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Q-and-A: How adopting GS1 US Standards can improve relationships between operators and customers

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

The Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative was launched in 2009 as an industrywide effort to streamline the supply chain, enhance product information and build a foundation for food safety and traceability. I interviewed Ann Oka, senior vice president of supply management for Sodexo and a member of the Executive Leadership Committee for the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative, about the benefits and challenges of adopting the GS1 Standards and how they can improve relationships between operators and customers.

How did Sodexo get involved in the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative?

We were one of the founding companies when the industry launched the initiative in October 2009. We were asked to join by our supply chain partners because of the work we were already doing on a project to synchronize data between trading partners. Where possible, we did rely on [Global Trade Item Numbers] as the key product identifier, but found that their application in the industry was spotty at best.

While our project required collaboration between our partners to synchronize their data for our use, we knew that if each operator had similar requirements, it would become onerous for our partners. We also knew that in the long term, the industry needed to move to standards, which would require collaboration between manufacturers, distributors and other operators to yield the workable standards that would bring efficiencies to the entire industry. … Before companies began adopting GS1 Standards, there were many different numbers assigned to the same product, depending on who you bought it from. Something as simple as determining how many packs of chicken breast we were ordering each week took a lot of time and effort to decipher. This foodservice initiative, therefore, is an attempt to create some standardization or agreement around product identifiers and attributes.

What has been the most beneficial part of adopting GS1 Standards?

The greatest benefit for the industry as a whole is it will remove wasted steps around deciphering product information between trading partners. Most important, we will have a better ability to trace products in a timely manner.

How does implementing GS1 Standards help improve food safety?

Again, traceability is paramount. The nature of our food supply is such that we will always have recalls, unfortunately; but with GS1 Standards, when we do have them, we will be able to identify where the products came from, where they went and get them under control faster. Perhaps in some cases, we will be able to prevent a greater number of recalls from happening in the first place, or limit the scope of them when they do occur. Better traceability in our supply chain will go a long way to improve the public’s opinion about food safety.

How does traceability relate to the increased consumer demand to know where the food comes from?

Another piece of the transparency puzzle people are not as cognizant of is that manufacturers need to own their product data, and only they should be responsible for updating that data. Current processes require multiple entities to manage and update changes in legacy systems. If a manufacturer changes their formulation, and for example, adds a potential allergen to a product, the operator needs to know in real time so that they can make the necessary changes in their menus or recipes and inform their consumers. By subscribing to the GDSN [Global Data Synchronization Network], trading partners will have access to this accurate product information, updated 24/7. GS1 Standards adoption is not just about establishing traceability and transparency; it’s also about the speed of that transparency for the whole supply chain.

What aspect was the most difficult to adopt?

We’re still working through GLN adoption, which is the GS1 Standard for product location identifiers. It’s challenging because there are many different “locations” a product travels through in the supply chain before it gets to the end consumer: from the manufacturer’s plants and warehouses, to the distributors systems, to the restaurant back door and other points in between.

For example, a distributor GLN is more complex because it indicates where a product was shipped from and which distributor it went to, but the product could have gone to a redistribution center, where other distributors handled it. For both Sodexo and entegra Procurement Services, we have deliveries that go to our clients’ sites. In some cases, those clients have GLNs associated with their core business, and “our” receiving location may be at the same address — however, from a chain of custody perspective, the products must be associated with us. You can imagine how the definition of a GLN as a physical location attached to a company can be challenging. These are the important details initiative members are currently working on.

What cost benefits have you seen, or foresee, associated with the GS1 Standards initiative?

We’ve already seen the cost benefits of data synchronization, and we anticipate these benefits will increase as more foodservice companies adopt GS1 Standards. The time spent “shagging” or mapping improper data will continue to decrease if this is the case. Less time spent in administrative tasks grinding through data means more time available to spend understanding our customers and their needs.

How will adoption of GS1 Standards improve relationships between operators and customers?

GS1 Standards allow us to be more flexible in addressing very specific needs, particularly around things like allergen-free products and others with a specific nutritional focus. We will be able to provide better visibility of what our customers are eating. More and more, we’re getting the question, “Where did my food come from?” As more companies adopt GS1 Standards, we will be able to know not only exactly where our products came from and where they went in the supply chain, but also where they were made and what attributes they have — direct from the source.