By Nicole Baxter
Tiny nickel tags suspended in an ultraviolet-light-sensitive adhesive are providing new levels of security for Australian wild-caught abalone and assurance of provenance for international buyers.
The move is part of efforts by the Australian abalone industry to increase returns through product differentiation, targeting premium markets in China and Hong Kong.
Ten leading Australian wild catch abalone exporters, who represent more than 70 per cent of the trade, have joined forces to protect the reputation and quality of their products.
In October 2013, they will officially launch the Australian Wild Abalone (AWA) brand, protecting their product with purpose-built brand security technology in the form of the innovative NanoTag© AWA certification mark attached to all exports.
The security protection system was developed as part of an Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre (Seafood CRC) project with support from the FRDC.
Abalone Council Australia executive chairman Dean Lisson says anybody purchasing the tagged products can be confident they have received genuine premium-grade Australian wild abalone and not a lesser-quality substitute.
He says the need for greater security of abalone products became evident during research investigating product differentiation opportunities for Australian wild-caught abalone in China and Hong Kong.
The research team comprised Dean Lisson, Wayne Haggar (Lonimar), Mark Webster (Ralph’s Tasmanian Seafood), Cindy Yuan (Soareast), Spiro Markantonakis (Dover Fisheries) and Jayne Gallagher (Seafood CRC).
They found that premium-quality independent and hotel chain restaurants were willing to pay premium prices for high-quality abalone products that were import compliant and of proven provenance.
“In the past, premium restaurants found it difficult to place Australian wild-caught abalone as a permanent entry on their menus because of price, supply, quality volatility and a lack of product certification,” Dean Lisson says.
“Chinese food health and safety standards are becoming more stringent and ongoing compliance is an issue for top-end restaurants. They now want raw materials with appropriate food health certification and proven provenance.”
The Abalone Council Australia has since been working with 10 Australian abalone exporters to provide legally compliant abalone (AWA) with NanoTag© verification designed to guarantee the authenticity and provenance of all AWA products to buyers.
“We hope increased awareness and preference for Australian wild-caught abalone will help reverse the decline in industry returns and strengthen our position in the marketplace in the face of increasing competition from farmed abalone and other luxury food products,” Dean Lisson says.
The NanoTag© brand protection system was developed over 18 months and tailored for the Australian wild-catch abalone industry. It has two main components: overt and covert protection.
Tamper-proof stickers, packaging tape, labels and security seals attached to an abalone product (not on the meat) or its packaging provide overt protection.
These identify the product as carrying the AWA NanoTag© certification.
Covert protection is via nickel octagonal tags measuring 0.3 by 0.5 millimetres.
These are suspended in ultraviolet-light-sensitive adhesive and applied to abalone shells. The tags include an AWA certification mark and an individual export establishment number to identify the Australian export company responsible for processing the abalone product.
Buyers of AWA goods verify they are genuine by shining an ultraviolet light or ‘black light’ over the packaging or products. The ultraviolet-sensitive adhesive reacts with the light and confirms the presence of the tags, which can then be read using a magnifying glass.
Dean Lisson says importers and distributors of Australian wild-caught abalone in China and Hong Kong will have the opportunity to learn more about the new brand-protection system this month when the AWA certification mark and NanoTag© technology are progressively unveiled in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
The 10 companies that have already signed on to use the AWA certification and NanoTag© technology will pay for the new packaging, which Dean Lisson says is fairly and competitively priced in a bid to encourage uptake by more Australian exporters.
Ten Australian abalone exporters are protecting the quality of their products with NanoTag© technology designed specifically for the industry.
The exporters are:
FRDC Research Code: 2009-723
Dean Lisson, 03 6231 1955