Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is one of the six strategic verticals for the Hong Kong's economy. The local herbal/traditional product market reached HK$3 billion in 2012, representing 7% growth from 2011, according to research firm Euromonitor International.
But product integrity is a major challenge for its development, said Alice Wong, managing director of Eu Yan Sang Hong Kong.
"Despite the long history of TCM, we've never had a product authentication system to ensure product integrity," she said. "There are many fake products on the market. It has always been our company's vision to reduce counterfeits by ensuring the original products can be verified easily."
Wong said the firm has tried different technologies like putting security holograms or watermark images on the package. But these identifying-images were forged soon after they emerged.
To fight the counterfeit market, Eu Yan Sang participated in a trial project from the Hong Kong R&D Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies (LSCM).
LSCM has developed a RFID-supported system to help consumers identify counterfeit TCM products. Simply by scanning the RFID-tagged products at the product authentication (PA) kiosk, consumer can access different information that ensures the integrity of the product.
Besides an ingredient-list, the PA kiosk provides information including the license of the TCM trader, the product's registration with the Department of Health, and testing results required in the registration process. As Eu Yan Sang's products also follow the GMP (good manufacturing practice) guidelines—production and testing guidelines for medicine and pharmaceutical products—the kiosk also displays details of the GMP Certification.
"To ensure integrity of the information, certification and test lab results is provided directly by the test labs and certification bodies," said Frank Tong, director, research & technology development, LSCM.
He added that the technology also flags forged RFID tags, as scanners at the kiosk can't read information from the fake tags.
Tong said that RFID has become an affordable and viable technology to store information on premium consumer products. The cost of each tag is HK$2 and each kiosk scanner cost about HK$10,000, according to Tong. As part of the trial project, Eu Yan Sang is currently tagging its "Extra Strength Lingzhi Cracked Spores" products with kiosks placed at two of its retail outlets.
Building consumer confidence
Tong anticipates huge potential for the PA kiosks. "The idea is to build confidence among customers and tourists on the quality and integrity of Hong Kong's TCM products," he said.
Tong said that the system is also expected to go beyond authenticating TCM products to include other health products and cosmetics. The kiosks can be placed at drug stores, personal stores or shopping malls.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.