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An update on traceability for packaged foods from GS1 US

An update on traceability for packaged foods from GS1 US

While track-and-trace has made inroads into pharmaceuticals (see GS1 weighs in on current track-and-trace developments), there remains somewhere around the next bend the use of traceability to help improve safety in the supply chain for packaged foods.  We went to the source to find out more, asking GS1 US for an update on the status of traceability for food packaging. Responding to our inquiry in this Q&A is Angela Fernandez, vice president of retail grocery and foodservice, GS1 US.

What’s going on at GS1 US relative to traceability for packaged foods?

Fernandez: GS1 US has been actively engaging with stakeholders keeping a close eye on the rapid evolution of the food industry, which has led to the launch of our Retail Grocery Initiative. The Initiative is designed to bring together leaders from grocery, fresh foods and consumer packaged goods for unprecedented industry collaboration. A cross-section of industry stakeholders have come together in open industry meetings to identify high-priority supply chain challenges impacting the entire industry. We are now getting closer to operationalizing the Initiative with the guidance of an Executive Leadership Committee to develop potential solutions to those challenges by leveraging GS1 Standards.

Specifically, the industry determined the top three focus areas for the retail grocery supply chain:

  1. Product information (including images);
  2. Supply chain visibility and
  3. Operational efficiencies.

The need for expanded, standardized product attributes stems from increased consumer demand for more information about food and other product – whether it is organic, GMO-free, or contains a certain ingredient, for example. We’ll be focused on helping the industry better identify, capture and share this information leveraging standards and industry best practices.

Supply chain visibility is also a major focus area that affects all trading partners. Many industry stakeholders we work with are placing a greater emphasis on supply chain visibility using GS1 Standards not just because they anticipate future FDA regulations will require them to have better traceability capabilities, but because they know they’ll gain additional business benefits when they can better see the details of their internal processes. With visibility into their supply chains, companies achieve more process improvements, such as better inventory/category management, more accurate ordering, improved product availability, improved shrink management and, ultimately, efficient and accurate traceability when required.

Operational efficiency is an internal benefit of leveraging standards. The Initiative is seeking to reduce supply chain inefficiencies from decreasing total delivered costs (TDCs) in order to remain competitive and successful. We are currently identifying the gaps and opportunities for operational efficiencies where leveraging GS1 Standards can lead to positive results.

What is the status and level of interest?

Fernandez: The interest level is high when you are talking about pressure from consumers to have complete and accurate information, as well as pressures from a regulatory standpoint.

From a high level perspective, the food industry is focused on meeting consumer requirements for accurate data via physical and digital channels. Online grocery shopping is on the rise, which is driving enhancements in packaging and the overall presentation of a product. Consumers are more empowered and are looking for direct access to nutritional and allergen information, as well as other expanded product attributes. How this information is shared within the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and the harmonization of these attributes across the food industry will be critical to business innovation and meeting, or even exceeding, the expectations of consumers.

From a logistics perspective, the industry is adopting the GS1-128 case or carton-level barcode for fresh foods and other products, which is driven by the need to implement more effective traceability procedures. The main concern here is compliance with the anticipated proposed rules in support of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), which has been regarded as one of the most sweeping food industry reform measures in history.

GS1 US has devoted several work streams in foodservice and retail grocery industries to enhancing traceability procedures based on GS1 Standards – the most visible being the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). This initiative is a collaboration between GS1 US and three other organizations: the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association. PTI is focused on electronic case-level traceability of produce and is designed to help the industry maximize the effectiveness of current traceback procedures. The best practices and guidance documents created by PTI workgroups serve as models for other product categories as well, including consumer packaged goods. Also, as more retailers and foodservice operators are willing to share their implementation stories, we anticipate the level of awareness for the benefits of using standards-based traceability will grow.

What can you say about the role of the Global Food Traceability Center in this? 

Fernandez: The Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) is composed of food industry organizations that have opened an international dialogue concerning the interoperability and alignment of food traceability requirements. A single, global authoritative voice on food traceability has not previously existed—most traceability efforts have focused on specific commodities, proprietary technologies or a particular industry group’s needs.

The GFTC was launched a year ago by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) supported by several founding sponsors and industry associations—including GS1 US, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the Seafood Industry Research Fund for the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). It is designed to be an unbiased, science-based advisor that focuses on addressing the very real issues and challenges of implementing improvements in food traceability while increasing transparency about the food we eat. 

Most recently, the GFTC announced the launch of a Seafood Traceability Financial Tool and provided a guidance document to help harmonize global food traceability procedures after gathering 55 experts from 11 different countries. The work of the GFTC underscores the critical mass that food traceability has reached. All of these efforts seek to identify the significant gaps in the way the food supply chain functions and encourage collaboration to help solve the challenges that trading partners have in common—which is critical to innovation and everyone’s future success.

In Part 2 that will be posted next week, Ms. Fernandez identifies five stakeholders in this market and references the implementation by a brand owner of a traceability program that leverages GS1 Standards.

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