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Traceability Calls For
Enhanced Communications Language

We’ve been focusing on issues related to traceability, not least in a two-column series written by Gary Fleming, Vice President, Industry Technology and Standards, Produce Marketing Association. These pieces, Guest Pundit — Traceability And The Need For A Common Language plus Guest Pundit — Pairing The Global Language With Technology, were part of our effort to find ways to enhance traceback.

Another take on the issue was sent to us by PMA. It seems that PMA is a member of something known as the Perishable Foods Coalition, and this group is working together to combat inefficiencies in the supply chain. Of course, these same efforts have a profound impact on our traceability efforts. Here is what PMA said:

Perishable Foods Coalition Recommends
Solution to Industry Inefficiencies

A coalition of fresh food associations has announced its creation of “Industry Roadmap: Building the Fresh Foods Supply Chain of the Future,” a white paper that suggests a solution to the industry’s current inability to identify, mark, manage, and track fresh food products across the food supply chain and at point-of-sale.

The coalition includes 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 Checkoff, the National Chicken Council, the National Fisheries Institute, the National Pork Board, and the Produce Marketing Association, with support from GS1 US.

The proposed solution to meeting emerging fresh foods supplier and retailer needs calls for using one global communications language for the entire supply chain — from suppliers to retailers to consumers — utilizing existing GS1 standards and technologies including the Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) and GS1 DataBar (formerly known as Reduced Symbology System or RSS).

Adopting this plan will require each participant in the fresh food supply chain that produces a product or adds value to an existing product to evaluate and potentially upgrade their systems in order to effectively utilize the GS1 product identification standards and technologies. It is expected that, while relatively expensive, adopting this proposal across the entire fresh foods industry will yield significant benefits including increased information capture, faster POS throughput, effective category management, effective traceability, fresher product, and shrink reduction.

The Universal Product Code (UPC) random weight number system currently used is not sufficient to accommodate the information needed at the point-of-sale register. The coalition believes a single, integrated solution that accommodates fixed-measure and variable-measure for packaged and fresh foods can be applied across the food industry.

Basically the coalition is saying that UPC codes are too limited for what we need to accomplish and that we have to move to what we used to call RSS or Reduced Symbology System but has now been renamed GS1 Databar — which can hold more information.

It is all a fine idea. The question is whether buyers will see sufficient profit in it to demand use of this technology from suppliers. If buyers don’t demand it, it seems unlikely suppliers will invest the money needed to make it happen.

PMA has made available a free copy of “Industry Roadmap: Building the Fresh Foods Supply Chain of the Future,” and you can find it, along with other technical documents, right here or by contacting any of the participating associations.

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