“If you’re looking at lettuce, spinach or other produce, it typically comes from the farm in totes,” notes Ashish Asthana, co-founder and vice president of marketing and product strategy at Intelliflex, Santa Clara, CA. “You can have RFID in the tote and include information on the farm it came from, whether it’s organic or not, the date it was picked, etc. During shipment, you can also include temperature data so that the retailer can know that it was maintained at the right temperature throughout the process and refuse to accept it if it was not.”
No Longer An Option
Though their numbers are quickly growing, companies like those listed above are still fewer in number than they need to be. Too many companies view tracking and tracing as overhead, CDC’s McLeod maintains. “It’s becoming a necessary component for operating a business, but they do not see the value in it. It doesn’t help them sell product or grow the business; it’s strictly for mitigating risk,” he says.
Aldata’s Bowen disputes that way of thinking. “On the marketing front, it’s one thing to say that you’ve got fair trade coffee, no genetically modified ingredients, organic produce or whatever, but you can be able to prove it by giving people a trace-back to the farm,” he says. On the recall front, “it’s also one thing to say that your product was not affected, but it’s another to be able to back it up.”
These are all important business realities in Europe, where Aldata has thus far done most of its business, especially in the meat, dairy, produce and pharmaceuticals segments. “Traceability is something that European companies started pressing us on a few years ago because of the large-scale mad cow disease scare,” Bowen says. “It’s really in response to them that we developed Aldata GOLD Track.”
Bowen sees supply chain tracing software picking up steam in the United States now as a direct result of the recent produce scares. “You’re definitely going to start seeing more interest,” he predicts. “This is the type of thing that gets the CEOs of the major grocery chains into the mode where they question everything.”
For now, though, many U.S. food processors are still keeping manual records. CDC Software’s McLeod estimates that about half the U.S. food processors fall into this category.
“The U.S. food industry is somewhat lagging in using solutions from source to store,” adds HighJump’s Collins, “but if you benchmark it with other industries, it’s probably on a par.”
Though still not as widely adopted as it could be, tracking and tracing “provides a much more valuable business case now than it did a few years ago,” says ESYNC’s Hume. “The industry is getting better every year with tracking and tracing,” he says. “Pre-9/11, it was an option. Now, it’s more of a requirement.
“You need to know what you’re getting in, who it came from and where it was sent, and to be able to get that information where it needs to be in the event of a recall,” says Hume. “There’s a full range of technologies available. Technology is the first line of defense. Technology can make the supply chain more secure, more visible and help maintain tighter controls. If there’s any opportunity to close the loop on these kinds of things, it makes sense to do it.”