Counterfeiting food and beverage products is a growing problem due to global distribution and low-cost production methods that paved the way for corrupt manufacturers looking to make a bigger buck. Food fraud has also been exacerbated by the global pandemic as more people shopped for groceries online and through third-party sellers.

According to a study by SSAFE and PwC, food fraud (pre-pandemic) was estimated to cost the global industry between USD $30 to $40 billion a year. However, Food Safety Tech indicates that the figure could be even higher after COVID-19 due to supply chain issues as well as reduced food fraud surveillance and reporting due to lockdowns and labor shortages.

In addition, several countries have put caps on the number of exports of certain foodstuffs and other protectionist measures in order to stave the effects of food prices rocketing domestically; this provides the perfect conditions for food counterfeiters to inject fraudulent products into the global supply chain.

As companies in the agri-food business know, many products are vulnerable to being manipulated in the food supply. Lists abound showing the top and most common counterfeit foods, which can range from olive oil to caviar—and everything in between.

As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicates, while regulatory strategies and other legal instruments have been implemented on both national and international levels, the multifaceted complexities of food fraud make it difficult for governments and stakeholders throughout the value chain to eradicate food counterfeiting.

Let’s take a look at these complexities and how new technology solutions are helping businesses in the food sector to overcome them and protect their brands.


Fighting food fraud has traditionally been very difficult. As mentioned in a recent Food Safety Tech article: “there is currently no globally standardized system for collection and reporting information on food fraud occurrences, or even standardized definitions for food fraud and the ways in which it happens.”

Not having a clear definition of food fraud for each food product as well as clear guidance on how to prevent and reduce food counterfeiting is just the tip of the iceberg.

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To start, today’s food supply chains run on legacy practices that simply cannot contribute to reducing food counterfeiting; fraudsters have become increasingly ingenious in order to circumvent regulations and auditing. Tracking and reporting mechanisms throughout the supply chain are often siloed, inconsistent, outdated and/or downright ignored by more unscrupulous businesses. Furthermore, being able to track and trace a food product from farm to fork was, until now, nearly impossible due to the sheer complexity and number of “hand-offs” a food item makes before it hits retail shelves.

Government agencies also tend to have different levels of regulatory priorities when it comes to identifying, reporting and penalizing food counterfeiting incidents. Still others even turn a blind eye as the lucrative food fraud business has made its way into staff’s pockets.  Many food regulators are not even equipped to enforce any laws governing food fraud. Imagine having to audit and sample-test each food item down to the unit level in the supply chain. Achieving such a level of food integrity would be operationally impractical and very costly.

The challenges of preventing food fraud don’t stop there. Agri-food businesses often know if a competitor is taking part in counterfeiting products; however, many are afraid to report them out of fear of retaliation.

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Getting a true hold on food fraud and the myriad of risks associated with counterfeit food products requires a multiple-pronged approach. Already, many stakeholders in the food supply chain are working closely with their countries’ governments and international regulatory bodies to:

Securing food supply chain procurement and management is impossible without end-to-end visibility and transparency. Track-and-trace technology and authentication solutions, specifically designed for the food industry, are critical to deter food fraud. However, it is important to understand what to look for in a product authentication solution for food counterfeiting in order to maximize the investment.


Not all food anti-counterfeiting solutions are created equally. Here are some top criteria to keep in mind when looking for a technology provider that can help trace and authenticate food products.

Scope: Food fraud and counterfeiting practices can be very sophisticated, meaning that they are designed to evade regulatory and quality assurance systems. Can the solution detect all types of food fraud, such as product counterfeiting, market diversions, product refilling, and labelling issues?

Ease in implementation: Look for a digital traceability solution that can be integrated within your company’s operational workflows and other business systems. Consider how easy the platform can work with different levels of authentication as well as stakeholders along the supply chain, from raw material providers all the way to consumers, auditors and investigators.

Not just identification—authentication: Identifying a counterfeit product is one thing. Authenticating it is a whole other ball game. Make sure that your platform has AI and machine-learning capabilities to compare a product image to a cloud-based master value taken from a production line.

Variety of UIDs: Product unique identifiers (UIDs) should be available based on the type of food product. For example, does the platform have 2D codes for low-margin products as well as other UID variations for stronger authentication, like holograms, tamper-evident, double labelling, and advanced signature matching using artificial intelligence?

Advanced aggregation: Some traceability and intelligent supply chain platforms offer aggregation features to detect market diversion and other supply chain anomalies. For example, aggregation can help agri-food businesses to identify gray markets, visualize real-time

inventory information (such as level, location, item number, expired date and cold chain conditions, etc.).

Flexible hardware: Agri-food businesses deal with disparate supplies with even more disparate work methods. In order to fully authenticate a food product, it’s important to determine just how accessible a food traceability platform is. Can it extract information from paper-based workflows? Are the data extraction points easy to use for people of all skill levels? Full compliance and authenticity can be compromised if one weak leak in the supply chain cannot prove any fraudulent practices were involved in making a food product.

Consumer interfacing tools: For the highest brand protection, a food anti-counterfeiting solution must enable touchpoints with consumers. With a product marker, consumers should be able to scan a food item with their mobile phones and instantly access a link towards product authentication information.

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The sale of counterfeit items now hovers over 3.3% of world trade—and the levels of Illicit food and beverages manufacturing show no signs of abating. Experts say that nearly 100% of the global population has been a victim of food counterfeiting at least once, whether they realize it or not.

Food fraud will become even more widespread as ecommerce spending on food continues to rise. Reports indicate that food sold on the web is an appealing target for imposter sellers looking to sell expired products, food counterfeits, and more.

With 58% of respondents saying that brands need to do more to protect customers from fake products, agri-food companies must step up to the plate to get rid of fake food for good. estimates that only 33% of consumers are confident about the safety of their food supply.

Blog Food Fraud

Food fraud is not only damaging to consumer trust and food brands but also poses serious health risks. For example, allergens can be introduced into food products, which can be lethal to people with allergies. Toxic chemicals and hazardous materials are often added to counterfeit products making them potentially deadly for consumption.

Consumer and food brand protection must remain top of mind in order to stave off the ripple effects of food product substitutions, tampering and counterfeiting. Rogue food traders still have many advantages in encouraging low production standards, inferior quality, or counterfeit products. However, with the right technology product authentication platform, food brands can offer the transparency, authenticity and quality consumers have come to expect. By levelling up the supply chain traceability capabilities of companies in the food and beverage industry.

As John Spink, the Director of the Food Fraud Initiative (FFI) said in an interview with Times magazine: “There are plenty of criminals out there who are going to wake up and perceive some opportunity for fraud. We just need to make ourselves a harder target.”

And becoming a harder target starts with an intelligent supply chain platform.

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