Alcohol is far from escaping the counterfeiting that is poisoning the world’s largest producers of wines and spirits. Despite the measures they have taken to combat counterfeiters – ever more numerous and ingenious – the phenomenon appears to know no bounds. Can technology finally put an end to this scourge, to best satisfy consumers and producers?
New face of counterfeiting
A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals that global counterfeiting (importing of pirated and counterfeit products) reached around $500 billion in 2016. More industrialized and organized on a global scale, alcohol counterfeiting is driven by Russia and especially China, which in recent years has seen a significant increase in its production and consumption of alcohol. Counterfeiters use such treacherous tricks that the damage is often already done before the networks can be stopped: factories make fake bottles, up to 11,000 per hour, collectors drink a great wine by making a hole at the bottom of the bottle, then refill the bottle with another wine before plugging the tiny hole. Aside from the dead and injured, counterfeiting results in a serious shortfall for producers and a tainted brand image.
Reaction up to the challenge
Confronted with this situation, wine and spirits producers have first responded by designing various processes, more or less expensive and complex, such as seals on the great wines or authentication tests. Subsequently, they developed devices using technology with elements visible to the naked eye (overt) such as holograms, unfortunately too easy to imitate and unsightly on the bottle, and invisible elements (covert) such as hidden or coded impressions, digital markings, added materials, which require a device to decode the information. Does the solution lie in NFC (near field communication) technology? A contactless, reliable and flexible method consists of placing your cell phone near the bottle cork that contains a NFC chip. With a previously downloaded app, you will be able to authenticate the bottle and be notified if it has been opened before. Rémy Martin, subsidiary of the Rémy Cointreau group, is not only using this principle of the connected bottle, but also requires Chinese customers to return bottles, properly listed and numbered, in order to limit – or even eliminate – counterfeiting. Meanwhile, for Martell, subsidiary of Pernod Ricard, its QR code affixed to its bottles generates nearly 3,000 connections a day in China, which also allows the item to be authenticated.
In the face of this global scourge, Europeans and Americans are mobilizing, like the Chinese! Will the involvement of the Middle Kingdom – developing applications for blockchain authentication of alcohol (VeChain Identity), signing of partnerships with foreign companies for tracking alcohol (Direct Imported Goods Sales Center Ltd.) – achieve conclusive results faster and more sustainably?