A packaging debriefing on GS1 US’s Attribute Explorer

By Rick Lingle in Supply Chain on July 28, 2015

Attribute Explorer, just released by standards organization GS1 US, is an online tool developed in response to the retail grocery and foodservice industries’ need for standardized data. Bernie Hogan, senior vice president of emerging capabilities and industries, who worked closely with the industry on this project, identifies the packaging implications for brand owners and other supply chain stakeholders.

 

What’s the reasoning behind Attribute Explorer?

Hogan: As it often happens with the development of any GS1 US resources and tools, the supply chain community approached us, stating that they needed an easier way to find standardized attributes and their definitions to conduct business better. Today’s consumer expects there to be reliable information available at their fingertips, and trading partners are increasingly collaborating to standardize the data to be able to respond to that demand.

 

What the businesses were finding is that there was no easy way to surface the product attribute definitions they needed to efficiently communicate with their trading partners. When we say “product attributes,” we are referring to the descriptive language used in data exchange, particularly when using the Global Data Synchronization Network (i.e., the GDSN) or Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which rely on many GS1 attributes.  Product attributes can include data type, name, and values (i.e., descriptors) like “gross weight,” “ingredient name,” and “brand name.” But companies were running into multiple definitions for such attributes. They needed one source of the truth to be able to keep product information consistent and better serve the needs of their trading partners, regulatory bodies and consumers.

 

What are the benefits of AE throughout the supply chain?

Hogan: GS1 US Attribute Explorer organizes product attribute definitions from various sources—from guidelines developed by our industry initiatives and from GS1’s Global Data Dictionary—so supply chain partners do not have to reinvent the wheel and create their own solutions or spend an inordinate amount of time and money verifying information. They can use one tool to easily search, discover and access a set of standardized industry attributes—for free.

Consumers will ultimately benefit from having trustworthy, consistent product information. If they search for the ingredients in a candy bar, for instance, they’ll be able to trust manufacturers and retailers are using the same definition for something like allergen across different channels—whether it’s listed on the physical product or online.

 

What’s an example of a physical attribute and how would that play out?

Hogan: Some product attributes describe broad physical product features like “height,” and “shape.” There are also more specific attribute values such as “heel height” when you’re dealing with shoes, or “peg hole type” when you’re depicting the shape of the peg hole used for packaging. The GS1 US Attribute Explorer assists users in understanding the breadth and depth of all available standardized attribute definitions; they can easily search, find and access a set of standardized industry attributes.

 

Since the GS1 US Attribute Explorer also includes all of the attributes and code list values contained within the GDSN, a data manager can be assured that when he is sharing GDSN product data that he and his trading partner are defining “height” the same way. In effect, both the supply and demand side trading partner data managers won’t be left wondering “Does height mean vertical or horizontal dimension?” Or “does that include the shipping pallet?” GS1 US Attribute Explorer allows everyone to be more confident in their product information reliability and consistency.

 

What are the packaging implications for brand owners and others?

Hogan: Packaging is changing rapidly due to market factors like sustainability and changing consumer behaviors and needs. GS1 US Attribute Explorer provides hundreds of standardized definitions for product attributes that pertain to packaging—e.g., “packaging type,” “packaging reuse,” “packaging material description,” and ways to define if the packaging is biodegradable.

By streamlining their product attribute search and discovery process, industry partners can more easily adapt to the flexible nature of today’s supply chain. Additionally, having a single attribute view helps companies to harmonize product data, eliminate inaccuracies, reduce implementation time, and save money.

 

What on-package changes are reflected through what Attribute Explorer offers?

Hogan: Major players in the retail, food, and healthcare industries approached GS1 US with a need for a tool to enhance supply chain information reliability and simplify their implementation processes. Packaging may change depending on the way a company changes their data exchange processes, but standardized definitions can be easily discovered and found using GS1 US Attribute Explorer.

 

What’s the status—and for packaging?

Hogan: The GS1 US Attribute Explorer has just launched. Although there are already more than 120 companies using it, it’s unlikely that packaging would be changed so quickly. GS1 US will collaborate with all industry partners and to collect industry feedback to help identify any gaps in the information provided and potential opportunities to improve the tool. We are encouraging all users, including data pools, to provide feedback by contacting us at AEfeedback@gs1us.org.

 

Click here to view the GS1 US web page for Attribute Explorer.

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