A letter from a group of large U.S. produce buyers said suppliers who refuse to conform to the Produce Traceability Initiative timeline “will ultimately put us and our consumers at risk.”

The letter said the buyers are moving forward to full implementation of standardized case-level traceability and they expect their suppliers to do the same.

One representative of an organization signing the letter said it’s important for suppliers to know buyers are making significant investments as well in standardized case-level traceability for the whole chain.

“It would be unfortunate if the supply side invested a lot of money in traceability and then for us retailers not  to do anything  with it,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce for Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis, Mo.  O’Brien said Sept. 28 that Schnuck’s is working on a “best-practices” program with the traceability initiative to build needed changes to their internal systems. “We’ve got the money budgeted next year to build ourselves a program.”

The September letter was sent to the produce suppliers of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Safeway Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.,  Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis, Mo.,  Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co., Houston-based foodservice giant Sysco Corp., Wegman's Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y.,  SuperValu Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn.;  Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, Texas; and Pro*Act, Monterey, Calif.

Gary Fleming, the Newark, Del-based Produce Marketing Association’s vice president of industry technology and standards, said PMA helped to draft the letter but said it was done on behalf of all the buyers.

“They asked us to draft something but they are the ones who put their logos on it because they said, ‘This is what we want to send out to our suppliers,’” he said.

Fleming said it is impossible to say how many retailers are on board with the PTI beyond those listed on the letter, but he said the communication doesn’t represent the complete list of those supporting it.

An excerpt from the letter:

 “As key trading partners within the produce industry, our expectation is that you, our valued suppliers, adhere to the milestones and timelines of the PTI. We, ourselves, are committed to these same timelines and milestones and are not able to achieve them without your conformance and active participation.”

In addition, the letter acknowledged the reality of additional costs but said it was important to start the process now rather than wait on federal mandates.

The tone of the letter was not mean to bully, O’Brien said.

“We’re taking this very seriously and this isn’t just a recipe of the month,” he said. “We are very serious about it. We’re investing millions of dollars into this program as well.”

So far, suppliers have not given Schnuck’s any resistance, he said.

“I think everybody understands this is just something we all have to do,” he said.