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Retailers will drive PTI compliance within 18 month, Walmart executive says

SAN DIEGO — Mike Agostini, senior director of produce for Walmart, expects that several major retailers will fully implement the Produce Traceability Initiative by the end of this year. And he expects that will cause a domino effect with other retailers following suit.

By the end of 2015, he expects at least 60 percent compliance and it could be as much as 85 percent.

Agostini said full PTI compliance will give participating retailers a competitive advantage in several areas, including inventory management. He reasoned that when that happens, those that have been deliberately moving through the process of adoption will suddenly move forward in a more aggressive and urgent fashion.

Noting that Publix and a couple of others are already in adoption mode, he said it would only "take a couple of more biggies to jump and the rest will follow."

Agostini made his comments during a workshop session on the trade show floor at the recent United Fresh Produce Association convention. He was joined on the dais by Doug Grant of Oppenheimer, who said that major supplier is ready to be in full compliance when the retailer mandates come.

In fact, both men sit on the industry PTI committee and said that a good portion of the supplier community has moved forward and is ready to comply. Grant estimated that about 35 percent of grower-shippers are currently case labeling their product with the GTIN code and are PTI-compliant. He was not as quite optimistic as Agostini and was reluctant to put a date on how soon a majority of the industry would be in compliance.

However, he did say the original timeline was very aggressive and like most technology advances, "it is taking twice as long as we thought."

He equated those milestones to the creation of a road map. He said some in the industry took a beeline to the final destination "while others took a scenic route and some are still kicking the tires."

Agostini likened the effort to traversing a football field. "We have come 95 yards and only have five yards to go."

He believes a large percentage of the industry has done a large amount of the legwork, and implementation can come quickly when they are pressed.

However, he did allow that the wholesaler community has some very big challenges that will be hard to figure out.

"As hard as it is for retailers, I am glad I am not a wholesaler," he quipped.

The big issue among wholesalers — and the retailers they serve — is how they track the "shorts" that they provide retailers. Grower-shippers and retailers have somewhat of a finite number of products that must be coded. A grower-shipper defines all of its SKUs and gives that information to the retailers with which they do business for their corresponding database.

But a wholesaler filling in shorts may literally have any shipper's product at any time headed to a retailer or foodservice operator. It appears no one has quite figured out a solution to that problem yet.

Agostini's optimistic view of PTI doesn't end with his prediction for the future. He believes that the initiative has already proven to be a "huge success."

He said everyone along the supply chain is in a much better position of knowing where the product came from and where it is going than they were five years ago, which has already led to more precise recalls that can occur in a matter of days rather than weeks.

Dan Vaché, vice present of supply chain management for United Fresh, moderated the program and urged companies throughout the supply chain to get involved with the committee and help ask the right questions and search for answers.

"We are always looking for more participants on the committee," he said.

Vaché echoed the comments of the panelists stating that in the area of tracking and tracing the industry has come a look way in a relatively short time period.