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In a world of ever-changing technology and consumer behaviour, industry is learning how three little words — identify, capture, and share – are critical catalysts for boosting supply chain visibility.

One of my favourite movies to watch in the 80’s was Back to the Future. In the film, an eccentric scientist and a flabbergasted teen discover the mind-boggling effects of being able to travel through time.

While we don’t actually have time-travelling Deloreans, we do have the benefit of learning from prior experiences. For example, I’m quite sure that no one would want to relive the events of last year’s romaine lettuce outbreak, but we can use these lessons to energise our collective search for a safer, more traceable food supply chain.

To get to a more ideal state of food traceability, it takes open-minded and motivated supply chain professionals visualising the future and making incremental steps towards collective goals. “Time travel” with me to a world where whole-chain traceability programmes are the norm, supply chains are fully transparent and all fresh food recalls are conducted with speed and precision. All of this can be made possible through GS1 Standards, and remembering three little words — identify, capture and share.

Identify: How We See Products

In a perfect world, all suppliers and manufacturers would assign Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) to the food being harvested or made. This is the first step to making a product visible in the supply chain. If all supply chain partners realised the value of globally recognised GTIN’s, data siloes caused by proprietary numbering systems, which block whole chain traceability, would be a thing of the past.

Similarly, Global Location Numbers (GLNs) would be more widely used, as they are the globally unique identification numbers for supply chain partner locations such as a farm or field, a packing house, a manufacturing plant, a distribution center, a supermarket or a restaurant. They help a company record each stop a product has made in the supply chain. Used together with dynamic event data, (such as the product’s creation, shipment, receipt and sale), these identifiers are critical to tracking a product’s life cycle. They are the most critical component of achieving an ideal state of supply chain visibility — you can’t “see” what happens to a product if the location is not identified.

Capture: How We Track Products

Next, industry would have widespread adoption of GS1-128 barcodes, the standard data capture mechanism that puts identifiers into motion and tracks associated event data needed for traceability.

In our ideal future world, GS1-128 barcodes would be scanned on every case of food at every stop along its journey, effectively connecting supply chain partner systems to the actual flow of the product. GTINs and other dynamic product information such as batch number, lot number, and expiration date would be encoded into GS1-128 barcodes. This means that in the event of a recall, the entire supply chain would get an accurate read of where a particular product is, allowing easy interception of tainted product before it ever has a chance to land in the hands of a consumer.

Share: How We Sell Products

More and more, consumers expect to access information about products in real time, so imagine how much faster data will have to travel in the future. Emphasising the synchronisation of data now is a key part of making sure the right data is available in the right place at the right time for supply chain partners to efficiently provide to consumers.

The Global Data Synchronisation Network™ (GDSN®) is a network that enables trading partners to globally share trusted product data with all of their trading partners. This automatic exchange helps in meeting new consumer demand for accurate, complete, and consistent product information, and is more efficient than sharing data manually or through several individual portals.

Next Level Innovations

Thought it’s difficult to envision now, there’s a strong possibility that blockchain will be more widely adopted to support faster recalls, which makes it even more crucial to focus on creating a foundation based on GS1 Standards now.

Today, many blockchain pilot projects don’t move forward to full implementation due to a lack of standards. With more open and universal data sharing in the supply chain, many future advances beyond blockchain can flourish. For example, Internet of Things technology is already showing promise in its ability to monitor the freshness and temperature of food. Artificial intelligence is supporting greater personalisation for the consumer in the burgeoning online grocery space. In all cases, supply chain visibility will be more than “nice to have” — it will be imperative for successful digital transformation.

Ultimately, with the right foundation in place, the industry can work together to make the food supply chain safer for the next generation. Doc Brown famously said at the end of Back to the Future, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Now is the time to work together to encourage this level of visionary thinking, to abandon outdated processes, and to make the new era of food safety real.

Please join GS1 US and a panel of industry experts for a Special Session ‘Traceability in a Perfect World’ at the GFSI Conference 2020, where we will take a deep dive into how each supply chain partner can expand their use of GS1 Standards to make meaningful progress on traceability.

This post was written and contributed by:

Siobhan O’Bara

Senior Vice President, Community Engagement


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