In the last few years, bar code scanning with smartphones has become much more robust and dependable functionality. Predictably enough, it’s main application has been in real-time comparison shopping and product information area, giving rise to new services like RedLaser (recently acquired by eBay).

ScanAvert is an interesting paid application of the same functionality. It allows users to scan the usual UPC barcode information on their supermarket items and cross-check the ingredients with their health profile. Consumers register and create their profile with facts like allergies, prescriptions, diagnoses, dietary needs, etc. ScanAvert uses data provided by Gladson (a major CPG product images and information provider) to do real-time checks on the ingredients of the item to detect incompatibilities. Now I know the usual critique would be that why wouldn’t the consumer just read the ingredient list or package label? And the counter would be that an average consumer may not find the information easily readable or understandable.

Those and other evident arguments aside, the service has obvious value for people with serious dietary issues (think gluten allergy, Celiac, Diabetes, Obesity, Prescription drug interactions). But I’m more excited about another aspect of the service- ScanAvert users can specify custom limits on a labels nutritional box values (calories, carbs, fat…) and get instant recommendation. To me, that is pretty useful for the rest of the population that doesn’t deal with any significant dietary restrictions. In fact, most of us end up buying food items without paying much attention to what it means nutritionally. Even those few that give a thought to the nutritional box items, the mental calculation done is only at a high level (“100 Cal drink…sounds low….I’ll try that”) and inconsistent (how many times have you checked the fat vs. saturated fat numbers?). I doubt most of the ‘normal’ population even knows what is their actual average dietary intake in terms of calories, fat, proteins, etc.

So if someone can setup a profile that puts a limit on the daily fat/protein/cal intake and have a real-time summary report given to them while they were grocery shopping, that would be an darn useful service, I think. Seems like currently ScanAvert can also suggest alternatives (if it detects incompatibility) and send alerts about scanned items that have been recalled. That makes the service even more useful.

It’s intriguing to think about expanding this service into a space where it can potentially be the long-term dietary record for an individual. Suppose one could combine that with a personal activity monitor like FitBit.  That would make a great ‘wellness solution’ for an individual to record, analyze, set goals and then get guidance on two important aspects:

  1. Energy input (your food intake)
  2. Energy output (your daily activity)

I also found some other apps that help manage food allergies (FoodContentAlerts, iCanEat/iEatOut), although they don’t have bar code scanning ability. This space just keeps getting more interesting every day.

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