Representatives of the three major trade associations that co-launched the
Produce Traceability Initiative announced that the steering committee has
reaffirmed its commitment to whole chain traceability in the produce industry
by 2012 but has relaxed some of the interim timelines to achieve the goal.
Produce Marketing Association President Bryan Silbermann, United Fresh
Produce Association President Tom Stenzel and Canadian Produce Marketing
Association President Danny Dempster presented the redefined PTI in a 40-
minute teleconference May 25 with the produce industry trade press.
While they did affirm the concept of using Global Trade Item Numbers to
attain traceability and also praised the tremendous progress that has already
been achieved, they said they wanted to address the concerns of many others
who have questioned the complexity of PTI as well as the industry's
Responding to industry concerns that there has not been buy-in at all levels -
- most significantly the retail sector -- the association representatives said
that the PTI committee has begun efforts to fully engage those segments of
the industry to achieve "widespread and uniform support across the retail and
foodservice industry, with consistent application."
The representatives made it clear that they realize support from both the
retail and foodservice buying communities is critical if the goal of point-to-
point traceability at the case level is to be achieved.
They said they were in discussions with market leaders in both groups to
strengthen the commitment at the buyer level; however they did recognize
that this is a voluntary program and that neither the associations nor the PTI
steering committee has any power to mandate compliance.
Ultimately, it will be a marketplace-driven decision, said Mr. Stenzel.
In the retooled PTI timetable, the steering committee acknowledged that
there is no reason that grower-shippers need to achieve case labeling one
full year before receivers are asked to record or capture this information.
Hence, those two milestones have been combined, and the new guideline for
their concurrent adoption is sometime in 2011.
Previously, milestones 4 and 5 called for packers to "show human-readable
information on cases" and "encode information in a barcode" by the third
quarter of 2010. Receivers, on the other hand, were not required to be able
to read and store that information on inbound cases (milestone 6) until
sometime in 2011. Those three milestones have now been harmonized at the
The three association executives, however, reiterated that there has been no
relaxation of the final milestone, which completes the link and actually
creates whole-chain traceability. Milestone 7 calls for all handlers of the
produce to be able to "read and store information on outbound cases" to be
completed sometime in 2012.
It is this step that has caused the most consternation and resulted in some
pushback at the retail end.
Currently, many large retailers use an automated "voice pick" system to load
outbound trucks to their individual stores. Loaders operating forklifts are
directed by headset to the specific products that need to be loaded for each
store. Those who are versed in these systems have revealed that efficiencies
would be lost if the extra step of scanning each outbound carton was added
to the process.
However, solution providers in the traceability industry are working on
solving this issue by developing algorithms that will allow the forklift driver
to register the specific outbound carton through his voice via a specific code
on the box. That code can then be matched with the inbound scan to provide
the necessary information.
These systems are in development and have not been publicly tested yet, but
that is also part of the newly tweaked PTI effort.
During the teleconference, Messrs. Silbermann and Stenzel revealed that pilot
projects will be initiated at all points of distribution to show how the PTI
system can be implemented.
For example, many field-pack operations have not yet moved forward on PTI
because they are not sure how labeling in the field can work. A statement
released by the three trade associations reads, "We recommend that a series
of pilot projects be conducted in a variety of different commodity sectors,
incorporating all segments of the supply chain from grower through retailer
and restaurant. These pilot programs should address specific challenges
identified by the different sectors, include the use of different technologies
and solution providers in order to evaluate multiple processes, and be
transparent to all industry members as we share in lessons learned."
These pilot projects will be developed under the auspices of the PTI, which
will engage commodity and regional associations as well as individual
member companies in implementing pilots to address specific concerns
applicable to their sectors of the industry.
The committee also changed the language of the initiative, adopting a more
flexible and conciliatory tone.
The association representatives admitted that the effort is voluntary and that
the milestones should not have been written as "must comply" dates but
rather as "target goals" to achieve.
"We recognize that meeting implementation milestones will vary by company
and that ultimate adoption is a marketplace decision not an association
directive," said the statement.