Food industry to benefit from RFID

The results of a pilot program to test integrated electronic product code (EPC) and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology across a number of industries, including the food industry, were presented at a seminar in Sydney as part of the SMART 2007 Conference.

The National EPC Network Demonstrator Project Extension, carried out by a multi-industry Australian consortium, including MasterFoods and Procter & Gamble, demonstrated how RFID using the GS1 global standards can provide opportunities for streamlining operations and improving supply chain collaborations.

The consortium achieved a 100% EPC/RFID tag read rate and reported customer productivity gains of 22.2%.

While the technology is relatively new in Australia, results of the recent RFID pilot, including improved productivity, delivery processing times and visibility throughout the supply chain, point to numerous advantages for the food industry.

As well as improving logistics efficiency, the implementation of RFID technology will allow for on-shelf tracking of individual consumer items that is not possible with barcoding.

According to a new report by IDTechEx, the use of RFID technology within in the food industry is expected to rise in the next 10 years.

GS1 chief operating officer Mark Fuller said the food industry will benefit from using RFID.

“As well as increasing the visibility of stock and being able to physically track pallets and cartons as they move from one site to the next, RFID will improve the management of products, on-shelf replenishment and tracking promotions,” Fuller said.

Food manufacturers and retailers can also expect this technology to improve food safety and product recalls.

“What is important for consumers is that the products they are eating are safe,” said Fuller.

“RFID allows manufacturers and importers to ensure the ingredients being used are what they should be, which is of particular importance considering the counterfeit products entering the market.

“In terms of recalls, individual tagging of consumer items in the future will allow for selective removal of spoilt products as opposed to clearing entire shelves,” he said.

Despite obvious benefits, there are factors impeding industry-wide implementation of RFID including the cost of tagging, currently around the 7.5 cents mark for bulk purchases, as well as the cost of software, process changes and weighing up the return on investment.

“Implementing RFID is not a simple thing to do, it is a major move for an organisation but a move that is inevitable,” Fuller said.

“The major retailers have said for certain it is going to come and it’s not far away.”

The GS1 advisory group, comprised of industry leaders such as Woolworths, Coles and Visy, are currently devising a road map to assist the food industry in implementing RFID over the next few years.

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