The autumn of 2000 was a booming time for web-based companies and e-commerce. The produce space was no different. Over twenty produce-related e-commerce portals had announced their existence and were actively seeking customers. However, suppliers were not perceiving a compelling value proposition in what was pitched by the vendors. Many of these produce suppliers had concerns that if even a fraction of the e-marketplaces gained retail chain buyer acceptance, a costly technology integration nightmare would follow.
To address this concern, a group of leading produce suppliers met during the 2000 PMA Fresh Summit in Anaheim to discuss these issues and explore the idea of working together to define e-commerce requirements and establish integration standards.
From that original discussion, fourteen produce companies formed Produce Supply.org, a not-for-profit LLC to help suppliers in the industry work through and take advantage of technology trends such as this.
These charter members committed volunteer time and funds to define the e-commerce issues and explore the options to move the produce industry forward.
The first task: E-commerce
As produce suppliers, questions were asked such as: What do we need to reduce costs and add value to our links in the supply chain? Should we become an e-marketplace ourselves?
In late 2001, our members explored the idea on creating an e-marketplace. Supplier business process and technology requirements were defined. Then, several vendor presentations and proposals were evaluated. As a result, it was discovered that no vendor solution offered a compelling value proposition.
The collaborative effort that was realized during this discovery had proven the value of the PSO. Our members learned that bigger initiatives can be taken on when resources are pooled across like suppliers.
In 2003, Wal Mart asked its top suppliers (outside of the produce industry) to tag all pallets and cases with RFID tags within two years. The requirement for the produce industry suppliers soon followed with Wal Mart setting a deadline for perishables in 2007.
For the produce industry, Wal Mart expected the primary benefit of this technology would be the ability to effectively scan produce at different stages in their distribution network in order to improve inventory accuracy as well as to help limit the scope of a recall.
In theory, RFID would be very efficient at scanning since this technology does not require line of sight scanning. This can result in mass scanning of pallets as they move through Wal Mart’s DC’s and stores.
Unfortunately, RFID technology had some serious complications in produce. It was soon realized after a few pilots that it wasn’t easy to equip produce cases with RFID tags that would have consistent scanning results. This inconsistency as well as the high cost of the tags and hardware, plagued this technology adoption for produce.
PSO member collaboration on this initiative help speed up this discovery as well as saving its members thousands of dollars due to the joint effort involved in testing/proving this technology. Our organization was also an effective means of communication back to the retailer on the difficulties involved in implementing this for produce.
Our next collaborative effort came from an industry-wide response to food safety concerns. We were tasked in finding a way to effectively improve traceability in our industry.
We were interested in taking this on and the outcome was a huge success. Our members have significantly participated in the GS1 PTI Technology Working Groups, PMA, CPMA, United Fresh, GS1 and other industry groups to establish a set of PTI milestones to keep suppliers on track to meet the requirements of retailers.
Once the milestones were set, our group met regularly, to share knowledge as well as implementation experience to help other members move forward as fast as possible. We had several round table discussions, vendor presentations as well as face-to-face discussions with key retailers.
ProduceSupply.Org proved to be effective at giving a voice to all produce suppliers and establishing a collaborative effort to work in concert with retail chains to implement best practices for our industry. To be able to provide effective traceback as well as limit the scope of a recall proved to be a huge value to suppliers in the industry.
Blockchain and Beyond
Most recently, the PSO has been working on the latest technology trend in our industry which is blockchain. Blockchain technology provides secure, effective data storage on how produce moves through the supply chain. The benefits of this technology are faster, more secure traceability as well as increased product visibility as it moves through the supply chain.
Retailers have been the first to implement this technology and the PSO is there to help produce suppliers. Currently, the PSO is working with these retailers along with several blockchain related vendors to develop effective ways to utilize blockchain technology not only for food safety purposes but also for inventory movement analysis.
As you can see, PSO has been involved in many initiatives in the produce industry over the past two decades. Beyond blockchain, the PSO will be here to address new technology developments our industry will face.
Industry Association Participation
Since the inception of the ProduceSupply.Org, industry associations such as PMA, CPMA, and GS1 have taken interest in our group. In fact, every PSO meeting has representation from at least one of these groups. Members claim being able to get updates from these organizations and to provide feedback to them is a significant benefit.
Also, each meeting will feature at least one relevant retail and/or vendor presentation. It has been found that both our membership as well as the vendors both benefit from these discussions since the communication is two-way. Our members get a feel of the vendor’s product while the vendor gets appropriate feedback from a group of top suppliers in the produce industry.
We encourage guests to attend our meetings. Our organization gets better with each additional member that joins. New members enrich our collaborative discussion and efforts. As mentioned earlier, our organization started with fourteen charter members. Since the inception, we have expanded our membership to add on associate members. An associate member can benefit from the collaborative efforts of our initiatives as well as attend all our meetings while keeping membership costs to a minimum.
If you are interested in joining an upcoming meeting as a guest or would like some information on becoming an Associate Member, please contact Erik Larsen [email protected] for details.