NEW ORLEANS -- The Produce Marketing Association is testing the value of a standard produce catalog -- a central point of entry for produce buyers and suppliers -- which would be a first for the industry and a longtime goal for the organization, officials said.
Results of a months-long pilot project, which involves Supervalu, PMA's e-commerce task force, a group of suppliers and a technical company, will be presented to PMA board members and committees at the association's Fresh Summit conference here this weekend.
FoodConnex Worldwide, Auburn, Calif., a tech company that works with companies throughout the food industry; ProduceSupply.org, a group of suppliers; and Supervalu, Eden Prairie, Minn., are the project's major players. A central catalog, or industry product database, is aimed at putting the suppliers and buyers on the same page when it comes to product attributes and their codes, said Kent Rhodes, FoodConnex's chief executive officer.
"There's a huge need to sync data. Especially with all the mergers, product attribute codes just balloon. Also without a central source, you're multiplying the possibilities for transmitting misinformation. The [Industry Product Database] would eliminate all the multiple codes for the same product," Rhodes said.
The IPD would allow the whole buyer community to access the same central source. Codes for products, including their size, weight, color, origin, packaging and even method of growing, where appropriate, would be assigned to the products of subscribing buyers. They would match the suppliers' codes, he explained. The IPD would also provide one place to go to update product information.
Supervalu's participation in the pilot study is deemed particularly valuable because of its wide operational scope. Such a view provided by the wholesaler-retailer offers a comprehensive test of the IPD buy-side requirements, PMA sources said. Results of the pilot, which are reportedly promising, are being presented to PMA's leadership, and later to its general membership, to determine the extent of interest in such a system, and to further determine its importance and value to the whole industry.
"We know it will will save significant amounts of time and money for retailers as well as suppliers," said Peter Townsend, elected chief operating officer, representing Driscoll Strawberry Associates, at ProduceSupply.org.
He pointed out that right now all orders are on a product-to-product basis; thus huge amounts of time are spent matching up products during the buying process.
"For example, we have our own code for one-pound, clamshell packs of strawberries, and each one of our customers has his own product code for that product."
The IPD would provide universal product attribute codes, and both Rhodes and Townsend said they see that as the primary building block for electronic buying.
Patrick Morris, liaison between the PMA membership and its e-commerce task force, emphasized the savings that could be reaped by eliminating immense duplication of effort.
"My sense of it is that the benefits will be to both retailer and supplier. It's going to save time and money. You have to go into [the database] to do mapping just one time," Morris said.
The pilot project was authorized by PMA this summer after its e-commerce task force issued a discussion paper detailing the structure and benefits of the proposed database. The discussion paper was created with input from all segments of the produce industry. Such retailers as Wegmans, Kroger, H-E-B and Wal-Mart participated in the effort, Morris said.
Details of its operation still need to be worked out, but in general the IPD would provide a universal database of information that suppliers and retailers would subscribe to.
More specifics about the ongoing IPD pilot study can be found at the technical company's Web site: www.foodconnexworldwide.com/ipd.