(June 23) BENTONVILLE, Ark. — While its top 100 distributors — and 37 additional volunteering companies — are well on their way toward meeting the company’s January deadline for radio frequency identification compliance, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has added several new deadlines to its program.

Under the current schedule, 137 companies are set to go live with RFID in distribution centers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area by January.

On June 17, following a meeting with its top 300 suppliers, the company added three deadlines in addition to the original January one.

By June 2005 it hopes to go live with RFID programs in six distribution centers and up to 250 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. By October 2005, the company plans to have that number up to 600 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores.

Those two deadlines apply only to the top 100 suppliers. Wal-Mart said it expects its next top 200 suppliers to begin tagging cases and pallets by January of 2006.

The company is in discussions with its suppliers to determine the geographical regions in which the next rollouts will occur.

While it is unknown which produce companies are participating in the RFID program, Bruce Peterson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of the perishable foods division, said in April that four companies had volunteered so far.

A FEW BUMPS

Wal-Mart first announced its RFID strategy in mid-2003, requiring its top 100 suppliers to be ready to go by January 2005.

That deadline is still on track, and the company is currently running a pilot program out of its Dallas distribution center. Suppliers there are testing the tags on a handful of items and Linda Dillman, executive vice president and chief information officer, said in a news release that results so far have been good.

“We’re seeing the positive results we expected,” she said. “We also anticipated hitting a few minor bumps in the road, which has happened.”

One of those minor bumps came during testing earlier this spring. Wal-Mart had ordered drug suppliers to its pharmacies to be on board with RFID programs by the end of March. In late March, the retail giant announced that deadline was being pushed back to June because not enough companies were going to be ready.

But Dillman said some tweaking is taking place and the pilot program is proceeding as scheduled.

“The whole reason for a pilot is to fix any last minute issues and clear the path for smooth implementation. That’s what we’re doing and we’re looking forward to January 2005 with great expectations.”

NOT JUST WAL-MART

Other retailers, including Minneapolis-based Target Corp. and Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Inc., have followed Wal-Mart’s lead and started their own RFID programs.

Albertsons wants its top 100 suppliers using RFID tags on pallets in 2005, while Target told its largest suppliers earlier this year that they must be compliant with the retail giant’s radio frequency identification program by spring 2005.