A 4 phase approach to whole chain traceability
Lucelena Angarita
April 4, 2016
Supply chain traceability (Image: Pixabay)

The foodservice industry is taking major steps to increase consumer trust with the development of thorough, automated, and vigilant food traceability programs. This is important now more than ever, as recent and highly publicized food recalls are still fresh in the minds of consumers.  If a six-year old boy and his parents come into a Subway restaurant once a week and order sandwiches, they should always have the information they need about their food at their fingertips, and be reassured they will eat the highest quality product. How can we as an industry be confident that the food we sell to our loyal customers is safe and traceable?

It is this focus on our customers that has helped propel forward the food traceability program currently underway at the Independent Purchasing Cooperative (IPC), a Subway franchisee-owned and operated purchasing cooperative. IPC is a member of the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative, a collaborative industry effort seeking to drive waste out of the foodservice supply chain, improve product information and establish a foundation for enhanced food safety through improved, automated traceability. Through the initiative, IPC learned important best practices and has worked closely with its suppliers, distributors and redistributors to enhance the efficiency and visibility of our supply chain using GS1 Standards to meet the needs of today’s consumers. Consumers are not just concerned about foodborne illness outbreaks, they are empowered more than ever to learn about food origins, ingredients and nutritional information. IPC and other foodservice industry stakeholders are laying the foundation to enable greater transparency and traceability to help those consumers stay informed and confident about their food choices.  Additionally, supply chain visibility helps trading partners collectively reduce waste and errors, leading to greater efficiencies.

To achieve traceability, IPC focused on four phases that leverage GS1 Standards to make the product journey from source-to-restaurant more visible. Our implementation of standards that identify, capture and share information about products helps reduce confusion among our trading partners, as we are outlining one single source of information in one standard format.  Here is a look at each phase in more detail.

Phase 1: Implement unique global product and location identifiers

We first assigned Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) to all Subway branded products and asked our manufacturers to do the same to facilitate the communication of product-specific information whenever a business transaction takes place or a barcode is scanned in the supply chain. We also asked them to start using Global Location Numbers (GLNs) to help identify supply chain event locations.  These standards provided a solid foundation toward whole chain traceability.  To achieve whole chain traceability, the internal data and processes a company uses to track products is integrated into a larger system of external data exchange that takes place between trading partners. Both processes are needed to effectively trace product up and down the supply chain.

Phase 2: Leverage the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) as one source of product data

The GDSN enables the electronic transfer of standardized product information between trading partners and the continuous synchronization of that information over time. Most IPC suppliers and distributors were more than willing to use the GDSN, as they saw the mutual benefit for all involved to have one source of product data. The GDSN ensures all partners have access to the same, accurate information.  As part of a data quality six-sigma study last year, IPC estimated that by using the GDSN and having everyone access one source of truth, our organization would see a return on investment of about $ 1 million dollars in annual freight costs just through “cleaner” product information for 83 products where we corrected erroneous data.

Phase 3: Improve visibility with case level labeling

Starting in May of 2014, IPC outlined expectations for trading partners around the use of GS1-128 barcode case labels. These labels are important to the traceability program because it encodes the product GTIN as well as other dynamic data elements, including date codes and batch or lot numbers.  By being able to identify units such as cartons, cases and pallets, all supply chain partners can manage fast and accurate tracking of inventory. This phase will be completed by suppliers and distributors throughout the year -- suppliers need to have labeling in place by the end of August 2016 and distributors need to be scanning 100% of food products that have GS1-128 barcodes at delivery by December 31, 2016.

Phase 4: Integrate technology solution for full traceability program

IPC partnered with technology provider, FoodLogiQ, to create a traceability program.  This custom platform syncs with the GDSN and provides an online portal for all vendors to manage and track their shipments from the source all the way to the destination restaurant. Eight vendors participated in the pilot, assisted with the development of the program and helped determine how it will operate moving forward. After a pilot concluded successfully in November 2015, IPC began rolling out a full IPC/FoodLogiQ Traceability program, which is expected to be completed for all food products by the end of the 2016 fiscal year.

In the end, our experience confirmed that full supply chain visibility is the key to ensuring consumer confidence and streamlining supply chain processes. Traceability programs based on GS1 Standards reduce costs and time managing suppliers, reduce the cost of investigating and executing recalls or withdrawals, increase profits with access to new customers and channels, and help protect the brand by delivering quality product.

Lucelena Angarita is the Quality/GS1 Program Manager for Independent Purchasing Cooperative, Inc. (IPC), a Subway franchisee owned organization. She is responsible for managing major company-wide quality initiatives including the implementation of GS1 Standards for improved data synchronization and food traceability.

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