A successful pilot project at a wholesale distribution center has demonstrated that the final milestones of the Produce Traceability Initiative may be within the industry’s grasp.

Randy Fletcher, vice president of logistics and supply chain management for Associated Grocers Inc., Baton Rouge, La., shared details about the firm’s pilot project to capture both inbound and outbound Global Trade Identification Numbers and lot numbers at two workshops at the United Fresh Produce Association expo May 2-5 in New Orleans and in a May 17 interview with The Packer.

Associated Grocers Inc. serves about 220 retails stores Louisiana, east Texas and Mississippi. Fletcher said the company focused on the Produce Traceability Initiative since early this year.

“We decided this was an initiative that we wanted to part of,” he said

 Fletcher said the company teamed in a pilot project with Minneapolis-based C.H. Robinson and FoodLogiQ, Durham, N.C. He said the company also incorporated its warehouse management system in the pilot.

Fletcher said the pilot project proved that the company can capture the GTIN and lot numbers of inbound shipments of produce and transfer that information to the company’s warehouse management system. He said the company used scanners to capture information on inbound cartons and tried both scanners and a voice pick system to capture outbound produce.

Associated Grocers hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to use scanners or the voice pick system.

“Scanning may be more accurate than voice pick, but voice pick may be slightly more efficient, so we haven’t made that final determination just yet,” he said.

Fletcher said the company hadn’t yet incorporated electronic communication of lot and GTIN information by advanced shipment notices from suppliers, but he expects that will happen. That would allow the receiver the ability to scan only the pallet code, instead of every inbound box.

He said growers of all sizes should be able to comply.

“There are relatively inexpensive solutions in terms of software and printing hardware so that most anyone can capture the necessary lot information at the field or packinghouse level with a relatively small investment,” he said. “For what they have at risk, it is a very small investment for a very high rate of return in terms of their ability to manage their business.”

Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said Fletcher’s presentations at the United Fresh expo’s traceability demo center on PTI milestones six and seven were met with interest.

“They were a (company) not on any working groups and weren’t on the original steering committee and they aren’t on the leadership council, and all of a sudden I got wind they were working on this,” he said.

Vache said that Associated Grocers’ work on PTI may be a sign other receivers are also engaged with the issues.

“To me that is an indicator that there are more out there working on this,” Vache said.

He estimates that perhaps 80% of fresh suppliers have received their company prefixes and acquired their assigned GTINs. He said there are about 18 PTI pilot projects underway or soon to be starting.