Track and Trace Gets a Technological Upgrade

Advancements in sensors, wireless data and cloud computing are providing food and beverage companies unprecedented levels of visibility as consumers continue to demand more.

Samsara's AG24 IoT Gateway brings the benefits of the Internet of Things to mobile and distributed assets, such as semi-trailers, heavy equipment, rail cars and generators.
Samsara's AG24 IoT Gateway brings the benefits of the Internet of Things to mobile and distributed assets, such as semi-trailers, heavy equipment, rail cars and generators.

“Life is about the journey, not the destination,” the old saying goes. The same principle can be applied to the food and beverage industry. While the destination—whether it’s a grocery store, restaurant or convenience store—is obviously the goal, what happens on the journey from beginning to end has become increasingly more important. Consumers want more transparency into where the food they’re eating comes from, while at the same time regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are requiring it.

Luckily, advancements in technology are making it easier every day for everyone from producers to distributors to consumers—and everyone in between—to track and trace our food along each step of its journey. Below Food Logistics looks at some of the technologies influencing the industry in 2018.

Real-Time Visibility into Trailers and Assets

Samsara, a provider of Internet-connected sensor systems, recently expanded its offerings to include solutions for trailer tracking and industrial asset monitoring. Their AG24 IoT Gateway, a solar-powered wireless device, brings the benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) to mobile and distributed assets, such as semi-trailers, heavy equipment, rail cars and generators.

Midwest food distributor Cash-Wa Distributing, a Samsara customer that was provided early access to the AG24, sought a track and trace solution at the request of customers who wanted more information on product temperature and integrity throughout the delivery process.

“We wanted to assure our customers that when (their product) leaves our temperature-controlled and monitored cooler or freezer, it goes into a precooled trailer, which has temperature monitoring in the freezer and in the cooler compartment at the same time, and we are alerted if that temperature gets out of the range that is safe or wholesome,” explains Jim Hoss, vice president of operations and transportation at Nebraska-based Cash-Wa Distributing. “(With Samsara) we are assuring our customer that product is at the optimal integrity that they can serve to their customers.”

An investment in a temperature monitoring solution is a large and substantial decision for any trucking company. And while Cash-Wa’s customers were already asking for it, regulations like FSMA pushed them further in Samsara’s direction.

“(FSMA) definitely helped us make the decision to pull the trigger… we were already investigating this direction, but it made us react probably six to 12 months sooner than we would have normally,” adds Hoss.

Synchronization of Data

Traceability is only as good as the data that goes into it. FoodLogiQ is making it easier for companies throughout the food supply chain to share, exchange and analyze data with a software platform rooted in the GS1 Standards. GS1 is a global set of standards that provides the foundation for clearer business communication in an increasingly complex food supply chain. By using GS1 Standards, FoodLogiQ ensures “that everyone is speaking the same language across the platform,” says Katy Jones, chief marketing officer at FoodLogiQ.

FoodLogiQ’s community-based platform enables accurate data synchronization by allowing their customers to onboard all of their suppliers and supply chain partners, ensuring all data is consistent and based on the standards. “They send them an invitation; they get a log-in. And so, everyone across the supply chain can get access to the platform for free, with the customer paying for the annual subscription,” explains Jones.

She adds: “We stitch that data together and offer a node-based visualization of the supply chain, so every critical tracking event that is gathered is logged as a node.”

From a food safety standpoint, the ability to view the significant tracking events of each of your supply chain partners has huge implications for responding to recall events—something that can cripple a brand if handled poorly.

“The ability to execute a recall in a very precise manner is certainly something that from a cost efficiency standpoint for a food business is really important,” Jones notes. “We’ve seen in some of these major recalls that these events can be catastrophic. They can put companies out of business. And so, from a brand protection standpoint it’s critical to be able to know with a great deal of accuracy which product needs to be extracted, as opposed to just having to pull everything.”

But traceability is about more than food safety. There also is potential for brand marketing in being able to offer a reliable view of the supply chain from farm to fork.

“Consumers are becoming much wiser now in that they’re wanting to really understand and know exactly where that food is coming from. Traceability can help you achieve all of those things, from brand protection to proactively engaging with your consumers in a really authentic way,” says Jones.

The empowered consumer has made way for significant growth and interest in traceability as a whole. Across the supply chain, Jones says they are no longer hearing, “Why do I need to do this?” But instead, “How can we work together to get this done?

“Traceability is not a new concept in the industry, but I think we’re seeing a lot more excitement and understanding for its value,” Jones adds. “Companies are recognizing it, and again, taking advantage of that in a very transparent way. The ones that are able to do that are the ones that are succeeding.”

