(June 21) Produce companies have talked for years about using Global Trade Item Numbers to increase efficiencies, but few have followed through.

A 2005 study by the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association showed that only 30% of the 143 companies surveyed were using GTIN at the item level, 6% at the case level and 4% at the pallet level.

Those numbers seem low when GTIN is considered a critical piece of radio frequency identification, which likely will grow as more retailers put demands on shippers, sources said.

“You can’t do RFID until you have GTIN,” said Gary Fleming, PMA vice president of industry and technology standards. “People need to understand that.”

PMA is partnering with the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.; the International Foodservice Distributors Association, Washington, D.C.; and GS1 US — which manages the GTIN standard — on a four-month pilot program to gauge the affect of using GTIN to improve supply chain efficiency and profitability.

Participating companies are Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.; Sysco Corp., Houston; BJ’s Wholesale Club, Natick, Mass.; Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas, Calif.; Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Oviedo, Fla.; The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia; The Giumarra Cos., Nogales, Ariz.; and L&M Cos. Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

The GTIN study is expected to be complete in July with results released in early September, Fleming said.

“It’s fundamental to other technology initiatives,” said Doug Grant, Oppenheimer’s vice president and chief information officer. “We can use this as a launching pad with other areas like track and trace, procurement and category management. We can streamline operations.”

A GTIN code is longer than the Universal Product Code, which remains the standard in North America. In addition to the standard commodity, variety and size information, a GTIN can carry information about how the product was grown (organic, greenhouse, etc.), branding, and whether a postharvest treatment was used.

Fleming said the study will focus on using GTIN at the case level. Meanwhile, retail giants Wal-Mart; Albertson’s Inc., Boise, Idaho; Supervalu Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn.; and Publix Supermarkets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., are conducting their own tests on GTIN or RFID.

PMA also is part of GTIN trade association study that includes FMI; National Cattleman’s Beef Association, Centennial, Colo.; International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, Madison, Wis.; and the National Turkey Federation, Washington, D.C.