ASSET project closed

ASSET developed shopping tools that have been tested by Esto­nian and Austrian consumers in real shopping situations. The data analysis of test data shows indi­cations for a change in shopping behaviour. Data analysis is still ongoing. Contact for more details:

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Dr Johannes Klinglmayr from the Linz Center of Mechatronics in Austria is developing a smartphone app to help shoppers choose food products that conform to their own version of sustainability.

‘One of the problems for sustainable consumerism is getting reliable data,’ he said.

The app is designed to be used when someone is standing in front of a supermarket shelf, and allows people to assess the difference brands for between similar products such as pasta.

It works via Bluetooth, matching the customer’s location with a database of product information. The app allows someone to see how each one matches their own preferences, which they’ve pre-programmed into the app.

To do this, Dr Klinglmayr and his team on the ASSET project used some 25 sustainability criteria to tag products with, including environmental factors such as being free from palm oil as well as health concerns such as being sugar-free.  

‘We have to take the word apart and give people the ability to build their own criteria,’ Dr Klinglmayr said. ‘The point is that everyone has a different understanding of sustainability, but on some levels there is overlap.’

For one shopper, he explains, sustainability could mean organic food, while for another it means food that was sourced locally, or has a small carbon footprint, or was produced whilst upholding workers’ rights.

But all four of those sustainability criteria would prompt a shopper to buy a product made locally, in an area he or she feels familiar with. ‘This means that four shoppers could have different understandings of sustainability, but end up buying the same product in the shop,’ he said.

‘One of the problems for sustainable consumerism is getting reliable data.’

Dr Johannes Klinglmayr, Linz Center of Mechatronics, Austria


Dr Klinglmayr believes this type of information could be more helpful than relying only on food labels, which he says have become so diverse as to risk creating confusion. ‘In Austria, for instance, there are 30 different labels that call an egg organic,’ he said.

The app has already been trialled by the COOP shop in Estonia and WinklerMarkt in Austria. ASSET looked at information on all food products in the Estonian shop, excluding tobacco and alcohol. In Austria, the products used included common shopping items such as tea, milk and pasta.

Dr Klinglmayr said initial indications were that the app had been appreciated by shoppers and that data from the trials is now being analysed to see if a business case could be built for the app moving forward. He says that ASSET is part of a wider trend to improve product data and share the information with customers, whatever the end form of that turns out to be.

‘In general, I strongly encourage widely spread implementation within the EU of a transparent product information system,’ he said.


One hard-to-assess criteria of sustainability is what goes on in companies that form the opaque supply networks around the world that bring goods to shoppers and which can allow brands and companies to hide behind distant suppliers.

Much of this data, about which factories are working for which companies, and which brands are produced where, is available if you know where to look. But a lot isn’t published publicly, or when it is there is so much data that even the companies themselves don’t know where to start.

Laureen van Breen, program manager with open analysis platform WikiRate, which gathers data from companies at various points along global supply chains and publishes it in an online database, says there is a lot of information about supply chains that could be made transparent, if the right systems are in place.

Van Breen coordinates a project called ChainReact, which aims to make supplier networks easier to understand and more responsive. This includes identifying responsible and irresponsible corporate behaviour, and making it easier for workers to report problems.

One important feature of ChainReact and WikiRate is sharing research with companies, trade unions and NGOs, and developing tools for them to make use of the information. With this project, ‘we’re able to connect companies (to supply chain data),’ van Breen explained.

Working with the UK’s University of Cambridge, ChainReact has developed an app for whistleblowers known as The Whistle. The Whistle makes it easier for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to collect grievance reports from workers, to improve transparency along the supply chain.

Theresa Heithaus, ChainReact’s co-coordinator, says NGOs are already using the data gathered by ChainReact. The pressure group Clean Clothes Campaign, a network of NGOs and labour unions in the garment industry, has for instance used supply chain data in talks with trade unions, with the aim of improving working conditions.


Another NGO, the Walk Free Foundation, used ChainReact data to analyse the effect the UK’s Modern Slavery Act was having on company behaviour in order to advise the Australian government on the development of the country’s own anti-slavery legislation.

Through WikiRate, ChainReact gathered information about over 500 companies, to see whether for instance they had a training programme to raise employee awareness of modern slavery, or a whistle-blower system. ChainReact also looked simply at which companies were legally complying with the act, which turned out to be ‘a shockingly low percentage,’ says Van Breen.

Van Breen says the NGOs’ work shows the important of ethical supply chains goes well beyond Europe and will always be relevant. ‘We don’t really have a geographic limit,’ she explained. ‘Supply chains are global.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.

