Produce Traceability Initiative: Pilot Changes, Keeps End Goal Intact

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Produce Traceability Initiative: Pilot Changes, Keeps End Goal Intact

Three years after the formation to facilitate a critical — albeit complex — industry endeavor, leaders from the three major trade associations and the steering committee that piloted the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) have eased some of the plan’s timelines in light of some aspects that are proving more complicated than anticipated, while vigorously reaffirming their commitment to implementing the plan by 2012.

The latest development advanced by leaders from the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh) and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) — who have already recommended industry-wide adoption of a standardized data-based platform that elevates transparency, improves operational efficiencies, enhances communication and increases trust in brands throughout the store — came as little surprise to many produce industry observers who’ve become increasingly tentative about the varying levels of commitment across the industry.

As a result, the boards of directors of PMA, United and CPMA have regrouped to provide a number of updated consensus recommendations for the industry, paramount to which is a reaffirmation of commitment to chainwide traceability through the standardized GS1 global data platform, alongside expanded plans to fully engage retail and foodservice industry leaders and other fresh food constituency groups to ensure broad commitment, and “widespread and uniform support across the retail and foodservice industry, with consistent application.”

During a conference call last week with members of the trade press, United Fresh president Tom Stenzel, PMA president Bryan Silbermann and CPMA president Danny Dempster presented the redefined outline for PTI while also praising the “tremendous progress” thus far achieved.

However, the association execs reaffirmed the impetus for the retooling that came about as a result of hearing “clearly from a cross-section of the industry that some aspects of the PTI are proving more complex than anticipated, that there is uncertainty in commitment across the industry, that solutions not originally anticipated by the PTI Steering Committee may offer cost-effective and efficient options in achieving PTI goals, and that meeting the identified milestones will be problematic for certain sectors.”

Responding to the foremost concerns about the disparate levels of buy-in among various trading partners, the associations’ leaders are heightening the committee’s call to shift the onus of driving compliance away from trade associations (who have neither carrots nor sticks) toward supermarket and foodservice operators (who have both).

In addition to softening the language of the plan from “must comply” mandates to “target goals,” the committee is also stepping up pilot tests to resolve issues such as best ways to label cases in field packing; GTIN data exchange between sellers/buyers; and outbound data capture from distribution centers to stores that currently utilize voice-pick systems.

While discussions to elevate the urgency of the PTI with both retail and foodservice decision makers is of top priority at present, continued progression of the voluntary program will ultimately be “a marketplace-driven decision” in the reconfigured timetable, which has now altered grower-shippers’ requirement to achieve case labeling one full year before receivers are asked to record or capture the information. Those two milestones have since been combined, with the new time frame for their concurrent adoption slated for sometime in 2011.

Previously, milestones 4 and 5 called for packers to “show human-readable information on cases” and “encode information in a bar code” by the third quarter of 2010. Receivers, on the other hand, weren’t required to be able to read and store that information on inbound cases (milestone 6) until sometime in 2011. The three milestones have since been synchronized for a later date.

However, while some of the timelines have been modified to provide more time to unravel the challenges and better illuminate the program’s long term ROI, the three association chiefs stressed that it’s full steam ahead for the final 7th milestone — which has triggered the most controversy and resulting resistance at the retail level — to close the loop and attain chain-wide traceability among all produce handlers by 2012.

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