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Braille New World For Spanish Shoppers

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from Food Production Daily, November 7, 2003:

Spanish supermarket group Alcampo is to introduce labels in braille on 60 of its own label products, the first retail group in Spain to cater for blind customers in this way.

Braille consists of a series of raised dots representing numbers and letters, allowing blind people to "read" by running their fingers over the text.

Alcampo said that the scheme was being introduced in association with ONCE, the Spanish association which lobbies on behalf of the blind, and would be rapidly expanded to cover 200 products sold under the Auchan label. Alcampo is owned by France\'s Auchan group.

The company said that it hoped to reach the 200-product threshold by the middle of next year, adding that braille labels would be included on all its basic grocery items by 2005.

Alcampo has been selling a range of own label canned seafood products with braille labels for several months, and has decided to extend the scheme to other products in the important pre-Christmas period.

With this in mind, several of the products featuring the braille labels will be traditional Spanish Christmas favourites such as nougat and other confectionery products.

There are more than 63,000 blind people registered with ONCE, whose cultural resources division worked closely with Alcampo to develop the new labels. The chain said that ONCE\'s expertise had been invaluable in deciding what information to include on the braille labels and what the best materials were to use on the product packaging.

Alcampo has in fact been working closely with ONCE since 2000 as part of the latter\'s campaign to promote better working conditions for people with disabilities.

The company operates 44 hypermarkets across Spain.

Alcampo is the first food retailer in Spain to cater for blind customers with labelling of this sort, and the picture appears to be the same across Europe. In the UK, for example, one of Europe\'s most forward-looking retail markets, only the Co-op has a wide range of products featuring braille labels, although other such as market leader Tesco are said to be considering introducing them.

Auchan, Alcampo\'s parent company in France, is by far the biggest group to go down this responsible route. In fact, all its own label products, food and non-food (excluding textiles), now carry braille labels. It is estimated that around a third of France\'s 1.5 million blind or partially sighted people can read braille.

Emmanuel Quesseveur of the organization Donne-Moi Tes Yeux, which produces the braille labels for the chain, told that taking the decision to introduce braille labelling was probably the hardest part of the process. "Basically it all boils down to whether companies are willing to take that final step; it\'s a question of taking responsibility."

Auchan has been working with Donne-Moi Tes Yeux, an organization which lobbies to make French businesses and public alike aware of the challenges facing blind people every day of their lives, since 1999/2000, and after a lengthy consultation period, the two organizations launched the first Auchan products with braille labels in November 2001. Now all the store chain\'s own label products carry the labelling, both in France and elsewhere.

In fact, Alcampo is not the first foreign subsidiary to get the braille labels. Quesseveur said that the Jumbo chain in Brazil and Portugal had already introduced the braille labels in association with the national associations for the blind there.

Retailers across Europe are increasingly expanding their social responsibilities, and more product labels of this sort are likely to be seen in the future. A handful of brand manufacturers are also going down this route--Quesseveur said that some frozen food products from Unilever already had braille labels, for example--but the likelihood is that most of the activity will come at the own label end of the market.

This is for a number of reasons, not least cost. The enormous buying power of the supermarket groups puts them in a very strong position when it comes to persuading their suppliers to shoulder at least some of the cost of introducing braille labels, and Quesseveur said that the procedure itself was not particularly expensive--it was simply a matter of adding a cardboard braille label to the existing packaging.

But with most of the French retailers using the same few producers for their own label brands--at least according to Quesseveur--it would not take much for the majority of supermarket groups to offer their own label products with braille labelling. He added that most of the major European retailers were considering labelling of this sort.

Auchan, in any case, has a massive head start in this field, with the 1,000th own label product featuring braille set to hit the shelves next month., January 3, 2005

Copyright 2005NOVIS. Reprinted with permission of Food Production

This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.

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