The implementation of PTI progressed more slowly than many had expected, resulting in some companies failing, some leaving the produce sector, and others merging. FoodLink acquired PTI labeling solution TrueTrac in 2012, before being purchased itself by Roper Industries in July 2014 and being integrated into Roper’s iTradeNetwork.
As a result of consolidation, vendor offerings have stabilized and most of the alternatives make sense for the produce industry. “Solutions have coalesced,” Elliot explains, into what he characterizes as a number of different ‘flavors.’ “Some ERP solutions now bundle the PTI capability in; some warehouse management system providers have added PTI. There are still pure-play traceability systems (like HarvestMark), which are designed for standalone operation and cloud-based management, storage, and analytics. And there are some online solutions aimed at the very small farmer who just needs a couple of labels.”
Software solutions have also moved to the cloud, which has lowered the barriers to entry. Giumarra Companies recently switched to a cloud-based solution. “It really simplified things and reduced the cost,” says Jim Heil, quality assurance manager. Before the transition and new software, it could take weeks to add a new customer to the system. “Now you can get going in 15 minutes.”
Possibly the most significant change in the traceability solutions market has been the widening of options. “From the outset, PTI was designed to be a supply chain traceability solution for the entire industry,” says Ray Connelly, iTradeNetwork’s vice president for traceability and merchandising solutions. “It started as a labeling solution, but now it has become a holistic approach to the entire supply chain.”
Scalable options that can grow with the user are available as an entry point. “We have one customer with 10,000 cases per year, all the way up through Dole and everything in between,” Connelly says.
Although there are more solutions for smaller companies, gaps exist. “There are smaller growers in the Midwest with 30 acres of cucumbers that they harvest for 30 days,” Vaché says. “The solution providers have really made traceability scalable over the last few years, which has helped, but it’s still a big investment in some cases.”
Benefits Vs. Cost
Most business owners view traceability as a cost, but Produce Pro’s Heim counters, “they really need more of an inventory solution than just a traceability solution. Once you overcome this stigma and show how other people are using the software, they realize there will be a return on their investment.” Further, capturing data electronically can improve processes and make a “facility run better.”
Falco agrees; many in the industry are missing that “the right system can improve their bottom line,” she says. “You have a choice between cost-avoidance, where you choose a system so you don’t have to pay the fines for not doing what the retailer wants, or profit enhancement, where you’re improving your own business.”