(June 27) Chep, Orlando, Fla., is trying to make radio frequency identification more accessible and easier to use.

The company has introduced the three-in-one RFID tag, which can be read by RFID readers, bar code readers or visual identification using the Electronic Product Code number. Companies that don’t have RFID infrastructure can go to an Internet address provided by Chep and use the EPC number to track product.

“The intent isn’t to focus on technology but to make sure some mom and pop company, a grower in Salinas or wherever, can benefit from track and trace,” said Puneet Sawhney, Chep’s program manager for RFID. “If they want to use RFID, they can, but our observation is that they won’t always have the money to make that investment. They can use track and trace simply by reading the number and using the software.”

Wal-Mart has mandated that its suppliers adopt RFID. Several other large retailers, including Albertsons, Publix and Supervalu are in the process of testing RFID or the Global Trade Item Numbers used with RFID.

Chep spokesperson Ronald Margulis characterized the three-in-one tag as a transitional product.

RFID can help reduce stockouts and spoilage, he said, as well as identify problems in the cold chain. RFID, however, is a long way from becoming a standard in industry shipping.

Sawhney said Wal-Mart’s drive to make suppliers use the technology had not caused a spike in demand.

“What needs to happen is that the information needs to be available across a retailer’s locations regardless of geography,” said Sawhney, referring to retailers who are doing regional tests. “Cost of the technology needs to come down, and performance needs to go up. Standards need to be set and accepted.”

Chep is working on the performance part of the equation. Unlike disposable RFID tags that are attached to loads, Chep’s three-in-one tag is attached under the pallet, which is reused.

“Everybody is trying to meet retail mandates, and what most of them are doing is slap and ship,” Margulis said. “That’s really inefficient.”