by Heather Blount/staff writer
The Foodservice GS1 U.S. Standards Initiative is pushing foodservice into a new era of instant, transparent data sharing, putting product information all in one place—the Global Data Synchronization Network™ (GDSN). Through adoption of the system, manufacturers, distributors and operators all have the information they need not only to distribute effectively but also to comply with the tracking mandates of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and nutritional mandates in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
GS1 is a voluntary, collaborate industry effort that began in 2009 through a partnership with the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) and the National Restaurant Association (NRA), along with 55 leading manufacturers, distributors and operators. The system includes a network of identifiers, including GS1 Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) and GS1 Global Location Numbers (GLNs) as well as product descriptions. At its core, GS1 is an intricate labeling system that provides more than tracking information; it offers enhanced product descriptions with standardized definitions.
At this point, more than 100 manufacturers, distributors, operators, associations and others have adopted the standard. The initiative hopes to have 75 percent adoption in the foodservice industry by 2015.
In a recent interview, Chris Caldwell, director of communications and marketing at IFDA, told Sunbelt Foodservice Magazine that about 65 to 70 percent of distributors, measured by volume, already have adopted use of GS1 labels.
GS1 confers several key benefits, like reduced inefficiencies in distribution, enhanced food safety and improved product information. For a distributor to have accurate information related to its products is crucial, as Mike Roach, president of Ben E. Keith Foods, attested in a video testimonial for GS1. Roach said Ben E. Keith began using GS1 in January 2009 after a thorough examination of its incoming data. “As we adopted the technology and became more proficient at moving data,” he said, “we began to realize that the data we were receiving just wasn’t accurate from the manufacturers.”
The inaccurate data extended beyond nutritional information into the dimensions of product cases, which “created all sorts of problems,” according to Roach.
With the enhanced accuracy that GS1 standardized data brings, Ben E. Keith is better able to market to customers accurately.
“Opportunities exist that we didn’t even know existed. And I think that’s probably true of every distributor out there.”
The system, Roach added, has helped the company by “bringing the industry together with one mindset…GS1 is able to pull all of those divergent parties together.”
Caldwell also mentioned the opportunities that GS1 presents manufacturers and distributors, such as a way to improve relations between manufacturers and distributors by providing thorough, accurate information. By improving relations, Caldwell explained, companies can “serve the customer better.”
When a shipment comes in as described, distributors and operators can breathe a sigh of relief. Julie McGill, foodservice director at GS1 U.S., explained in an email to Sunbelt Foodservice how GS1 ensures that shipments come in as described, easing tensions between the manufacturer, distributor and operator:
“By utilizing a common set of standards, such as location identification numbers (GLN), product identification numbers (GTIN) and barcodes, trading partners can be assured that they are talking about the same product or location in business processes such as ordering, invoicing and inventory management…This reduces discrepancies such as order errors and incorrect invoices, and it establishes the groundwork for being able to trace products better through the supply chain…If everyone identifies things the same way then we improve our relationships because we are eliminating all those potential pitfalls.”
In particular, GS1 offers distributors more of the kinds of information they need to move and store products, such as serving suggestions, images, benefits and allergens, according to McGill.
Standardization means increased food safety, easier compliance
GS1’s benefits extend beyond manufacturer and distributor relations as operators adopt GS1 and realize its potential.
Current users include Aramark Corp., Darden Restaurants, Compass Group, Subway, Wendy’s, Sodexo and Unified Foodservice Purchasing Co-op (UFPC), among others.
Using Compass Group as an example, Caldwell explained a key benefit for operators is “data pools.” Compass uses a marinara sauce in about 800 of its recipes; if the marinara changes, then all of Compass’ products change, presenting a problem before adoption of GS1. However, with GS1’s GDSN, nutritional information on any products using marinara is updated once the information for marinara changes, Caldwell said.
The kinds of information linked to GS1 labels include about 128 nutritional attributes like expiration dates, serving sizes, calorie counts, gluten-free information, organic or kosher designations, allergy information and standardized images of the product.
In the wake of recent nutritional mandates that require restaurants with more than 20 units to display certain information on the menu, Mark Allen, president and CEO of IFDA, explained that use of GS1 standards “will ensure that they (operators) have the right information at the right time” to comply with these mandates.
In addition, the GDSN makes tracking items easier, so in the event of a food safety issue such as a foodborne illness, officials can get to the source of the outbreak and identify affected items much faster, according to GS1 materials.[gn_box title="Industry members sing GS1 praises" color="#333333"]
Foodservice GS1 U.S. “is an answer to the ever-present issue of wanting better data and efficient collaboration within the supply cycle. If we can agree on what is important to communicate and how, we can reallocate resources to increase sales and meet customers’ demands for better product information.”
—Van Perry, VP of business analysis at UniPro Foodservice
“Sodexo is an active member of the GS1 Foodservice initiative because we see transparency across the supply chain as being not only a transactional efficiency, but also a critical element to food safety and security programs…Without a doubt, the standards should be adopted, as they are critical for timely, accurate information to be passed among trading partners, with robust data stewardship and integrity—which is essential when dealing with food safety and nutritional requirements.”
—Ann Oka, SVP of supply chain for Sodexo[/gn_box]