The Produce Traceability Initiative is now five years old. The deadline for meeting seventh and final milestone — tracking data on outbound packages — has come and gone with the end of 2012, and receivers are still working to get into compliance.
The program gets high marks from growers, shippers and PTI planners.
Dan Vache, the United Fresh Produce Association’s vice president of supply chain management and co-chairman of the PTI Technology Working Group, says he gives PTI a rating of “about a 7” on a 1-10 scale.
“On the supply side, I’d give it more like an 8, and on the receiving side, more like a 6,” he said.
The lower rating for receivers is understandable, since the first milestones were meant to apply to suppliers, Vache said.
“They had to get their ducks in a row, make some investment in their business,” he said.
The first milestones passed and suppliers started getting their systems set up, and then they started to communicate with their trading partners, which slowed up the process, Vache said.
“There was a slight gap on the supply side and the buy side in who actually was working on the PTI,” he said.
One problem was information technology personnel sometimes weren’t part of the communications chain, and PTI is an IT issue, Vache said.
“The majority of communication between trading partners is between the seller and the buyer. The IT people and operations people don’t talk,” he said.
But IT personnel are central to moving PTI forward, Vache said.
“When it comes to traceability, those groups are the ones that have to do traceability, not the salespeople or the buyers,” he said.
The buying side made some progress in implementing PTI. It just that much of it was behind the scenes, Vache said.
“It’s a lot of systems changes for them in their IT groups and their receiving process,” he said.
The system also required capital expenditures, installations and learning curves, Vache said.
Retail distribution center are catching up quickly to where the supply side is, he said.
“And we now see anywhere, depending on what DC you walk into, you’ll see anywhere from 20% to 40% of the produce cases are currently being labeled with a PTI-compliant label,” he said.
The bottom line: Where PTI is concerned, don’t be fooled by appearances, Vache said.
“If you took at a distant look at it, it doesn’t look like it moved very fast, but it was,” Vache said. “It’s like a duck that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in the water, but beneath the water line that duck is paddling away. With PTI, there’s a lot going on under the water line.”
Others in the industry are weighing in on PTI with various opinions.
“I still say we’re all going in many different directions,” said Don Edgar, operations manager at Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco LLC, which grows, packs and ships limes, mangoes, avocados and other tropical items.
“I believe there needs to be some type of legislative system in place that’s agreed upon,” he said.
Richard Lee, compliance coordinator with the Leamington-based Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, rated PTI as an excellent idea, but he recognizes there are roadblocks to universal compliance.
“We applaud any initiatives that are going to assist our members to provide the safest food to our customers, but I think they face some setbacks in implementing all the milestones and being where they want to be,” he said.
Some customers are adopting the PTI initiatives; others are requiring independent third-party certification; and some seem “comfortable with the way they’ve been doing businesses over the years,” Lee said.
Retailers hold the key to universal compliance, said Gary Wishnatzki, owner of technology-centric VirtualOne and Wish Farms, both based in Plant City, Fla.
“The only way I believe it’s going to reach its objective is if the major retailers demand it,” he said.
If they don’t, some in the industry likely will be, “we’re only going to take these extra steps if we have to,” Wishnatzki said.
He said he sympathizes with that attitude, looking at it from a cost point of view.
“My company sees the value of PTI,” he said.
Others do, too, but some of them will wait until they are forced to comply, Wishnatzki said.
“It won’t get to be standard practice until it gets demanded,” he said.