The Internet of Packaging

The likes of Coca-Cola, Mondelez and General Mills, to name a few, have already jumped on the SmartLabel bandwagon. The initiative is a program created by manufacturers and retailers that enables consumers to get additional details about a wide range of food, beverage, pet care, household and personal care products simply by scanning a barcode. 

In October 2017, a provider of SmartLabel QR codes Scanbuy partnered with Kezzler, a technology company specializing in the serialization of products or packages, to bring the Internet of Packaging (IoP) to the SmartLabel program. By combining the SmartLabel with Kezzler’s unique digitization of products or packaging, the companies are able to provide product traceability, supply chain optimization and robust marketing insights. IoP enables product serialization on a mass scale, giving every product a unique identity.

Working together, a Scanbuy QR Code placed on a product package links the consumer to the respective SmartLabel landing page via a scan with their mobile device. When the same QR Code is scanned for a business operation, companies gain full distribution visibility and insights to all stages of the product lifecycle through the Kezzler platform. 

Scanbuy is instrumental in helping U.S. brands implement SmartLabel, a system which gives the consumers a far better understanding of what products contain and a level of transparency that is simply not possible just printing on a pack,” says Thomas Kormendi, former CEO of Kezzler. Kormendi was replaced by Christine Charlotte Akselsen in February after taking on the position as global CEO of the Elopak Group.

“If you combine the value of Scanbuy and the value that we can then provide, i.e., you can make that QR code on the pack unique, you would on one hand get all the SmartLabel information and the transparency around the product features and content, but on the other side, you will also be getting much more, meaning you will be able to get data to say this product was produced when,” Kormendi explains.

The ability to access and analyze this information is important for a number of reasons, for instance in informing consumers of product recalls. It is also especially important in a growing counterfeit industry, which has significant impacts not only on revenue and brand reputation, but food safety as well. While most picture knock-off designer purses when they think counterfeit goods, fake foods are a growing reality too. Items such as milk, olive oil, fish, honey and wine are especially susceptible. According to John Spink, Ph.D., director of the Food Fraud Initiative at Michigan State University, “it could be 10 percent of the entire U.S. food supply is fraudulent one way or another.”

For the brand owner, digitalize products give them distribution visibility and immediate control to remedy any problems that may arise. For the consumer, it provides a new level of brand trust.

“In a time where (consumers) have a stronger desire to understand where things are produced, under which conditions things are produced and what they contain, there's a level of truth which comes out of (serialization), which I think is of great value to a consumer,” Kormendi notes.

He adds: “The digitalization of products gives you a far better, more accurate picture and gives you the ability to act in a more qualified, competent way. I strongly believe in digitalization of products because it creates transparency, it creates accuracy, and it enables us to act in ways that we could not do before.”

Transportation Management

When people typically think about Transportation Management Systems (TMS), it’s from the perspective of freight rating, saving freight spend and so forth. The byproduct of actually managing your transportation through a TMS, however, is ultimately visibility.

“While TMSs traditionally have done a fantastic job of capturing the hard facts of a shipment, probably 80 percent of the information that's flowing about a shipment actually occurs outside of that,” explains David Landau, executive vice president at Cloud Logistics. “So much of a transportation planner's time is spent on the phone or having emails back and forth with the carrier to try and figure out what's going on. There's always color around the shipment. Why is this late? What's going on? What should I do once I get there? Who should I talk to?

“That's where we at Cloud Logistics introduced something that was fairly unique and still is very unique, actually, in the industry, which is the leveraging of social technologies within transportation,” he adds.

The Logistics Activity Stream is essentially a social network between the distributor, the shipper and their carriers. In addition to receiving the so-called hard facts through your TMS, the stream allows for messaging back and forth between you and your carriers, as well as the posting of photographs, the attachment of documents and more.

“Whether it is understanding what's going on with a shipment or resolution of a dispute over an invoice, this allows (our customer) to capture all that conversation as well provide one complete, comprehensive view, complete visibility, to the lifecycle of a shipment while it's happening and after the fact for historical purposes,” Landau notes.

The executive adds that unlike most TMSs, this added visibility provides a single version of truth that's always accessible and available to both the shippers and the carriers.

And like so many food and beverage companies, today’s demand-driven economy has made investments in technology necessary. Landau says while FSMA is one contributing factor to the wider adoption of technologies such as TMS, as well as increased competition, more than anything else today’s climate means much smaller margins of error.

“If you think about Walmart's recent push with on-time, in-full (OTIF), they are now saying basically that if you don't ship it in-full and it doesn't arrive in the exact time window that's specified for you, they are going to charge you back 3 percent of the value of the shipment,” he explains.

That means shippers need to have better visibility into the flow of their inventory (essentially the ability to track and trace their inventory from beginning to end) to ensure that the shipment that's going to Walmart is moving on time. “Otherwise it's going to really be costly,” Landau adds.

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