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Traceability Software Solutions Update

What’s new, what’s better, and what you should know

As more key retailers, from Walmart to Whole Foods Market, encourage or require implementation of the industry’s voluntary Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), growers, shippers, and other produce companies are increasingly interested in software solutions to help them become PTI-compliant.

While there is no hard data about industrywide implementation, estimates based on anecdotal evidence suggest 40 to 60 percent of all cases featured PTI labels as of mid-2014. Implementation varies by company, with some still taking a wait-and-see attitude, and others having deployed traceability programs several years ago, before PTI was even finalized.

Driscoll Strawberry Associates, Inc. of Watsonville, CA had one of the first systems that could handle item-level traceability more than four years ago, according to Peter Townsend, IT director at Salinas-based The Nunes Company, Inc., who was with Driscoll at the time. “The purpose was really for consumer engagement,” he says. “But there was a side benefit of unit-level traceability.”

Nunes has been using two main transactional systems for traceability, FoodLink for field packing and PTI labeling, and Microsoft Dynamics-AX for inventory management; the company has also been piloting an item-level system with HarvestMark. “Our decision was driven by retailer interest in PTI,” Townsend explains. “But we wanted to be at the forefront; information transparency in the food chain is always a good thing, and it always leads to process improvements.”

Produce industry acceptance of PTI has gotten a recent boost from leading retailers, including Publix and Whole Foods Market, encouraging or requiring vendors to use PTI labels. A key driver was Walmart’s May 2013 announcement that it would require labeling as of January 2014. After Walmart’s bold announcement, Courtney Heim, a marketing and sales representative for Chicago’s Produce Pro, Inc., a software solutions provider, says, “People called from all over the country.” She also notes that smaller retailers and restaurants also are asking for cases to be PTI-compliant.

Still, not all companies are on board. “There’s a lot of resistance in the supply chain,” says Alison Falco, president of Dynamic Systems, Inc. in Redmond, WA. “Most of the burden sits on the shoulders of the retailer. As you go down the supply chain, there’s less acceptance of the need to comply, especially among small farmers and packers,” many with a ‘until I’m forced to, I’m not doing this’ attitude.

Industry Evolution
When PTI was being developed in 2009 and 2010, many vendors were getting into the market with traceability solutions. “Some were controlled by venture capital money, whileothers came from different business sectors and lacked specific knowledge of the produce industry,” says Dan Vaché, United Fresh Produce Association’s vice president of supply chain management. “Many systems were priced in the tens of thousands of dollars and tailored to the biggest companies.”

Elliot Grant, founder and chief technology officer of Redwood City, CA’s YottaMark, Inc. puts it this way: “When PTI was first announced, there were over 25 companies offering solutions, making it hard for growers to decide what was best for them,” he says. “In addition, the requirements were still in flux, so solution providers were offering noncompliant solutions.”