Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 52 seconds

From the Top - Elliott Grant

Elliott GrantScott Koegler, editor of talks with Elliott Grant of Harvestmark at GS1 Connect 2012 about how case and item level tracking works with the fresh produce grocery market.





Read the transcript of this interview below:

I'm Scott Koegler. I'm here with GS1 Connect, for 2012. I'm here with Elliott Grant and we're going to talk about item level traceability and pallet traceability, I guess for the fresh market; fresh foods and those kinds of things.

Elliott Grant:   Yes.

Scott Koegler:  So why don't you just start off with that and I am interested in understanding just how it's done. I know when I pick up a head of lettuce, I can't see the barcode.

Elliott Grant: Right.  That's a great example actually. There are two initiatives in fresh produce. One is to track actually case levels so that a 20 pound case of that had head lettuce as it goes from the farm through the distribution center to the store. And right now that's called the produce traceability initiative. It's been going for about three or four years based on GS1 standards.  The goal is to put a standardized label on every single case so that as it moves from the supply chain, each handler, each participant, can record the product, the G10, and the lot number; and that lot number should identify where and when it was grown

Scott Koegler:  Okay.

Elliott Grant:  So that when it reaches the store, even though you as a shopper cannot tell where it came from, the retailer does in the event there is a recall they can figure out if people are getting sick in that store where it came from and where else did that product ship to. That's a half of the problem. You actually highlighted something very interesting. Shoppers actually want to know as well. So the other thing that's going on, is item level traceability. This is where that head of lettuce or a clamp shell of strawberries will have a unique identity that will allow you as a shopper to either type the code in on the web or even scan it with your cell phone and you can see where it was grown, maybe when it was grown and how it's grown. So we actually are answering to very different problems. One is the supply chain challenge and one is a consumer marketing transparency challenge.

Scott Koegler:  In terms of practically applying labels, what kind of things are you using? Are these adhesive labels? Are they inkjet?  Are they RFID?  

Elliott Grant:  Definitely not RFID. That's a four letter word in the fresh produce industry from a press point of view and from a usability point of view.

Scott Koegler:  Right, okay.

Elliott Grant:  So they are primarily barcodes and where ever possible, we try to use the existing label. So think of a watermelon, with what is today a PLU label for a price lookup; we augmented that with a traceability code. So there is no additional label for the packer. A bag of salad is even easier. We basically modify the existing best by date and the lot code that's already inkjet printed on the bag. That number becomes a traceability code.

Scott Koegler:  So you modify that or extended?

Elliott Grant: We modify that.  Yep, we extend it.  So today a bag of salad often has best by, 10th of June, and then it will have some unintelligible string of characters underneath it. We take that unintelligible string, we make it something that you can actually type into your cell phone.

Scott Koegler:  Okay, I see. So you're not using 2-D barcodes or 3-D barcodes?

Elliott Grant:  We are and we can.  Bags of salad, for example, is tricky to get a 2-D barcode that's readable to auto print but a clamp shell of strawberries or watermelons, absolutely, we’re using a QR code.

Scott Koegler:  What are the biggest challenges to getting this system implemented and accepted? I know GS1 obviously has their standard behind it.

Elliott Grant:  Let’s go back to the two initiatives; the case level and item. We’ll separate those for a sec. The case level PTI initiative is being driven by GS1, the Produce Marketing Association, and of course the trade association. So that's of course a standard that everybody can keep the same standard. And really the pull for that is the retailers saying, we want this system. It's on a multiyear path right now. It's moving along probably about 20% of all cases today in the United States are compliant. So it's pretty good. We're into the early adoption phase. The item level is really more driven by a brand who says, I want my brand to have this.

Scott Koegler:  Right.

Elliott Grant: And so there you don't see everyone moving as one wave, but certain brands stepping up and saying, I believe my brand deserves this level of transparency.

Scott Koegler:  And so they're doing that, I guess initially as a marketing initiative to say, where ahead of the pack?

Elliott Grant:  What we've discovered is very interesting. There are actually two reasons why a brand that might adopt item level traceability. One is, I want to differentiate myself from the other salads or potatoes or pick your category; but the more interesting angle, perhaps, is the data that is generated by consumer tracing is very insightful to the supply chain efficiency. We are actually able to see every time a shopper pulls out a cell phone and scans an item, for example. We are measuring, where they are, when they did it and how old the product is when it got there. So if the perishable items which might have a 10 day shelf life knowing that it's 8 1/2 days old inNew Yorkis actually extremely important versus six days old in Los Angeles. So you can really begin to visualize your fresh supply chain as a, almost a byproduct of having shoppers engaging in a marketing activity.

Scott Koegler:  So the shoppers are actually providing the feedback that drives then their efficiencies?

Elliott Grant:  Yeah.

Scott Koegler:  The order says to get the stuff out quickly, or marketing?

Elliott Grant:  Absolutely. It's a wonderful kind of a, we think of it as a two-way street. So as a brand, I will provide you, the shopper information you care about and by reading that information, you give me information that I care about; which is where and when is my product in the supply chain.

Scott Koegler:  Great!  Well I appreciate you coming in. It's fascinating. There's a lot going on. It's something that actually hits the consumers to –

Elliot Grant:  Exactly, the next time you’re in the grocery store –

Scott Koegler:  -- I’m going to have my phone out.  Thanks a lot.

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Scott Koegler

Scott Koegler is Executive Editor for PMG360. He is a technology writer and editor with 20+ years experience delivering high value content to readers and publishers. 

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