As anyone who has been involved in the selling and tracking of random-weight or variable-measure products (such as poultry and red meat) can tell you, the current tracking system is inadequate. There is simply not enough capacity to uniquely identify today’s large number of fresh foods products and manufacturers. While today’s system may not be “broken,” it is inefficient without common standards that cross all perishable categories. A new direction and roadmap are required.
SIMPLE PROBLEM – COMPLEX SOLUTION
The problem is simple: the UPC random weight numbering system does not have enough numbers to uniquely identify all products or combinations of perishable products, much less identify the manufacturers of those products. The answer is not simple. A solution must allow for global applications, unique product identification, marking, management of co-mingled products, and tracking up and down the supply chain for tens of thousands of products. Any one of these requirements is rife with special problems; combine them together and you begin to see the scope of the challenge.
To identify a solution to those challenges, a unique coalition of perishable food associations banded together to create one answer for an industry-wide problem. In the United States, those associations include the National Chicken Council, 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 Fisheries Institute, the National Pork Board, and the Produce Marketing Association, with support from GS1 US.
This group is convinced that a single, integrated solution, applied across all categories of fresh food, is required. They addressed the problem by looking at the current GS1 standards for identification, marking, and tracking of fixed-measure packaged goods. These standards are well-defined and widely applied. However, the standards currently in use for random-weight and variable-measure items are not sufficient to meet growing requirements for unambiguous product identification, tracking, and management of fresh foods from source to consumer.
The group has created a white paper that covers the challenges, business requirements, and potential strategies for using the GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number). The goal is to create one communications language for the entire supply chain— from suppliers to retailers to consumers – to cover fixed-measure and variable-measure, packaged and fresh foods. New GS1 standards and technologies such as the Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) and GS1 DataBar (formerly RSS) exist now and can be applied to meet emerging fresh foods supplier and retailer needs.
CALL TO ACTION
Each participant in the fresh food supply chain that produces a product or adds value to an existing product must evaluate and potentially upgrade their systems to effectively utilize the new GS1 product identification technologies. They must have a strategy for assigning GTINs, which requires each participant to obtain a U.P.C. Company Prefix, to have a scheme for assigning Item Reference Numbers, and in the case of co-mingled products, to have a system for tracking each ingredient back to its source. (Retailers and suppliers will likely choose to maintain a mapping system between current PLU numbering schemes and their new GTIN numbers.)
Adopting this proposed solution across the entire fresh food industry will yield significant benefits including increased information capture, faster POS throughput, effective category management, effective traceability, fresher product, and reduction in shrink.
Each party in the supply chain will need to assess their own internal systems to determine not only the return-on-investment but the food safety implications of being able to track and manage product. 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. We have the knowledge and the power to control our own future. Let’s use it.
For a free copy of the report “Industry Roadmap: Building the Fresh Foods Supply Chain of the Future,” contact any of these associations (a free download is available from any association with an asterisk) or call them for additional information.