“I do have a question about the chicken—can you just tell us a little more about it?” Carrie Brownstein’s character asks of her waitress to learn about her dinner meat in IFC’s hit comedy Portlandia. She and her husband, played by Fred Armisen, continue questioning the waitress about the chicken until she provides the couple with a folder filled with information about the rooster. The diners learn the chicken was named Colin and that he grew up nearby on four acres of land, eating a diet of sheep’s milk, soy and hazelnuts.
Though this may seem slapstick, consumers’ desire to know where their food’s origins, and to support sustainable and ethical farming, is real. In a 2016 Label Insight survey, 94% of 1,500 consumers said that their purchase decisions are impacted by the manufacturers’ transparency in how the food is made. Further, 71% of these consumers said they consider whether they have full intel on a product’s ingredients on the path to purchase.
While consumers want to know how their food is made, farmers feel that most people have no idea how agriculture works. In a 2011 study by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, 86% of farmers and ranchers said that the average consumer has “little to no knowledge” about modern farming and ranching practices.
That’s where members of the Forbes Under 30 Agtech+ Hackathon believe they can bridge the information gap, and stimulate already-strong demand for sustainably farmed products. They were challenged to create a consumer-facing fix to encourage regenerative and profitable row crop production. Their solution: Colin the Chicken. Colin’s technology would allow consumers to access a product’s certifications and backstory by scanning a Colin the Chicken QR code on packaging—or installing a browser extension online—to reveal information supplied directly by the producer. So say you’re at your local grocer trying to decide between chicken products—you scan the Colin QR code on the package to see how it was raised, whether its USDA Organic, Kosher and watch footage of the farm to learn about the people and practices behind the product. In some cases, you may even buy merchandise from the farm or visit their Instagram. For online grocery shopping, Colin functions similarly to promo code surfer Honey, as browser extension that can provide information on any partner products.
“Lately there has been a lot more steam about buying local and organic,” says Colin team member Aswarya Ravi, a research scientist at Corteva Agriscience, who mentions the USDA has a three-year waiting list to certify organic farms. “Farming cannot just be reduced to labels. This is a platform for farmers to tell their story.”
The team plans to monetize Colin by billing grocers on subscription and allowing third parties to advertise on the platform. They believe this revenue strategy enables farmers to increase revenue with transparency at a premium. In the same vein, consumers will be satiating more than their appetite with food shopping: “Having consumers be able to meet the cows and watch the farmers take care of the crops—they’ll make more conscious decisions about what they’re buying and who they’re supporting,” says team member Alexjandria Edwards, who works as a content protection representative at Universal Music Group. “When people feel a part of something, it changes their perspective.”
The team would roll out Colin by first signing on small producers in targeted locales, and later expanding up the food chain to big farms and companies. “You could see Colin going to larger and larger farms and being able to partner with major corporations and co-ops,” says Julian Gluck, a Colin team member, U.S. Airforce pilot and 2020 Forbes Under 30 alum. “Eventually, Colin the Chicken would be as ubiquitous as the Kosher logo or USDA Organic certification.”
Team members: HY William Chan, Architect and Fellow, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network; Alexjandria Edwards, Content Protection Representative, Universal Music Group; Alex Fotsch, Vice President of Product Management, Locus Agricultural Solutions; Julian Gluck, Pilot, United States Air Force; Adele Mclure, Executive Director, Virginia Legislative Black Caucus; Ayswarya Ravi, Research Scientist, Corteva Agriscience.