Foodservice Barcode Dilemma

Despite progress, there is still not enough barcode use across the industry to achieve real supply chain efficiencies.


In food service, as product moves through the supply chain, it would be much more efficient for all parties to reference a product based on a single barcode given by the label's owner. That product could be ordered by distributors and their customers using that code, and be billed to all parties using that same code. There would be no need to put additional stickers on each product, or license plates on each pallet. Each member of the supply chain could use that one code to uniquely identify the product from the time it leaves the manufacturing facility until it reaches the restaurant kitchen.

Unfortunately, food service today does not always operate that way. Despite steady progress, the industry must make more aggressive strides in the use and quality of barcodes to achieve real supply chain efficiencies, according to sources all across the foodservice channel.

"A critical mass of companies using barcodes is needed to ensure better tracking of products from manufacturer to end user, reduce invoice discrepancies, enable more accurate communications and facilitate the electronic capture of company and product information," says Mark Allen, president of the International Foodservice Distributors Association, based in Falls Church, VA, and the former executive director of Efficient Foodservice Response (EFR), a broad-based foodservice industry initiative aimed at studying, piloting and recommending business processes to make the channel more efficient.

As early as the late 1990s, EFR advocated 100 percent case coding on at least two adjacent sides with a standard product identification barcode. But despite efforts, current research suggests that of the items that have barcodes, only 70 percent have barcodes on two sides. As for barcode quality, only 82 percent of cases and 74 percent of inner packages can be scanned accurately.

Worse than that, many say, is a lack of barcoding altogether that is still prevalent within the foodservice industry. Case coding among foodservice manufacturers currently stands at about 85 percent—up dramatically from 54 percent in 1999, but still quite a ways off from the goals originally laid out by EFR.

EFR's research has found that product-level coding varies among product categories, mainly because the industry is prone to a lot of disparate catch weights and variable weights. "You can get uniform case counts in dry and canned groceries, but you just don't get that with fruits, vegetables and meats," Allen says.

Coding also varies among supplier types. The larger companies typically do barcoding well, while smaller local or regional companies do not, reports Phil Graff, director of operations at Yancey's Foodservice, Loveland, CO, which ships to 1,500 foodservice customers in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming from a 100,000-square-foot warehouse. Companies like Tyson Foods, Springvale, AR, and Rich Products, Buffalo, NY, have been fairly consistent with barcoding.

Officials at Tyson claim that all products leaving its facilities have either Interleaved 2 of 5 (ITF) barcodes, chosen as the standard for outer cartons, or EAN-128 barcodes for variable weight products. ITF barcodes, also known as Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) codes, include 14 digits that represent country code, manufacturer number, product number and check digits, while the EAN-128 code offers a higher density with the entire 128-character set to also include things like dates, batch numbers, weights, quantities and product dimensions.

"We have adopted the standard barcode technology and are using that on all shippable products going to our customers," says Lela Tripp, director of customer service and business development at Tyson.

Rich Products makes the same claim. Since adopting the barcoding standards, it has reported an inventory accuracy rate of better than 99 percent, lower labor costs, inventory reductions and better recall management.

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