The Produce Traceability Initiative has a lot of followers among onion grower-shippers.
The initiative was designed to enable all produce sold in the U.S. to have the capability of being traced back to its source by 2012, and the onion industry as whole seems to have bought into it.
“We absolutely participate in all aspects of it,” said John Battle, president of Battle Produce Exchange, Traverse City, Mich., marketer of Oso Sweet onions.
The company has made a significant investment in the program, he said, and feels good about delivering good product.
“We’re definitely into that,” said Teri Gibson, marketing and customer relations manager for Peri & Sons Farms Inc., Yerington, Nev.
The company had an excellent internal traceability program in place long before the PTI was announced, she said.
“We understand the need for industrywide standards, and we fully embrace the PTI initiative,” she said.
Companies that have agreed to abide by the PTI guidelines are asked to comply with a number of “milestones” along the way to full implementation, and after visiting with other industry members during the United Fresh Produce Association convention in Las Vegas in April, Gibson said she had “a good feeling about where we are in the process.”
Onions Etc., Stockton, Calif., is in favor of the PTI and is compliant with it, said Derrell Kelso Jr., owner and president.
Kelso hired Joe Pursel, previously with Salinas, Calif.-based Mann Packing Co. Inc., to serve as the company’s director of operations, and part of Pursel’s duties include ensuring compliance with the initiative and meeting the milestones.
“I think knowledge is good,” said Kelso, who has been putting names of the company’s growers on bags of onions for years.
James Johnson, vice president of Carzalia Valley Produce, Columbus, N.M., said the company helped develop eProduce software six years ago, and has come up with a traceback program that surpasses anything buyers have asked for and did it for relatively low cost.
The system started as an inventory control program and “traceability fell into it,” he said.
In Johnson’s opinion, the biggest problem most companies have with their traceback programs is the expense. However, he said most are “being led in the wrong direction” by technology companies that have developed competing programs.
Meeting GS1 U.S. compliance standards, which eProduce helps accomplish, is the best way to go to have an effective traceback program, he said.
But eProduce has had a tough time being accepted in the marketplace because of its low cost, he said.
“We almost believe it is so cheap, some of the companies are afraid of it,” he said. “They don’t think a solution can be had at a low price, and that’s very disheartening.”
Indeed, one of the most common complaints about the PTI is the cost of implementation.
Battle said retailers want their suppliers to comply with the PTI and with food safety requirements in general, but they often don’t want to pay higher prices to suppliers who invested in and implemented tougher specifications.
“Retailers cannot ignore their own request for food safety standards. They have to uphold their own standards and purchase the product they have requested,” he said. “I’m confident my customer base does exactly that.”
Peri & Sons Farms believes that protecting consumers and doing what customers want is worth spending money on, Gibson said.
By exerting the energy and time to take a top-down look at its business, the company was able to implement changes that had a positive impact and led to efficiencies, she said.
“In the long run, those things will save us money,” Gibson said.
Bland doesn’t like spending money any more than anyone else does, he said, but he wants to keep selling onions.
Sometimes it takes spending money to comply with safety and traceback requirements and keep customers satisfied.
“You move with the changes or you get out of the way,” he said.