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Elliott Grant is looking forward to the United Fresh show.

Mr. Grant, founder and chief marketing officer of YottaMark, told The Produce News that the trade show will give the Redwood City, CA-based firm, renowned for its HarvestMark traceability offering, a chance to showcase its solutions for the Produce Traceability Initiative.

"There are a lot of exciting things going on at YottaMark," Mr. Grant said April 9. "We have put a lot of effort into getting companies PTI compliant, and have been quietly implementing PTI solutions for about six months at a really quick rate. We have done more real production solutions, we think, than anyone else combined."

He said that the firm has "done approximately 40 deployments," and noted that "there has been a lot of chatter in the industry about how PTI is difficult or may not happen. There is a lot of foot dragging, but look at it from our perspective. We're seeing companies sign up every day. Mexico and Canada have embraced it, and we have a lot of deployments there, seeing a very healthy adoption."

While certain segments are struggling, there are other categories that are just getting on board with it."

With one of the larger U.S. retailers as a partner, Mr. Grant said that YottaMark has been "driving the adoption of item-level traceability, and we've been furiously adding item-level traceability to the different commodity groups. All bagged salad [at the retailer] is now traceable, and we've added potatoes, onions and, just recently, mushrooms. We continue to add new commodity groups and make them traceable, in addition to our stable of customers in berries, melons, watermelons, peppers and tomatoes. We've proven that traceability can really work across all produce basically, and it has value for stakeholders."

Mr. Grant said that YottaMark's "most important" recent innovation has been a voice code that will help retailers to become compliant with milestone seven of the PTI.

"In September, retailers told YottaMark that they were having a problem with milestone seven of the PTI because it required that retailers scan out every case from a distribution center," he said. "It basically freaked everyone out. The retailers said, 'There is no way we can do that from a cost and efficiency point of view.' And you know what? They are right; it would be devastating to the distribution center economics."

He continued, "We worked with a couple of major retailers to develop a very simple logarithmic solution to the problem. We used our experience from coding and algorithms to come up with a 'hash function,' which takes a GTIN and crunches it down to four characters" and works well with the voice- picking systems that most distribution centers use.

Mr. Grant said that this has "eliminated the need to do any scanning but doesn't lose any accuracy, and doesn't cost anything. We decided that this is a necessary solution to keep PTI on track, so although we patented the idea, we published the algorithm for free back in January. We continue to socialize the idea, and we're really going to be showing it at United and explaining it to people. One of our competitors has adopted the voice-code technology, which is exactly what we want to see happen. We want to see this be widely adopted because it benefits everybody. By making the PTI cheaper to deploy, they're more likely to say, 'We want to adopt it.' We're very proud and excited about it."

He noted that YottaMark also "launched our field-pack solution last year [at the PMA Fresh Summit]. Knowing that it was going to be one of the most difficult for the PTI, we've continued to improve" the field-pack solution, which has become "a very capable solution. We're seeing a lot of interest in that technology."

Mr. Grant applauded the United Fresh Produce Association for taking a lead on utilizing the Internet for its social media opportunities for the trade and hoped to further United's efforts by taking part in a session at the Grower- Shipper Learning Center April 21 titled "Know Your Farmer: Telling Your Story Even When You're Not Local."

"This is a counterpoint for the locally grown movement," he said. "I love locally grown, I think it's wonderful, but what do you do if you're not local? I think it's true of most of the industry, so I'm doing a session on the marketing of product for non-local growers. It's really about how you take advantage of your locale and your story, which is really what consumers want. They don't just want to support the local grower.

He continued, "The beauty of produce, even for big companies, is that those companies still have small independent growers growing for them, who all have a really terrific story to tell, and this is an opportunity that the produce industry has yet to embrace.

"Behind every apple or tomato, there is a story, and that is something we're excited about helping our customers do," he concluded.