The Produce Marketing Association is telling fresh produce suppliers they need to think about more than just being Produce Traceability Initiative-compliant. Retailers also are starting to require company-specific Universal Product Codes instead of the generic versions.

This transition from generic to company-specific UPCs will improve category management while also enhancing traceability and business efficiencies, according to a news release from the association.

“Basically, the industry has been striving for unique identification on items for the past few months,” said Christina D’Allacco, manager of science and technology in supply chain efficiencies for Newark, Del.-based PMA.

Generic UPC numbers begin with a generic, PMA-assigned prefix, followed by an item reference number and check digit to identify packaged produce.

D’Allacco expects retailers will begin to require a more specific UPC where the prefix is assigned by GS1 US, a global standards organization for multiple industries.

ID item and company

Similar to the DataBar that was developed to help provide more information on bulk produce, specific UPCs identify the item and the company of origin, enabling retailers to differentiate between brands of product in the same category.

Databars are added to bulk produce, while these unique UPCs are used on packaged produce items.

This will allow retailers to determine sell-through and shrink data by brand, according to a news release.

This transition began a couple years ago with Kroger taking the lead, according to D’Allacco.

“Similar to the recent Wal-Mart announcement (mandating traceability compliance), Kroger took the lead in the retailer industry to request the data bar be included on all loose produce, and recently they’ve put out a request for packaged produce to have company-specific UPCs,” she said.

Since then, there has been a trickle-down effect.

“Some people complied right away and other didn’t, but Kroger has been diligent to follow up with suppliers to make sure they are staying compliant,” D’Allacco said.

Making the transition

PMA conducted a survey late last year and determined 80% of major retailers are looking to make the switch within the next three years, so suppliers will need to start thinking about this in addition to their efforts to stay PTI-compliant.

To help with the transition from generic to specific UPCs, PMA is offering UPC Link.

The tool will enable companies to upload a data file of individual product data for all buyers to use, making data transfer much more efficient.

“If a supplier does business with 25 retailers, this tool allows communication to happen only once. He will upload it once and the retailer can download it once,” D’Allacco said.

Suppliers will need to register for the product and more information can be found at PMA’s website.

In addition, Web seminars and online learning opportunities can be found on the PMA website.

D’Allacco says the transition will vary in cost, depending on the company.

“One of the main costs will be to get the GS1 prefix. They have to purchase it initially, and then there’s a fee to maintain it yearly after that,” she said.

Other costs will be the actual cost of creating labels that incorporate the new UPCs.

From the retail end, it will depend on the software and hardware the company uses.

“There could be data capacity and data management concerns that might include a cost, but most have said they already have the capability to scan and store those unique GTINs,” D’Allacco said.