A broad coalition of leading fresh food associations has released a white paper advocating the adoption of Global Trade Identification Numbers to cover both fixed and random weight perishables throughout their respective supply chains.
While noting that suppliers of meat, seafood, produce, dairy, deli and bakery products all face unique challenges with their distinct categories, the report — “Industry Roadmap: Building the Fresh Foods Supply Chain of the Future” — notes that the vast majority of perishable commodity goods are sourced from fragmented supply chains with varying degrees of traceability problems.
“The design of the high-performance fresh food supply chain as a business imperative is long overdue and requires immediate executive-level and industry attention, focus and commitment,” the report reads. “Today we have enabling technologies, namely GS1 Data Bar (RSS) and [radio frequency identification]. The potential of these new technologies is promising; however, they need to be implemented in the context of the entire supply chain.”
The report is based on voluntary guidelines suggested and endorsed by the American Lamb Board, the Food Marketing Institute, the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, the National Turkey Federation, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association on behalf of the Beef Board, the National Chicken Council, the National Fisheries Institute, the National Pork Board and the Produce Marketing Association, with support from GS1 US, the not-for-profit organization that currently administers standards for identification codes including the Universal Product Code. However, it notes that “marketplace dynamics are starting to dictate the use of GS1 standards at all levels of packaging. By creating this report, each of the trade associations will help members sort through consumer or government mandates, and give them the chance to prepare for a new marketplace.”
Standard UPC barcodes, as well as Price Look Up codes for produce, have long outlived their usefulness in modern fresh food supply chains. They lack the space to electronically communicate key product attributes such as lot number and expiration dates — or, in the case of produce, unique item numbers, grower/shipper identification numbers and lot numbers — which could vastly improve traceability through the supply chain and simplify the adoption of such technologies as electronic commerce, RFID, bar-coding and data synchronization.
“In simple terms, a buyer should be able to look at the item or case in question, find the item or case number, call the manufacturer, and reference that number to isolate the product being discussed,” says the report. “This number should be shown on the purchase order, on the invoice, and on the item or case. This allows for unambiguous product identification that uniquely identifies the manufacturer and the specific item.”
The report notes that adopting these new uniform standards throughout a company, as well as upgrading to equipment that can scan and print the new GS1 Data Bar (RSS) bar codes, in many cases will be an expensive process.
However, some of these costs will be offset by several new efficiencies and potential marketing opportunities. For example, in addition to improved traceback in the event of a product recall, retailers would be better able to track promotional effectiveness in their fresh food departments, since data tying point-of-sale purchases to a specific supplier could be isolated. Similarly, when products are thrown away, bar-code scans could also tie shrink to a particular supplier, allowing retailers to take action more quickly with regard to those products. Also, when products include their projected expiration date within the GS1 Data Bar, store-level staff could discover the remaining shelf life of a product with their scanners, facilitating improved stock rotation.
Finally, the report contends that in pilot tests at major retailers, products labeled with GS1 bar codes enjoyed increased speed of throughput at checkout, compared with unlabeled loose produce items rung up with PLU numbers.
The authors of the report plan to educate their varied constituents about these new standards through education sessions at upcoming conferences, public relations events, presentations at board meetings and other efforts.
In a call to action accompanying the release of the report, the groups alluded to the prospect of future government regulations for supply chain traceability if the industry does not adopt some type of standard on its own accord. “As an industry, we must step forward and take control of our business applications. If we don't, rest assured that some other authority will do it for us,” it read.