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Unique QR codes on alcohol packaging are the only way to eradicate fakes, a counterfeit expert has said. 

Geert de Vries, from KPMG's risk services unit, said today (21 May) that technology such as holograms, and special ink are “relatively useless”. However, QR codes scanned in-store by consumers can instantly alert producers to where fakes are being sold.

“(QR codes) will grow to be enormous,” de Vries said in a seminar at the London International Wine Fair. “The whole illicit trade can be stopped by unique codes.”

De Vries added that the European Union plans to introduce laws that ensure all alcoholic packaging carries a unique code. He said the laws will follow the introduction in 2017 of codes on pharmaceutical packaging, and could be in place by 2020.

“It might be useful to be one of the first companies to do this,” he suggested. “That way you can see where the problems and where the advantages lie with it.”

QR codes are similar to bar codes and can be scanned by smart phones. When scanned, the code can be run through a manufacturer's database of known codes. If the code is not recognised, the manufacturer can ask the consumer to send details of where the product was bought, after which police can be contacted.

De Vries said Dutch company Bols used a similar method to stop high levels of counterfeiting of its products in Africa. 

He added that marketing promotions can be used to encourage consumers to scan the QR codes and send back information to manufacturers.

This year, a wholesaler in China was jailed for selling “fake” Scotch whisky in the country's first case centred on the term 'Scotch'.


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