NEW ORLEANS — The information collected as part of the Produce Traceability Initiative is much more than a bunch of numbers that can be used to trace a product to its source in case of a recall.
An Oct. 18 Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit 2013 panel — a retailer and two grower-shippers — said the information can be used to improve human resource functions, supplier quality and consumer experience.
But the amount of information also can be daunting, and panel members suggested to start small and prioritize goals.
"This much information can be overwhelming," said Larry Ray, project manager for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll’s. "Think about how you’re going to manage this much information — are you or will another company that specializes in this?"
Think about how to use the data, he said.
"Find a way to make it actionable," Ray said. "Data is nothing unless you find a way to use it."
Driscoll’s approached traceability from a slightly different perspective and wanted a system that allowed consumer interaction.
Developers have dubbed it the "Delight Platform," and one of its goals is to provide data that can improve consumers’ eating experiences, Ray said.
By scanning a quick-response code on a clamshell with a smartphone or inputting a code into Discroll’s Internet site, consumers can find out the variety, the grower and provide feedback to the company.
The first month the Driscoll’s launched the system, it received 30,000 responses, he said.
"So people really do pay attention to that funky little square," Ray said, referring to the QR code.
Discroll’s employees worldwide, such as those conducting in-store shelf audits, also can scan the code to obtain the full history of the container clear back to the plant.
Salinas, Calif.-based-based Tanimura & Antle Inc. has found the information gathered as part of PTI has greatly improved its human resource operation, said Mikelea Kelley, e-business manager.
The company can trace a product back to the seed. Other data, such as the harvest crew, also are tied to the Global Trade Information Number on each carton.
"The biggest bang for the buck for us is the technology we have actually put in the field," she said. "We manage the same information we always have but we do it quicker."
Much of what was recorded in the office, such as employee attendance, breaks and injuries, can now be recorded in the field and transmitted electronically.
Cincinnati-based Kroger began requiring grower-shippers to affix stickers with stacked bar codes on bulk produce items a couple years ago, said Mike Ross, senior produce category manger. The stickers contain real Universal Product Codes, much like other dry goods at grocery stores.
At Kroger, the information is used to understand the sales and profits by supplier and by variety, he said.
"It’s not just what you pay for an item but what goes out the door," he said about shrink.
The retailer also has found the stacked bar codes eliminate errors at check-out.
With the advent of UPC codes, he said 80% of checkers think they know the product code and frequently guess wrong, resulting in ringing in lower prices.
Consumers using self check-out also don’t like to have to look up a product. With the stacked bar code on the decals, they simply scan the produce item as they would any other food item, he said.
In addition, the stacked bar codes allow computer-assisted ordering of produce.
"Today with the right type of information, it works just as well ordering peaches as it does with canned soup," Ross said.
Should a food safety issue occur, he said they can implement a controlled recall, using robotic calls to contact only those who bought the product rather than implementing a widespread recall.