ORLANDO, Fla. — Following the completion of a “very successful” pilot of RFID technology in its meat manufacturing and distribution operation last year, Wegmans Food Markets is “thinking very hard about rolling it out on a full-time basis,” said Mike Bargmann, senior vice president and chief logistics officer.
Bargmann made these comments last week as part of an executive panel at the RFID Journal Live! Conference and Exhibition here. He said Wegmans is also considering a small RFID pilot in one of the chain's pharmacies to verify that prescriptions at the item or vial level are correctly distributed to consumers. RFID has been largely pioneered in U.S. food distribution by Wal-Mart Stores, though chains like Wegmans have been gradually testing the technology.
In the meat pilot, Wegmans tested RFID tags at the case (tote) and pallet levels, during a 90-day pilot running through the end of 2006, according to a report by Wegmans' partner, infrastructure services provider and consultant VeriSign, Mountain View, Calif.
Tags were read as pallets and totes moved from the manufacturing line to the shuttle trailer headed for a Wegmans distribution center. The tags were read again as the pallets and totes were unloaded at the DC, and again during loading onto outbound trailers headed to stores. RFID tag read rates were regularly in the 95% to 98% range, when the tags were affixed to plastic totes, the report said.
Wegmans started the pilot project in its meat manufacturing facility, according to Bargmann, because all the functions are controlled by the retailer. “We now know a lot about how manufacturers are going to be impacted, and we can understand and help them as we go to the next level,” he said.
“[RFID] is very much an evolution, not a revolution,” Bargmann noted. “We took a very steady approach, but it paid off in our people feeling good about a real example.”
As a result of the meat pilot, Wegmans is “talking about what we should be doing to prepare for RFID, and where it would fit into new fresh food facilities we have on the horizon,” Don Reeve, senior vice president and chief information officer for Wegmans, recently told SN. “The pilot demonstrated that RFID holds much promise as an enabling technology that will assist Wegmans in improving service levels.”
However, Wegmans and VeriSign found less favorable results when they tested RFID tags on a range of individual Center Store items, including canned goods. When the tags were affixed directly to packages containing metal or placed in close proximity to metal, read rates were very low or nonexistent. In a survey of Wegmans products, nearly 30% had metal packaging. “EPCglobal and the technology community must continue to improve performance [on] reading metal packaged products,” said the VeriSign report.
Wegmans is also looking at conducting a pilot on RFID's potential to ensure that consumers are given the correct prescription at the in-store pharmacy. If the pilot is approved and meets EPCglobal standards, it would start in one store's pharmacy later this year or early next year.
“Pharmacy is a significant part of our business, so the opportunity is very significant,” said Bargmann.