Interoperable traceability is moving full steam ahead in Germany. Efforts which have been similar to PTI (Produce Traceability Initiative) and mpXML (Meat Traceability guideline) have evolved traceability to the next level. Retail case ready packages are marked with QR-Codes that have an encoded hyperlink to a website. This hyperlink always contains an interoperable manufacturer or brand owner ID (GLN, GTIN), Product code in conjunction with a lot-number.
While companies have the option to operate their own web service application and direct the link to their website, a meat packer and a retailer each created a website, where other food manufacturers can upload public and sharable information and make that information accessible.
Backed by “Netto”, a discount retail chain owned by Germany’s largest grocery retail chain, the EDEKA group is http://www.mynetfair.com/ (in Queen’s English). A little broader in scope, this is not just about traceability, but also about other product related information interesting for consumers.
The type of information accessible to the customer is based on the choices the manufacturer of these products makes. Since Europe had its COOL legislation since the mid 90′s, it is not only common but mandated, that each meat packer had full traceability to the animal or group of animals within each lot.
In the late 90′s, these requirements evolved into EDI standards based on the PRODAT message type that they industry used ever since to share that information up and down the supply chain. While these new systems are using a simplified csv-based format to upload the information, the information content is still similar to the old EDIfact standard.
These new systems do not only share credence attributes such as origin. They allow recipe suggestions and cooking instructions to increase consumption. Perhaps these technologies will teach households again how to prepare tasty meals at home. These systems are open, they are standardized and the owner of the data is in full control on what data it is sharing and how.
For consumers, the QR Code is already what they are accustomed to from magazines and media. For retailers it is already a standard they can rely on.
These systems have two shortcomings. One is, that this is not really working supply chain wide. The concept still allows only one manufacturer to share information, and that manufacturer needs to collect the necessary information as far upstream as needed and desired before it can share these. The other big disadvantage is, that these systems are based on the consumers inquiring about information, they do not have at this point any form of push notification service, that allows manufacturers in cases of recall to notify consumers that have bought the product, nor does it entail any further data collection of the information downstream towards the consumer.
These imperfections are not holding back the industry. They can and will be overcome. They move ahead with a solid foundation. While the technologies and the solutions derived from them are still young, they have plenty of room to evolve. At the end of the day we are talking about web based standards. These central systems will be able to advance by incorporating more information and more data based on EPCIS, GDSN or other data information services. They will eventually allow retailers to collect more information from their consumers, not only for the purpose of safer foods but also for improved business analytics which will stimulate commerce and enhance profits within the supply chain.
It will not take much longer, that large retail chains in the US and Canada will provide similar platforms and I would not expect different requirements coming down the pipe from FDA when implementing the food safety modernization act.