LAS VEGAS — Four sessions on the expo floor at the United Fresh Produce Association’s 2010 convention provided plenty of opportunity for spirited exchanges about the Produce Traceability Initiative and its milestones.

The April 21-22 sessions, which each had seating for about 50, attracted standing-room-only crowds.

“I was impressed with how many people were there,” said Dan Vache, United Fresh vice president of supply chain management.

Each session consisted of introductory remarks by panelists and then a period of questions and answers from the audience.

The first sessions addressed the first two milestones, obtaining a company prefix and Global Trade Item Numbers from GS1 US. April 22 sessions addressed synchronizing data between buyers and sellers.

That session featured a lively exchange between Terry Miller, category manager for produce for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., and Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter, Calif.-based California Citrus Mutual.

Miller said suppliers representing the majority of the produce Food Lion purchases have provided GTINs to Food Lion. She said all suppliers must come into compliance or lose their relationship with Food Lion.

“I will tell you, if all the dates come true and you are not giving us this information, we’re not going to do business with you,” Miller said.

“It’s not going to be, hey, I can give you 10% lower costs but I can’t give you traceability,” she said. “The risk is too high.”

“So in other words this is not a voluntary program?” Nelsen asked.

“Not for us. The risk is too much,” Miller replied.

Nelsen said there is confusion in the industry about the initiative, and a strong belief among some that PTI is a “one size fits all” solution that may not work for everybody. He said PTI didn’t seem to be in sync with the industry’s message to legislators to consider risk factors associated with commodities when they draw up food safety rules.

Phil Dammarell, senior manager for supply chain initiative for Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., said his company supports PTI and encourages suppliers to do what they can to meet the guidelines. He estimated that perhaps half of Kroger’s suppliers have supplied the chain with Global Trade Item Numbers so far. He said suppliers provide the GTIN to Kroger through updates to their catalog on ITrade, because Kroger uses ITrade for nearly all purchase orders.

Nelsen said Food Lion and Kroger have clearly signaled their intentions about PTI, but others have not been as clear.

“You are asking for (grower-shippers) to make significant investments without knowing the supply chain is ready to make that investment and that’s a flaw,” he said.

Dammarell said the session was not about whether PTI should be a solution, but how PTI processes will work.

During the final traceability session April 22, a panel addressed milestones six and seven, which address capturing inbound and outbound traceability data. Considerable time was spent discussing a possible solution that would eliminate the need for scanning outbound produce cases and instead use a code that could be incorporated into the existing voice pick system now used in distribution centers.

Elliott Grant, founder and chief marketing officer for YottaMark, Redwood City, Calif., talked about a system his company created last fall and has fine tuned since then to bypass physical scanning of cases. Kroger and other retailers are looking at the patented system, which Grant said will be offered free to the industry. Angela Paymard, chairwoman of N2N Global, Longwood, Fla., also spoke about an open-source solution to the problem.

Dammarell said Kroger wanted to make a decision on what system they would use by the end of May.

Vache on April 27 said discussions have been at the association level since the convention’s conclusion about the process of identifying a standard for achieving the last two of the seven milestones.

Panelist Brendan Comito, chief operating officer of Capital City Fruit Co. Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, said he hoped that food safety legislation (expected to be passed this year) can deliver a clear message about what is required for traceability and also spur innovations that could help add value to the process for customers.

Vache said everyone agrees whole-chain traceability is essential, and he said United Fresh is committed to using feedback from members.

United Fresh PTI sessions draw crowds

Tom Karst

Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, raises  concerns about the Produce Traceability Initiative during an April 21 session at the United Fresh Produce Association's convention in Las Vegas.