The novel coronavirus – known worldwide as COVID-19 – has forever altered our sense of security. After all, it has been unfortunately revealed how unprepared we are for a pandemic.
While the whole world is working on commercial and home test kits and vaccines and there is a growing sense of optimism, there are a few new related dangers that people may be surprised about but that they need to be extremely vigilant about to save lives.
The first new danger, in a nutshell, is that this global crisis is a paradise for counterfeiters. With demand high for testing kits and home testing kits, how many of these kits that are being marketed around the world are actually real? How will we know that these kits aren’t just another massive fraud like the Theranos fake blood tests? There are already reports globally of defective and fake test kits being sold. And do similar risks exist for the vaccine? Maybe less of a risk in developed markets, given tight controls on distribution, but in emerging markets, will we see roadside stands set up with people injecting water into people for money?
The second new danger is compromised supply chains – how do we know if the products we are purchasing came from factories where a large number of COVID-19 cases have been identified? What if we need to do recalls? Is there an easy way to do product recalls or have visibility into where our products have come from and their journey through the supply chain?
As a leader in anti-counterfeiting, consumer engagement, and track-and-trace technology, we at solo sciences inc., a division of Akerna Corp., are working hard to deploy solutions to our customers and brands to help save lives.
A global paradise for counterfeiters
According to the New York Times, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 18,000 coronavirus-related complaints from January through April, more than half of which had to do with fraud. Scammers around the world are implementing email and text campaigns backed by fraudulent websites promoting immunity-boosting products and fake testing kits.
Bad actors are honing the creativity of their schemes and getting better at delivering information in ways that can appear, sometimes with great intricacy, fully legitimate to those seeking reassurance. It’s possible you’ve received a scam call from a number you didn’t recognize with a recorded message supposedly from the IRS. Now, the approach has become coronavirus-centric. The uncertainty we all face from this pandemic has laid out a playing field for scammers, making product authentication more important than ever.
Supply chain + manufacturing — did your food or product come from a heavily contaminated factory or region of the country/world?
In times of crisis, when public health is threatened, stores must be well-stocked to serve consumer needs easily. Of equal import, these businesses must also show their shoppers that those items have been handled safely. In the age of coronavirus and beyond, numerous factors make it incredibly important for companies to consider every step in their product’s life cycle until it’s delivered to the customer.
While many in the U.S. are now wiping their groceries and products with sanitizing cloths or spraying them with disinfectants, what if the virus is inside the packaging? Understanding where our food comes from at a factory or regional level has historically been hard – or impossible – to do. The decades-long progression to source the least expensive inputs is setting back everything from healthcare’s ability to tackle the pandemic here at home to our food’s supply chain – as exemplified by the crises facing meatpacking plants – to businesses’ ability to keep up with consumer demand.
Consider, too, that, according to Foreign Policy, “72 percent of the facilities producing pharmaceutical ingredients for U.S. consumption are located abroad—mostly in the European Union, India and China.” As a consumer, you may understandably want to know if your ingredients are coming from a region that has a tremendous number of cases of the virus. Given that the virus can live for 2-3 days, what if your batch of product was produced in a factory infected with COVID-19 before it was shut down and traveled less than 24 hours to get to you? How do companies do an effective recall?
The solo* technology enables manufacturers to tag their products throughout the supply chain process and using a free mobile app, consumers will be able to scan packages that have solo* graphic trust marks and get full transparency of a product’s journey. We are currently working with several brands that are adopting our technology specifically for this purpose, with the ability to give real time alerts on our app for product recalls.
In addition to adopting new technologies to help consumers trust their products, companies should avoid cheaper, less regulated international suppliers. Producers should carefully vet suppliers (statewide and internationally) to be sure they meet the highest regulatory standards.
Making it easy to give back to those in need
As local governments and federal agencies grapple with ways to help those affected by COVID-19, many businesses have stepped up, too. This is especially important considering 56 percent of consumers say they are happy to learn how brands are doing their part to create solutions.
Packaging has long afforded brands a way to build consumer trust. Now, with the help of advanced technology, every CPG firm from food to medicine to safety equipment, can further ensure for their consumer what they’ve purchased is authentic and safe. Can anyone afford a potentially deadly knock-off N95 mask – especially when smart packaging can protect the public from such dangerous counterfeit products?
Importantly, since the future will be driven by values and considerations not yet realized, advanced packaging solutions can allow companies to connect with their customers on a human level. For instance, a brand could offer a portion of sales for every scanned unit (using solo* technology) to non-profit organizations mission-driven to help those in need. The surge in consumer gamification engagement during the pandemic is informing innovative activations sure to build consumer trust as brands actively demonstrate that they care about communities.
Saving lives in Cannabis – same principles apply to COVID
While solo’s technology is applicable across a vast range of products – including test kits and pharmaceuticals – solo* started its journey three years ago by being approached by the cannabis industry, and its technology is being adopted by leading cannabis brands to help protect consumers from counterfeit goods. As seen in the 2019 vaping crisis, many of the people that died were using fake goods. We have the technology to avoid the same thing happening with respect to COVID-19 related products.
We look forward to using all of our technology assets to help do similar things for any manufacturer in the fight against COVID-19.
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