Social innovation

New business and technology ideas that are designed to address social issues are known as social innovations. In November 2018, Carlos Moedas, the EU’s commissioner for research, science and innovation, said the EU would put more money into funding this type of ‘innovation with a purpose’ in the future.

Current initiatives to promote social innovation include the European Social Innovation Competition, an annual contest that challenges all Europeans to come up with solutions to the problems affecting our society. In 2018 the theme was RE:Think Local, which aimed to tackle issues around revitalising regions and communities, with a particular focus on empowering young people.

The Horizon Prize for Social Innovation, which closes in February 2019, offers a €1 million first prize and four €250,000 runner-up prizes to the best solutions for improving the travel mobility of older people.

This post The apps that can tell you if you’re buying sustainably was originally published on Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine | European Commission.

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In spring 2018, the Bluetooth Low Energy localization system was installed at the premises of Winkler Markt, a family owned supermarket in Linz, Austria. Since the beginning of July, we started another field campaign there. The campaign is supported and promoted using a booth directly in the supermarket, which is run by the LCM team. So far, we further advertised the test using posters and flyers at the supermarket and at the nearby campus of Johannes Kepler University.

At current, interested test participants may download our App “MyPrefs”, use it during shopping, and certainly are invited to give us their opinion using the feedback options within the App or directly at the booth.

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After months of intensive work, we are happy to start the second field test. Staff members of the COOP store in Tartu are putting up posters, advertising for the participation in the test. One day after the start, we already have the first downloads from the app store and the first customers have installed the app on their phone. We all are very excited to observe the usage of the app and to find out how customers feel about the ASSET-service.

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On 21st March, retailers, consumers and environmental and food experts had the opportunity to get an overview of the ASSET project and get a feel of the mobile app. We had lots of interesting discussions and got good and useful input for the future. Depending on the perspective, either from a consumer’s or retailer’s point of view, the ASSET app offers different interesting aspects.

What do consumers want?
One of the most interesting features for consumers is the direct comparison of 2 or more products with one click. Also, the possibility of defining individual ranking criteria that can be changed quickly adds a dimension that cannot be found elsewhere. This way, the ASSET app seems to be able to fulfill the consumer’s need to make shopping decisions that fit their current life situation as well as a wish to get more background information on products. Shopping for a sugar free diet as well as finding palm-oill free products can both be equally supported. The most important aspects from a consumer’s point of view for further developement are independence, transparency, intuitive usability and, of course, data protection.

What do retailers want?
For retailers, the app can be interesting for overcoming the lack of space in the shop for providing additional information. Even without installing the localisation tool in every single store, the ASSET app still seems to be a potentially useful service for customers. A data coverage of at least 80% of the product sortiment should be ensured, however, to avoid frustration of users.

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For the second general assembly the consortium met with the advisory board again in Tartu, Estonia. While testing the app directly in the store, also the advisory board got a good impression of the progress of the project. The consortium could test the improvements of the app that had been added since the last project meeting in Estonia. Now, last preparations are being made for the start of the second field test.

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After successfully installing all the beacons, the team is finally ready to test the app. After a quick introduction into the app, the team members start walking around the shop and trying out the different locations. With the “find me” button, the app is automatically suggesting the product groups that are in the shelves in front of the phone. Except for a few minor improvements that are needed, we are all excited to see that the localisation is working. With this result, we are all looking forward to the next field test with consumers.

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After bringing all the equipment to the store, the most important task is the positioning of the beacons. Different places have to be tested for the beacons to ensure the best functionality for the localisation module. Another important aspect for the positioning is to find hiding places, so customers don’t get distracted during their shopping. With the help of the beacons, the ASSET App is able to localise the consumers position in the store and consequently help with their shopping decision without scanning every single product. On the pictures you can see how the beacons look like and how the project team managed to mount them on the shelves.

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After 1 ½ years of hard programming work, the project is finally starting to take shape in the supermarket. The ASSET team is excited to meet in the shop for the first time to discuss the setting of the field test. We are unpacking the technical equipment (beacons) needed for the localization unit and identifying the last tasks before the trial of the app can be started with test users. For the first field test, the technical functionalities of the app will be tested and evaluated. The results of this tests will help us to perfect the system for testing it in real shopping situations.


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After finishing the first prototype of the mobile phone app and first tests in the supermarket, we are happy to announce the successful midterm evaluation of the ASSET project. Updates on the first field test and other project developments will follow soon.

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