Setting the standard right for the food & beverage industry

It is crucial we have a global set of standards across the food and beverage industry to support the rise of the digital era which is all about quality data and accuracy of information. Syed Shah interviewed Maria Palazzolo, executive director and CEO of GS1 Australia, about this goal.

Maria Palazzolo (pictured below) has seen the gradual evolution of business over the last 35 years. Through this period, she has worked with businesses of all sizes and in a range of sectors – always towards a vision of the future. A vision where all companies and their supply chains have full visibility of the products they are trading. Where recalls can be affected in minutes, not weeks. Where everyone can share in the benefits of the greater efficiencies created, including consumers.

The vision is possible today. It’s possible through the adoption of the standards and solutions provided by the GS1 system. Palazzolo’s goal now is to see those standards implemented at a whole of industry level, and her vision become reality.

For over 40 years, GS1 Australia has dedicated itself to the design and implementation of global standards for efficient business communication and to build smarter supply chains. Today, the GS1 system of standards is the global language of business to identify, capture and share information about products moving efficiently and securely up and down supply chains all over the world.

Efficient standards ensure effective exchanges between companies, facilitate interoperability and provide structure to the exchange of data in many industries. Using GS1 standards brings together companies representing all parts of the supply chain – manufacturers, distributors, retailers, hospitals, transporters, customs organisations, software developers, regulatory authorities and more.

The generic blueprint of GS1 standards 

Palazzolo explained that standards form the core business of the GS1 philosophy. And users of GS1 standards make it possible for the right product to be in the right place at the right time.

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“We sometimes need to go back to where it all began to put things into perspective about GS1. In 1973, industry leaders in the US selected a single standard for product identification that is still used today and known as the GS1 barcode, named recently by the BBC as one of the 50 things that made the world economy,” she said.

Five years later, GS1 Australia became the Australian member of the global GS1 organisation and major Australian retailers began to adopt the GS1 system of barcoding and numbering as their preferred standard for trade. GS1 began to roll out value-added services to support the implementation of these standards by its members.

“Nearly 40 years have passed since the GS1 barcode revolutionised the way we do business in Australia but on many occasions, I still have people ask me, ‘Who is GS1 and what do you do?’. In many ways, we are the world’s best kept secret because when you think about what GS1 does to help businesses get their products from the manufacturer to the retailer and consumer, the GS1 system touches pretty much everyone around the world almost every single day,” said Palazzolo.

“Chances are, if you’re a consumer of something, you would have most likely come across and been a part of the GS1 system in action. Shoppers at major supermarket stores in Australia will hear the familiar beep of the GS1 barcode at the checkout, although it is unlikely that many of them will realise that each of those beeps is GS1 standards at work. The GS1 barcode still remains the most widely used identification system and supply chain standard in the world.”

Global standards for identification

Palazzolo explained that the food and beverage industry in Australia is one of the most advanced industries in its adoption of GS1 standards to ensure best practice within its supply chains.

The GS1 system is a common foundation for businesses that enables unique identification, accurate data capture and automatic sharing of vital information about products, locations, shipments assets and more. Within the GS1 system, barcodes are just one part of the technology available to carry the unique GS1 identifiers.

Simply, the GS1 system provides a common language for all local and global businesses to communicate with each other and exchange information. This builds efficiency and accuracy, reducing the need to exchange data in multiple different ways with multiple trading partners.

Standards for traceability and food safety

The humble barcode, seen today on every consumer product, has served us well for a long time. But it must support today’s world where information needs to be more readily available, and consumers expect to know more about what they are buying. Food and beverage companies need the ability to track and trace their products and have full visibility throughout their supply chains.

Traceability is an important part of an organisation’s product recall management plan. Without an effective traceability process in place, delays in actioning a product recall can escalate into a crisis.

The speed and effectiveness with which a product recall is communicated to retailers and government authorities has implications for not only the consumer, but a business’s reputation.

To protect the security of the Australian food chain and the safety of consumers, the implementation of GS1 standards allows visibility of product, up and down the supply chain. By using GS1 standards, recalled products can to be traced quickly and efficiently back to the source of origin.

Issuing a recall or withdrawal with GS1 Australia’s Recall service is simple, fast and inexpensive. Based on global GS1 standards, Recall is a centralised online portal designed to streamline the management of product recall and withdrawal notifications.

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“All food and beverage companies have different kinds of traceability systems within their organisations. The common denominator across all of those systems is that they have to identify the product they want to trace. For instance, a certain bag of sugar or wheat among thousands of bags – each uniquely identified so that it can be traced back to its source. The use of GS1 standards allows for this complete traceability, not only within an organisation, but also across all organisations within their supply chains,” said Palazzolo.

“So, put simply, if everyone used one single global standard they would have the ability to have total traceability of their products from raw material through to the end customer, the consumer.”

Palazzolo explained that with the GS1 system, every bag could have a serial number containing, among other things, data on location, manufacturing process, product ingredients, handling and where the raw materials were sourced.

For GS1, food safety and reducing errors are of utmost importance.

“Avoiding these errors and protecting consumers from any harm is a responsibility that all manufacturers take very seriously and by having robust traceability systems in place they can avoid irreversible damages,” said Palazzolo.

GS1 standards exist today that can encode data such as batch/lot numbers, use-by and best-before dates and other product attributes at all levels of packaging from bulk materials to single produce items and finished goods.

GS1 Australia recently introduced a new type of barcode called the GS1 Databar for loose produce to complement existing barcodes. This barcode not only increases the number of products that can be automatically identified at retail point of sale, but also creates new opportunities to solve today’s retail business problems such as enhanced and wider category management, product authentication, traceability, stock control, product replenishment, variable measure product identification and shrink control.

The GS1 Databar is currently being rolled out in Australia for loose “produce only”, such as apples, citrus and pears in this first implementation. Soon, it will be applied to other fresh items including meat and cheese to better manage stock rotations and sales accuracy.

Getting the ball rolling towards a standardised industry

Palazzolo explained that, globally and locally, the food and beverage industry still has some way to go in terms of the use of a single standard that will assist in traceability. She explained that the industry needs to get connected along different supply chains. She believes that all suppliers and manufacturers (raw materials, packaging, transport, logistics, etc.) need to be aligned in order to make this happen.

“I think that the industry needs to ask questions like ‘How do we create a completely seamless supply chain without information barriers that stop products from being accurately identified because they are not using global standards?’,” said Palazzolo. She said that this should be done not only for the purpose of traceability and to create food safety, but also, to make a business smarter and more efficient.

“The potential for what the GS1 standards can do within an organisation, in my view, in Australia, still has a long way to go but I remain hopeful because it is the logical way to go, especially as the world becomes more digital and more reliant on accurate shared data. At the moment, there are still many companies that are using their proprietary manual systems that have been in place for a long time. They don’t feel the need to change because they don’t fully understand the benefits of automating their processes and using a common global standard,” said Palazzolo.

She said that GS1 provides education and training for member companies as well as consultancy on how to implement the GS1 system.

“The food and beverage industry has led the way in the adoption of GS1 standards and we are looking forward to continuing to work in close partnership with the industry to shape the future of traceability and food safety initiatives for the benefit of the business, the brand and the consumer,” she said.