ATLANTA -- Smaller bar codes containing more information will be tested later this year and should prove especially valuable for perishables categories, such as produce, meat, bakery, seafood and deli, said David Sefcik, manager of corporate scanning at Giant Food, Landover, Md., speaking at last month's ECR conference.
"As an industry, or as an individual retailer, we are always looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage," said Sefcik, who co-chairs the Uniform Code Council's Variable Measure User Group. "Implementation of reduced space symbology, if proven successful, may be just one such advantage. RSS may literally change the way we look at the perishables category," he said.
"RSS is the enabler for capturing those key data elements missing today that are necessary to apply and reap the same ECR principles that are used in dry grocery," he said. Sefcik quoted an ECR Operating Committee statement that said, "the potential benefits of applying ECR principles to perishables is equal to, if not greater than, the benefits found in dry grocery."
Perishables accounted for 50% of total store sales last year, and 70% of that involved variable-measured products. "We must have better data to better manage the perishables category. Detailed item-level information sharing between trading partners is the key to effective ECR and the basis for sound category management," Sefcik said.
The current Number System Character 2 Universal Product Code used for perishables categories is insufficient for the industry's needs, he said. For example, the NSC2 UPC does not identify the product supplier or allow for unique product identification. "It only identifies the commodity and has a fixed capacity of item or commodity numbers available. If you are a retailer, you probably realize that we are literally running out of numbers," Sefcik said.
Other limitations include a price field limited to four digits, or $99.99 -- a problem with some expensive meat items -- and that exact weight cannot be captured at the point of sale. "The NSC2 bar code, in essence, is an impediment to more effective and more sophisticated category management in perishables," he said.
In response, the Uniform Code Council, Dayton, Ohio, has developed a solution "from the ground up," he said. "This is a major initiative that is going to impact our current infrastructure. It's going to challenge the way we do things for variable-measure product. This initiative has the potential to create process efficiencies in identification, tracking and management of retail products sold in varying weights and quantities," Sefcik said.
Giant Food, which is an Ahold USA chain, is now evaluating participation in the pilot, which will take place this fall, he said. "Once we understand the benefits and savings in hard dollars and cents in light of the costs as we migrate toward this future infrastructure, we will be in a better position as an industry to evaluate and understand the true scope and value of RSS," he said.
There are several symbols that will be tested for different applications, none measuring more than 1 inch wide, said Jack Eggert, director of POS in the Process Development Group at the Uniform Code Council. A produce sticker measures about one half-inch square; a health-care bar code measures about one-eighth of an inch by a half-inch; and some other stickers are bigger. "We are talking about small footprints and more data, depending upon the capability of your scanners," he said.
Dorothy Lane Markets, Dayton, Ohio, has committed to participating in the pilot, which will begin sometime in the September timeframe, Eggert said.
Sefcik said the benefits of the new symbology include improved inventory controls, incremental sales from efficient assortments, production and promotions, improved profitability, closer trading relationships and improved risk management during recalls because of the ability to track shipments as well as purchasers through frequent-shopper cards.
Costs will include software development and migration to point-of-sale and mainframe systems, upgrades of scale systems, scanners and printers, and training. "These costs may be significant and must be viewed in light of the benefits," Sefcik said.
The UCC Variable Measure User Group is looking for companies to take part in testing, refining and benchmarking RSS, he said. The goals of the pilot will include: