With the number of companies marketing traceability solutions systems, finding the right system can be confusing.

Gary Fleming, vice president of strategic services for RedLine Solutions Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., said fewer than 10 vendors market Produce Traceability Initiative solutions. A large majority of them are PTI-compliant, he said.

Fleming said the industry-developed PTI is helping by standardizing the traceback process.

“There was no money-making motivation behind its development,” Fleming said. “How the vendor community addresses the PTI is totally up to them.

“As long as their solutions fit within the standards of the PTI, then it’s a good thing. If vendors’ products run counter to the industry PTI standard, then we’re just creating more division within the industry, which could lead to the industry not doing anything at all,” he said.

“The vendors that sell these solutions should all ensure that their services and products are consistent with the PTI.”

Elliott Grant, founder and chief marketing officer for Redwood City, Calif.-based YottaMark, which markets its HarvestMark traceability system, said the industry benefits from numerous solutions providers.

“What’s good about having a standard (is) many companies can offer solutions,” he said.

“The Produce Traceability Initiative provides a level playing field for customers to pick a company.”

What’s happening now is companies are beginning to differentiate themselves based on value, Grant said.

He said YottaMark considers data and analytics among its strengths, while other companies may offer other areas as their value to the industry. Grant said such variety is good for the industry as it offers buyers competitive choice.

Price points

The Institute of Food Technologists’ March 4 report on the PTI revealed a wide variation in what traceability companies charge grower-shippers, Grant said.

The report was commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration.

One company paid $500 for a handheld barcode scanner while another paid $40,000, Grant said.

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms and owner of the VirtualOne traceability system, said his grower customers are finding uses in the system outside of traceability.

“The customers for VirtualOne have been primarily using it for data collection and case-level traceability,” Wishnatzki said. “Not everyone sees the same value we see in the item-level traceability that’s connected to it.

“They’re starting to see the value in having accountability of their workforce. There’s a reconciliation you can do to not pay for more flats or incur more harvest costs for what’s actually harvesting so pickers can’t get credited more than once for their work.”

Kevin Brooks, chief marketing officer with traceability systems provider FoodLink, Los Gatos, Calif., said consistent communication is vital in the traceability process.

“One of the biggest challenges out there is the ability of organizations to speak to each other in consistent language,” he said.

“There is such variance in the way product catalogs are managed. You have large groups like GS1 (GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J.) and others doing good work to try to make it easier for organizations to communicate, but in the practical day to day, we have a lot of on-the-fly mapping of information.”

Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said companies implementing PTI are enjoying many benefits.

Treacy cited Scott Farms Inc., Lucama, N.C., which implemented PTI to engage in a pilot program with retailers.

Treacy said he helped bring Scott Farms and Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., together.

Teri Miller, Food Lion’s produce category manager, ran a couple of loads.

That experience helped Scott Farms expanded from no business with Food Lion to becoming the chain’s primary sweet potato supplier, Treacy said.

“There are all sorts of other people getting benefits from doing it (PTI),” Treacy said.

“Not everyone will get the same benefit as you have to look at your own operation. Those that stop to think about doing and embrace it rather than fight it will have a better chance of getting benefits out of it.”