NEW ORLEANS — More than half of produce cartons sent to foodservice operators are compliant with the Produce Traceabity Initiative’s labeling requirements, according to GS1 US, and the numbers of shipments to retailers with the labels is even higher.

Angela Fernandez,vice president of grocery retail and consumer packaged goods for GS 1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J.,  discussed industry participation in the voluntary initiative, which seeks case-level electronic traceability for the entire produce supply chain.

Within the grocery sector, Fernandez said there is a range between 60% to 80% of produce cases being marked with a PTI label, depending on the facility that is surveyed, she said.

“Our challenge today is how do we better support the buyers,” she said.

Fernandez said Wal-Mart’s May 29 letter to suppliers asking for PTI case label compliance this year has been well-publicized, but she said there are a couple of other fairly large grocery retailers who have been communicating with their suppliers in recent weeks. Those letters also may be published on the PTI website in the weeks ahead, she said.

Fernandez said the percentage of grower-shippers who still require GS1 US services for a company prefix and Global Trade Item Numbers is dwindling but still significant.

“We have been fielding a lot of calls since the Wal-Mart (letter), and I think it is the smaller grower/packer/shippers who still need to get a company prefix and start the GTIN assignment,” she said.

Fernandez estimated that perhaps 40% of the grower-shipper population is still without their company prefix and GTINs.

A new GS1 US pricing structure that came into effect Oct. 1 is making the process more affordable for smaller growers, she said. Fernandez said the pricing was based on annual sales and capacity needed, or the number of items needing assignment. The new pricing structure is now solely based on capacity. Prior to Oct. 1, the GS 1 US entry fee was $760 and now the lowest entry fee is $250, with a $50 renewal, she said.

 Remaining PTI challenges

From a buyer perspective, one of the significant challenges appears to be how to handle the inbound process of recording PTI data. Wal-Mart has said they will use Electronic Data Interchange transactions instead of the interim solution of the hybrid pallet tag, Fernandez said.

On the other hand, companies like Aldi and Food Lion are employing the hybrid pallet tag. Other retailers are also looking at EDI for inbound receiving of PTI data, and Fernandez said the recent PTI Leadership Council meeting at Fresh Summit spent a lot of time talking about the issue.

“We need to start focusing on what that future path looks like as well as working with the technology community to make sure they are proving scalable solutions for the small grower/packer/shippers who is not EDI capable,” she said. “That’s really the key.”

Fernandez said some believe there may be an interim phase between the full EDI advance ship notice transaction and the hybrid pallet tag.

She said the PTI Leadership Council is in agreement that the hybrid pallet tag is still an interim solution but there has to be more definition to what is meant by “interim” so it doesn’t become the accepted solution.

On the receiving side, retailers are using the voice pick code for outbound product. However, some retailers have also talked about using scanners for picking produce. Because not all produce cases are currently compliant, some retailers feel it makes better sense to scan outbound produce so they can take advantage of what fresh produce cases are compliant, she said.