Summary:

Wine sellers are sticking QR codes on bottles to help customers learn about unusual European wines and suggest food pairings. QR codes aren’t very popular in the U.S., but I like the idea of using tech to make food shopping and entree selection easier.

Credit: Moore Brothers Wine Company

Credit: Moore Brothers Wine Company

You know how you’re sitting in a restaurant and you know what kind of wine you want to drink (Tempranillo, please) and later, when you’re happily sipping and scanning the menu you think, ugh, so which food is this wine supposed to go with, again? A steak? Roasted chicken? Thai food?

This happens to me all the time. Thankfully — as with most things we write about here — people are using technology to sort this out. There’s a wine seller called Moore Brothers Wine Company near me that’s printing QR codes on all the bottles it sells to help customers understand more about the wine they’re drinking. And for those who don’t read every issue of Food & Wine, it includes those helpful food pairing suggestions. Here’s an example of what you get when you scan a bottle.

We’re big on BYOBs here in the Philadelphia metro area, where Moore Brothers does some of its business, which means picking out your own wine for a dinner out is fairly common. So the ability to scan my wine bottle at the table with my iPhone’s camera and get a tailored list of suggestions from the wine guys who sold it to me is a lot easier than opening mobile Safari and doing Google research. I can see this being helpful in other contexts outside restaurants too: It could also be a quicker way to decide on dinner ingredients when you’re out grocery shopping.

Moore Brothers Wine Company isn’t the first to pioneer the idea of a scannable code on a wine bottle. It’s starting to become a trendy thing in their industry now. But Moore Brothers is looking at this use of the technology for specific reasons: it’s a regional company, it imports small-production European wines to a market that is dominated by state-run wine stores that carry a limited variety of brands and a lot of Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Moore Brothers are trying to sell Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Gamay, which can be a little more mysterious to shoppers.

Here’s what David Moore, who’s a co-founder and the company’s CTO, said about his business in an e-mail to me:

This presents a lot of challenges in marketing (nothing says “merlot” on it), so over the years we’ve built a lot of systems to provide contextual information about the wines and regions to our customers. This current project helps make it easier for our customers, even when they’re not in the store.

Using tech to help their customers is a great idea. But if the company’s experience is like the broader industry deploying QR codes, it’s going to be a challenge. While QR codes are popular in places like Japan, they haven’t caught on in the U.S. yet. The ability to scan these codes is almost universal in smartphones thanks to apps and built-in scanners, but people are just not embracing them: Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported that just 5 percent of Americans scanned a QR code last summer, even though the codes are popping up in 8 percent of print ads.

The QR code “fatigue” stems partly from the lack of creativity on the part of companies and advertisers employing them — people who do scan them don’t see any real payoff from doing so. That’s why I really like that Moore Brothers are thinking about how to incorporate these codes into their product in a way that’s not purely a gimmick.

Going beyond wine

Even if QR codes on wine bottles don’t take off, it’s exciting to see a non-tech company using tech to better connect their customers to valuable information.

It made me think about how many other ways food and technology could be so much more awesome together. For instance, how cool would it be if these codes were on all food packages? What if we had codes that were linked with a semantic recipe search engine like Yummly that helps with the intent of my search, not just a keyword or food category. Even more interesting: what if I scanned a box of pasta or a lemon, which would add those food items to my digital pantry, and a recipe library like Gojee (a personal favorite) could then suggest recipes to me based on the combination of items I added?

It would mean spending a lot less time spent on inputting information about what kind of ingredients and beverages I have on hand, and on doing recipe search. I will gladly lift a glass to anyone who makes this happen.

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