There should be no question that the need for whole-chain traceability is real.
Growers are facing rising operational costs. Consumer food safety has become a highly visible public health concern. Government and industry mandates are a reality.
A true whole-chain traceability system effectively addresses these issues by providing transparent and reliable information from harvest through distribution to the store or restaurant.
Clearly, the pressure to improve operational efficiency and product safety is intense, yet industrywide traceability efforts seems to be moving forward at a snail’s pace.
So, what factors will accelerate industrywide implementation of this vital business and public health improvement? There are three main drivers that will ultimately serve as powerful catalysts for implementation going forward:
More effective recall management: Product recalls seem to be almost a weekly occurrence. Cable television and online news reports spread outbreak fears more quickly than ever before. Over the past several years broad spinach and tomato recalls, for example, were devastating. Experts estimate the total hard industry costs associated with these events to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Companies throughout the supply chain - from growers to retailers - now clearly understand that a major recall can be catastrophic. The damage includes public health consequences, massive monetary expense and long-term damage to your brand.
Case-level traceability is the most viable solution for limiting the size and scope of recalls. Industrywide implementation will allow contaminated product to be accurately identified - by location and source.
The scope of recall can be focused, and the volume of product withdrawn reduced. This benefits the entire industry. Recalls can be managed quickly and with precision. If a specific operation is not involved, then their product is not at risk of being pulled.
Brand protection: A foodborne illness outbreak and the resulting recall can cause irreparable damage to a company’s brand. This applies to both growers and distributors, but can be most damaging to retailers and foodservice operations as these businesses are on the front line for consumers.
Customers have traditionally trusted retailers and restaurants to protect their health interests. Continued contaminations incidents are eroding this trust and harming individual brands.
Whole-chain traceability allows companies to protect their valuable reputation by providing the real-time information needed to quickly identify and contain incidents before they can negatively impact brand value.
As more retailers and foodservice operators understand the value of this, they will require traceability from all their suppliers.
Brand enhancement: Consumers now demand a greater degree of food safety and transparency. They need to feel good about the food they purchase, but food safety incidents have shaken their trust in food producers and retailers. Many consumers believe that more needs to be done to strengthen food safety.
Whole-chain traceability will allow a company to share accurate product information with the customer including food safety information.
Market leaders will recognize this opportunity and will leverage the traceability advantage to strengthen their market position.
For this reason, leading retailers and foodservice operations will ultimately require cooperation (i.e., compliance) from their supply chain partners. For example, consumer loyalty programs can be leveraged to quickly identify affected customers and notify them when a product they purchased has been recalled.
This results in greater transparency and improved trust.
Whole chain traceability is a real market opportunity right now. It will be interesting to see who steps up and captures this opportunity to be the “food safety leader.”
Competitive market forces will ultimately drive industry adoption of whole-chain traceability. Innovative, forward-thinking companies will leverage whole-chain traceability. They’ll not only protect their operation and brand, but also position themselves as a market leader in terms of trust and transparency.
All in all, there are many business reasons supporting industrywide whole-chain traceability.
The most important motivation, however, should always be the focus on protecting customers’ health. We must do everything we can to provide the safest, highest quality products.
Todd Baggett is chief executive officer of RedLine Solutions.