Oritain Product Traceability

October 2013

A process to quickly identify the source of food and textiles

Oritain independently and scientifically verifies the authenticity and origin of foods, a good example of which is honey from the New Zealand Honey Company.

The New Zealand Honey Company has been working with Oritain for the past four or five years. Chairman of NZ Honey, Peter Ward explains. “We were getting enquiries from overseas supermarket outlets about the point of difference between our product and other products on their shelves. A number of the products they stocked weren’t always true to label. For example UK supermarkets had questions over the origin of the honey being labelled as NZ clover honey. We told them not only can we give you the true taste of New Zealand honey, but we can verify that it is true NZ product.”

“The supermarkets thought their customers would be willing to pay a premium for that assurance of provenance. Part of this is also about gaining access to shelf space in the supermarkets.”

“Oritain tested a range of honeys from throughout NZ to get their isotopic fingerprints.”

“We are allowed to have the Oritain logo on some of our lines of honey. That gives the customer and also the supermarket the assurance this is a true NZ product. At any time if there is a question mark over our products, testing by Oritain will check the isotopic fingerprint against their database.”

“Some markets copy labels and brands, and if that occurs, or there is any question, then they can test the product against the original to see if it true to label.”

“Overseas consumer organisations now monitor many different foods to check they are true to label and this includes honey. We haven’t yet had anyone ripping off our brand but because NZ honey commands a 30-50% price premium in the market there are a lot of less scrupulous countries rebranding their product as NZ honey and trying to get the higher price point.”

“Working with Oritain gives us a point of difference and gives consumers, consumer organisations and supermarkets assurance that they can take something off the shelf and know that it has a fingerprint which can be tested against.”

The New Zealand Honey Company was started primarily by growers and in the last six years has added other investors as well. It produces specialty high value honeys and has a packaging operation with a partner company in Belgium. It sources honey from throughout NZ, and has 30 different suppliers involved in the business.

“One of the key things we sell our customers is honey with different functionality, for example anti-bacterial manuka honey, thyme honey with the highest antioxidant component and prebiotic beech forest honeydew.”

Rebecca McLeod, lead scientist at Oritain says that in the global food market food fraud is rife. High quality products get diluted or watered down with products which are of low quality. A good example is the melamine scandal in China in 2008 when the chemical was put into infant formula to boost perceived protein contents of the product. Other examples are the horsemeat scandal in Europe; in South Africa kangaroo and giraffe meat was being sold as beef; in China there were similar problems but rat meat was found in the supply chain too. Another example of meat being sold as NZ lamb was found to be duck meat marinated in a fertiliser.

Only the most expensive wines used to be ripped off and duplicated, but now some bigger more mainstream labels are being targetted, such as Jacob’s Creek and Penfolds. Fake bottles of Jacob’s Creek wine were sold in the UK market and had to be recalled. They had been produced in China.

Oritain deals with products that are perceived to be at high risk from food fraud overseas. At the moment most of Oritain’s clients are New Zealand exporters, but more overseas clients are employing Oritain all the time.

Oritain tests meat, infant formula, seed products, fruit including apples, wine and honey – mostly around NZ origin manuka honey.

Rebecca says “We rely on a chemical approach – like a forensic science approach which, for example, tracks the movement of illegal drugs around the world. We measure the concentration of different chemical elements which occur mostly in really minute quantities in different products. We measure between 20 and 40 different elements in the periodic table which come from soils, from things like fertiliser and sprays that are applied. All of these sources combine to give a chemical footprint of the product.

For example with apples, these chemicals are integrated into the flesh of the fruit, and because they vary geographically we can use that footprint to trace where they were grown.

We use two different approaches. The first is for simple products which are not manufactured, for example meat and apples, where we use a mapping approach. We figure out the chemical specifications for a product in different regions. We can work them out for different regions, and quite often to different farms.

So now we have apple, honey and lamb maps of New Zealand, and we are building up more and more samples, so the maps become more powerful.

We test new samples against that New Zealand set, and once we have that basic map in place it doesn’t take long to match it up.

The second approach we use is for products such as infant formula where there are many ingredients which come from lots of different origins. We tend to do more of a factory footprint right down to the production batch level, and we hold samples from the factories.

Then we can match specifications against samples. We have quite a big sample storage room where we hold the physical samples, and a large database. Then we analyse the samples on an on-going basis.

What we do is quite specific, and our work provides assurance against someone tampering with their product or replacing their product with something else.

We do an increasing amount of work in the infant formula segment as a result of recent scares. Although some big companies do their own assurance work, what we bring to the picture is independence.

We are a privately owned company set up six years ago, and we have eight or nine staff. We outsource our analytical work.

We have recently started work with a US company which imports products, and they want us to map countries which they import from.

We can support claims exporters products are grown in New Zealand. Problems occur sometimes when labelling has been removed, and a shipmeat of meat is found to contained a banned chemical such as an antibiotic.

If someone’s brand is being damaged by counter-feiters we can support them quite quickly because we have all the mapping work done already.

It’s like an insurance of sorts.”