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You must have seen them by now? If not they're black and white, look like those small drawings you might have made when you first used Microsoft Paint in the 80s - you find them on foods, packaging, cars, windows and they can be scanned by people using mobile phones to display information. Like a barcode but better.
When they emerged in 1994, QR codes for a while were the "in" thing, the Quick Response Codes were everywhere. Then they seemed to start a slow decline tapering out of existence only to last year bounce back with vigor and a lot more diversity. Something proven by one of the biggest QR firms, Scan and Go, who recently reported 7.8 million scans in 2010 and an increase of well over 200% with 31 million scans in 2011.
This is something that often happens with new technologies and untested approaches in marketing, something that soon disappears once marketers have tested the waters. Videos, promotions, recipes, nutritional information, price comparisons - the possibilities are endless and it seems the food and drink industry are having some fun.
A seafood company in America has launched an Artisanal Fish Program encouraging restaurants to put QR codes on their menus that allow customers to trace the origins of the fish they're buying - a quick scan of the code tells consumers where there fish was caught, who caught it and what line was used. They can even watch the route their fish took on the way to the table.
Café Causette at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong is currently running a campaign that allows diners to join a group on facebook through QR codes placed around the hotel. Guest are then invited to sample six mini burgers and vote on their favorite - the idea being that the winning burger will get a permanent place on the menu.
A farmer in France has a very novel use for QR codes - he has printed his cattle with personalised QR codes in an attempt to increase their popularity before they're reared for meat. So somewhere in Morbihan, Brittany, there is field of cows hapilly grazing with QR codes painted on their bodies while groups of tourists chase them round frantically trying to scan their codes. Don't believe us ? Take a look for yourself, cowspotting is alive and well...
S.Pellegrino water recently launched a new campaign with 35 million bottles of water being sent around the world each with QR codes on the label. A tried and tested delivery but it's the content the user receives that's interesting. Rather than a static page or document, people are taken on a mini journey discovering the natural, historical and cultural beauty of the Bergamo area (Italy), where the water's source is located.
The UK based company Scan And Go have a new way of bringing producers of closer to their customers. Through building custom QR campaigns they allow producers to record a short video in which they speak directly to the person scanning their product explaining what their food is, how it's made and the work that's gone into producing it.
The next logical step from QR codes after packaging is to add them directly to the food. A number of companies are working on this use with the German firm Qkies creating some of the most impressive results. They allow people to order cookies and have personalised QR codes printed in icing on the top - the idea being that a personal message displays when the recipient scans the Qkies - a great idea for birthdays and celebrations.
QR codes are increasing in popularity everyday. As the novelty factor wears off, there is obvious benefits in adding information to food with QR codes. They're now appearing on lots of menus and the Californian Food Standards agency recently added QR codes to food standard certificates in all the restaurants they inspect.
The benefits are evident and used correctly they can really add to a customers food experience but if they are over used on menus there is the potential pitfall of trying to enjoy a dinner with friends who seem more interested in their mobile phones than the conversation at the table.