Mastering the new evolution of DIFOTIS

Putting aside the basic need to turn a dollar, the biggest challenge facing a food manufacturer used to be DIFOTIS – delivering in full on time in spec. DIFOTIS was the first step to securing an ongoing mutually beneficial and rewarding relationship with the customer, notwithstanding the tensions between those selling and those buying arising from normal market forces operating.

DIFOTIS is still a challenge, but with more sophisticated manufacturing and supply chains, better demand forecasting and better real-time market data available to companies, the fundamental task of getting product to customers when they want it, and as they want it, has become easier.

The common thread tying all this together is information – better data and better information management. Companies have become better at gathering information, analysing data and making business decisions based on that information, all supported by the ever increasing capabilities and usability of IT support and infrastructure.

The phenomenal increase in the capability and capacity to manage information has inevitability led to increasing demands for data – and this now goes right down to the final customer or consumer. And much of that information is now required to be provided by law and/or co-regulation. So along with DIFOTIS comes the need product to be in compliance. The new acronym is too long and too much of a tongue-twister to be useful, but the point is that now more than ever, for business efficiency and risk mitigation, companies need to have confidence the regulatory status and compliance of their products. Whether it be allergen presence, or country of origin status, or added sugar labelling, the new requirements keep on coming down the compliance pipeline with each issue representing another set of information bits which need to be managed.

For 10 years the AFGC’s Product Information Form (PIF) has been the industry standard for information exchange about food ingredients along the supply chain. The PIF has been through several versions and formats as information needs for both regulatory compliance and commercial requirements rapidly expanded. And now a brand new version is available for industry.

The new PIF V6.0 is a new tool developed by the food industry in Australia and New Zealand in partnership with vendor software companies – Bizcaps Software, Hamilton Grant and Oakbarrel Software. It enables companies to obtain and share information needed to meet obligations under regulatory requirements and industry codes regarding food ingredients and finished products in a consistent and standardised manner.

More specifically, the PIF structure has been changed to take advantage of the online platform to better organise data and improve work flow of PIF users. Provision for the new country of origin labelling, allergen traceability, and GM status treatment have been restructured to make using the PIF system clearer and simpler.

Information required for commercial purposes (product images, certificates of analysis, safety data sheets) can also be transmitted with PIF V6.0. PIF V6.0 features updated content and utilises business-to-business (B2B) software solutions. It streamlines the process of recording and reporting product information via secure online vendor portals, making it easier, faster and therefore more efficient to use.

Companies may now create new PIFs through one of the three online PIF V6 vendor portals. Once created, they can be shared B2B data via a number of methods, most efficiently via portal-to-portal exchange, but also via emailed .pdf or .xml files.
With an emphasis on ease of use, inter-operability with other product information systems, and absolute security, the concept of ‘one true source’ of company product data has become a reality.

The system has also been designed for optimal flexibility. There are four types of PIFs which can be created within the PIF system – a sample PIF for when companies that simply want to exchange data about product samples. This is effectively a ‘cut-down’ version of the PIF. A “flavours” and “colours” PIF option as also been provided, again representing the specific information requirements of this type of product. The third type is a food ingredient PIF and finally, there is a retail-ready PIF for products ready to go on shelf.

Additional flexibility has been built into the system through providing hierarchies of access to PIFs through the portal systems. PIF owners can provide degrees of data access to persons in their own organisation, or indeed to third parties, based on specific system permissions. Therefore, control of commercially sensitive information is assured.

As consequence of this step-change the AFGC will no longer be supporting the MS-EXCEL spreadsheet-based previous version of the PIF – PIF v5. PIF v5 has not been updated since 2012 and should be withdrawn from use. However, PIF v5 to PIF V6.0 conversion tools are available to facilitate the upgrade to PIF V6.0.

Dr Geoffrey Annison, deputy chief executive,
Australian Food and Grocery Council
Dr Geoffrey Annison joined the AFGC in October 2007. He has experience in food regulation and innovation, having held a number of senior technical and management roles in industry in Australia and overseas, in academia, and in public policy. Annison has a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Food Technology and a PhD in Microbiology from the University of New South Wales. He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Annison is also an adjunct professor with the University of Queensland.