple and easy to understand.

“As all consumers become more health-conscious and concerned with the origin and quality of the ingredients in their food, there is a growing demand for transparency. CanEat's service aligns with this development by providing consumers with easy access to detailed ingredient information,” Ågotnes said.

Food safety risks affect the physical and mental health of consumers

Information about the ingredients contained in food and drink products is important for all, yet for those with allergies and dietary restrictions, the consequences of not knowing or understanding the ingredients they are eating a lack of transparency and accessibility are far greater.

According to the startup, around a quarter of the global population have a food allergy, food-intolerance, or illness directly related to food and drink, including coeliac disease, nut-allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and diabetes. Aside from health reasons, the food choices of some consumers are also driven by social, ethical, and moral considerations such as religious and personal convictions.

“By not making ingredient information accessible for all, food and beverage manufacturers are failing in their work for transparency,” Ågotnes said.

As well as causing illness and death in severe cases, the consequences of consumers not having easy access to safe and compliant food options can also provoke mental health concerns. Consumers newly diagnosed with a specialist diet may struggle to establish new healthy eating habits and may continually opt for the same products that they trust, rather than trying something new, according to Ågotnes.

“Our research tells us that as much as 50% of people with dietary restrictions self-isolate because they don’t want to be a burden to the host, they are afraid of being served the ‘wrong’ food and/or think that dining [outside of the home] is too much hassle,” she explained.

Allergen labelling is not accessible for all

Current food labelling regulations vary across regions, each with its own set of legally binding requirements aimed at providing consumers with clear and accurate information about the products they purchase.

In the EU, manufacturers are required to clearly list ingredients in descending order of weight, with those present in more than 2% and any of the 14 major allergens indicated in bold. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US also requires ingredients to be listed in order or weight but does not enforce bolding of allergens or ingredients above a certain threshold.

Regulators continually review labelling requirements to uphold food safety standards, for example earlier this year, the FDA passed a law requiring manufacturers to list sesame as an allergen.

Despite having open access to allergen and ingredient information, some consumers struggle to read or understand the contents of food products. By scanning food labels, extracting key information, and giving personalised food safety recommendations to consumers based on their dietary requirements, CanEat seeks to solve this problem and make food labelling more accessible.

Transparent practices foster consumer trust and loyalty

By increasing consumer power, tools like CanEat can positively impact food and beverage manufacturers by fostering trust, loyalty, and adaptability to rapidly changing consumer preferences and demands, the startup claims.

“Transparent practices, such as providing clear and comprehensive ingredient information, can help build trust between consumers and food and beverage manufacturers. When consumers feel well-informed about what they're consuming, they are more likely to trust and choose products from companies that prioritise transparency,” Ågotnes said.

“When consumers find a brand that aligns with their (dietary) needs and values, and provides the information they seek, they are more likely to remain loyal to that brand over time.”

As consumers pay more attention to food safety and regulation in the food industry grows more stringent, tools such as CanEat can help brands to mitigate risks and comply with evolving requirements related to ingredient disclosure and food labeling. According to Ågotnes, technologies that amass consumer data can also boost the competitive advantage of brands in a market where transparency and accessibility are increasingly valued.

“Companies that proactively respond to consumer demands for transparency and provide tools like CanEat may gain a competitive advantage. Meeting or exceeding consumer expectations regarding information and transparency can set a brand apart from its competitors,” Ågotnes said.

Main image: iStock/eldarnurkovic