By Angela Fernandez and David Anderson
With smartphone in hand, consumers have more access to information about the products they buy than ever before. They can scan company and grocery store websites for product information; review blogs for opinions; and quickly obtain recall information from news sources or regulatory websites.
Consumers have come to expect rapid information transfer. Given this, food companies have an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of food traceability programs in order to instill greater confidence in these ever-inquisitive and socially aware consumers.
Accurate and complete product data is vital for implementing a product recall when one is needed. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires a recall plan for any human or animal food with an identified hazard that requires a preventive control.
Such a recall plan includes procedures of how an establishment will notify consignees of the food being recalled and how to return or dispose of the affected food. In addition, the recall plan describes how the public will be notified about hazards, when appropriate to protect public health.
BARCODES AS A TRACKING TOOL. Capturing product data embedded in barcodes has aided product traceability. A barcoded packet of chewing gum in 1974 became the first product to be scanned in-store. With that event, a new era of product monitoring and tracking was born.
GS1 US, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization administers the standards for barcodes that were used then and are used today. The role of barcodes in the supply chain has grown, since they assist restocking by retailers and help to ensure that products hit retail shelves in a timely manner.
ENHANCE PRODUCT TRACEABILITY. In the same way that barcodes have aided product reaching stores, the use of GS1 standards may be helpful to enhance product traceability throughout the supply chain. These standards can enhance traceability processes when trading partners collaborate on tracing of product and enhancing the visibility of a product’s location in the supply chain.
Outdated, proprietary, or paper-based systems can lead to time delays during the tracing of product. This may be especially evident during a recall when time and accuracy are of the essence. By contrast, supply chain visibility can play an important role in enhancing food recall and withdrawal processes.
With streamlined traceability procedures, businesses can be prepared to handle these crisis situations and manage the damage that a widespread recall can inflict. GS1 US estimates that an integrated traceability process could represent approximately $3 billion in savings to the fresh foods industry as a whole.
PRECISE CONSUMER INFORMATION. When a company implements these standards for recall management, consumers may notice an impact. When news alerts about recalls specify UPC numbers, batch and/or lot codes, and expiration dates associated with the affected product, consumers can see the standards in action. And it is likely that more data will be welcomed by consumers.
In the case of a recent cantaloupe recall, some retailers educated consumers at the store level, telling them that they had been able to confirm the source for 100% of their product. By providing signage and additional sales assistance, retailers reassured concerned customers that their products had not been affected by the recall. Similarly, GS1 US asserts that such targeted communications can be provided to consumers with improved tracking of product.
Product tracking with barcodes has provided retailers with the opportunity to “right size” their inventories and identify the specific location of products to ensure on-shelf availability. The reduction of out-of-stock items can prevent lost sales.
THREE STRIKES; YOU’RE OUT. According to research conducted by JDA Software, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and GMA, having product continually in-stock is crucial to sales, as consumers are sticking by a “three strikes and you’re out” pattern of behavior when it comes to out-of-stock products. That is, if a retailer does not have a product that a consumer wants – on the shelf and ready – on three occasions, the shopper may not return.
Additionally, with improved on-shelf availability of products, retailers can spend more time upselling, planning for promotions, and setting up more automatic reorders when a product seems to have an uptick in sales.
IMPLEMENTATION. If barcodes or other tracking methods are implemented for product tracking, the ability to trace product in the supply chain could be enhanced. This could benefit retailers and consumers through more consistent on-shelf product presence and product-specific recall information.
Producers could find the benefit of quickly identifying product locations and provide details to retailers and consumers. GS1 US recommends several standards that seek to reach these goals.
Now is the time to take advantage of the opportunity to solve for tracking and traceability challenges and to positively impact the ability to instill greater confidence in consumers.
The authors: Fernandez is vice president of retail grocery and foodservice, GS1 US; Anderson is senior science advisor, science operations, GMA.