NFC Raises Spirits for Tasmanian Distillery

By Claire Swedberg

Old Kempton Distillery is providing authentication and content about its whiskey products via HID Global's Trusted Tag solution, provided by Australian systems integrator AusNFC.

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Tasmanian foods and spirits are showcased at The Taste of Tasmania, an annual event at which “Tassies” (as Australians refer to those from the country’s island state) can enjoy the best of their local products. In 2018, the show included a local whiskey tagged with Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality that allowed consumers to authenticate and engage with bottles before buying them.

The Old Kempton Distillery (OKD), located in Kempton, Tasmania, is utilizing NFC technology to combat counterfeits, as well as to improve the branding of its high-value whiskey, gin and other liquor products as the company expands its market share across Australia and around the world. The NFC solution, provided by AusNFC, employs HID Global‘s Trusted Tag solution to uniquely identify each bottle and deliver Web-based content from OKD regarding the company and the products with which users interact via their smartphone. That content can include videos, membership offers and links to websites.

OKD’s Robbie Gilligan

AusNFC is a startup systems integrator that aims to solve problems via technology, initially in the honey and whisky markets. “In the near future, other areas will involve fresh food such as seafood,” says Larry Hower, AusNFC’s CEO. In this case, he explains, the firm provided HID’s Trusted Tag Services labels, along with software that captures and displays content, including messaging and graphics that consumers can view and engage with.

OKD has been in operation for several generations, the company reports, distilling and aging hand-crafted liquors out of local produce. The firm expects to sell more than 10,000 bottles annually for the next five years, based on its current stock levels. OKD sells its products to local pubs and stores across Australia. “We see a real value in having our bottles in bars and restaurants,” says Robbie Gilligan, OKD’s owner, “as these are the venues which give us great exposure, and they can engage more with their customers.” However, the company also strives to expand its sales to stores beyond Australia.

One challenge that a high-value liquor distillery faces is counterfeits, Gilligan says, and the company had looked at several technologies that could provide a solution to this problem, including QR codes and other hidden printed codes. It then began looking into NFC. “As the president of the Tasmanian Whisky and Spirits Association [previously TWPA], I saw the potential in using this technology to help us protect the brand of Tasmanian whisky,” he states, adding, “We also saw the potential benefits for ourselves here at Old Kempton Distillery,” since the technology would let OKD know how its products were being interacted with.

With the NFC technology, a bar or restaurant owner can confirm that every bottle is authentic. But NFC can also benefit consumers at stores, since they, too, can confirm authenticity and engage further with the brand.

First, OKD’s staff attached a 13.56 MHz NFC tag, compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, to each bottle of premium malt whiskey or other liquor. The tag has a unique ID number encoded on it that links a user’s smartphone with the cloud-based server provided by HID Global.

A user can simply tap his or her phone near the bottle label at the cap, following instructions printed on the label. If the tag is authentic, the unique ID will be captured by the phone’s reader and then be forwarded to HID’s cloud-authentication service, where it will be validated and linked to AusNFC’s content-management software, thereby indicating the bottle is genuine. If a bottle were being sold at a store, a consumer could read its tag via his or her NFC-enabled smartphone in order to confirm that the bottle was not a counterfeit product. What’s more, the system could invite that consumer to access additional information about the beverage.

In the case of malt whisky, Hower says, the product’s cask and bottle numbers are linked to the NFC tag as well, so that when a consumer reads the tag, “the information related to their specific bottle appears on their phone.” Each time an individual taps a phone against the bottle’s tag, it generates a unique URL that prevents counterfeiters from copying, spoofing or manipulating that URL. OKD can view data indicating where and how often bottle tags are read, thus indicating the amount of interest its products receive at specific locations.

The company determined that the technology worked during a trial period, as well as at The Taste of Tasmania and other venues, then put the solution into production at the OKD distillery in Kempton. Now, every bottle the company produces is tagged. Going forward, the firm intends to tag all new lines of products it releases. OKD is also installing a large enterprise-wide software system that will be distillery-centric and enable the capturing of NFC read data. Once this is activated, OKD says it plans to offer customer loyalty memberships and coupons.

“The NFC technology works well, so consumer participation is a matter of education,” Hower states. “Show a person how to scan once and they can do it again.” He adds, “The front-end experience developed by AusNFC allows OKD to continually engage with their customers well after the purchase to build and maintain a unique relationship, helping to build brand loyalty.”

To date, Gilligan says, the benefits have been multifold. The technology helps pubs and bars to “keep track of bottle stock,” he explains, “and it allows us to distinguish which bottles are allocated to each segment of the business” since the company can view where and how often each label is being read. When it comes to engaging directly with consumers, Gilligan adds, the NFC label helps “provide customers with the relevant info about the bottle they are holding,” including the barrel number, the type of product and the date on which it was bottled. Finally, he says, the solution ensures that customers are confident that their product is authentic.

With regard to identifying counterfeits, Gilligan says, “So far it is early days, but we expect that if anything untoward happens, we will be made aware.” He adds, “With an industry like ours, I think it is inevitable we will see counterfeit product on the market, especially when we sell overseas.”

Ultimately, by using NFC to provide content that proves its whisky is genuine, as well as enabling customers to further engage with its brand, Old Kempton Distillery hopes to increase sales. The company’s long-term plan, Gilligan explains, is to provide NFC labels on all of its exported whisky and gin. “This will allow us to engage with our overseas customers,” he states, “and build the brand over there.”