Taking the foodservice supply chain to the next level of traceability
Angela Fernandez
May 3, 2017

Since the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative launched in 2009, many opportunities have been uncovered amid the rapid pace of change. Eight years ago, operators and their trading partners were just starting to scratch the surface on providing more detailed product information to consumers, mostly centered on food safety concerns such as allergies. Today, not only are consumers increasingly concerned about the food they eat, they also take advantage of newer and varying avenues to get it. Just as much as they want to know what’s in their food, where it comes from and its environmental impact, they expect innovative and convenient delivery options, too. They increasingly frequent “grocerants" -- aka foodservice options at grocery locations -- try out meal kits and order food via a smartphone app.

The broad cross-section of industry trading partners that joined together to form the initiative has made important progress in aligning the foodservice supply chain to meet consumer needs. This collaboration today represents 136 manufacturers, distributors, brokers, operators, industry associations, government agencies and technology providers. They work closely with GS1 US to solve top-of-mind supply chain and e-commerce challenges using GS1 Standards, which serve as a common language to uniquely identify and track individual items as they move throughout the supply chain. Using proprietary identification and systems that do not leverage the interoperability of standards can mean inconsistent data exchanges between trading partners, at a time when trustworthy information is imperative.

Now that the initiative has demonstrated success laying the crucial groundwork of adopting GS1 Standards for product identification and data sharing, the original initiative workgroups have been reoriented to help members tackle more specific industry challenges head on. What follows is an overview of each area of focus, offering insight into how the initiative will transform over the next few years to meet and exceed growing consumer expectations.

Operational efficiencies

A new workgroup was established to improve operational efficiencies by identifying gaps and opportunities where leveraging GS1 Standards can lead to reduced costs and business growth. The workgroup develops best practices to speed product receipt and solve billing discrepancies and other operational challenges. This focus will become increasingly important as the industry tests new distribution models that satisfy consumer cravings for an “experience.” Meal kit companies, for example, are already reporting profits in the billions after just a short start-up phase. Consumers will be looking to foodservice companies to provide them with seamless experiences -- streamlined operations will be paramount to their success.

Data quality: An intersection with retail grocery

A newly-established joint workgroup with GS1 US Retail Grocery Initiative members is collaborating to drive best practices for achieving complete and accurate product data across both channels to support emerging needs for complete and accurate product information, especially for e-commerce or app-based offerings.

“The industry is laser focused on improving data quality that can not only drive transparency, but also help protect brand integrity for supply chain partners,” said Dennis Clabby, executive vice president, Independent Purchasing Cooperative (IPC)/Subway, and member of the initiative executive leadership committee.

Product attributes

A workgroup focused on guidance for product information and attributes exchanged through the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) will continue. The GDSN is seen in the industry as one source of product data. This network ensures all partners have access to the same, accurate information for more than 1 million food items. This can include extended product attributes such as allergen ingredients, gluten-free claims and product sourcing information — all characteristics consumers are increasingly more concerned about learning prior to purchase.

Dick Tracy, president of foodservice distributor Dot Foods and member of the initiative executive leadership committee, noted how his company leverages the GDSN. “The information we get through the GDSN is more complete and accurate than what we do on our own. We know that for a fact since we have spent a lot of time measuring the difference, as well as looking at the costs of poor data," he said.

Traceability

The Traceability Workgroup, launched in 2016, will continue to meet to evaluate the foodservice industry’s commitment to tracing food from farm to table. The traceability workgroup recently released a formal industry guideline outlining step-by-step how to track and trace food products as they move through the supply chain. Aimed at enhancing food safety and visibility, the guideline focuses on the implementation of case-level traceability processes and capturing important traceability information such as product and location data, production dates and batch/lot numbers. Using these best practices, the industry can benefit by being able to minimize the impact of product withdrawals and remove affected product from the supply chain faster.

Now is an important time for industry stakeholders to get involved in the initiative’s current priorities and help shape the future. Visit www.gs1us.org/foodservice for more information.

Angela Fernandez is vice president of foodservice and retail grocery at GS1 US.

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