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Top Supply Chain Trends of 2021

The supply chain has been grabbing headlines since the pandemic began, but this year was especially newsworthy. From flotilla-like bottlenecks at major U.S. ports to warnings about counterfeit toys in Santa’s sleigh, it’s been a challenging time for supply chain stakeholders and consumers alike. So, as the year winds down, we thought we’d take a look at some of the top supply chain trends of 2021.

The Year’s Supply Chain Trends

Before we start, please note that this isn’t a ranked list or a “countdown” to the No. 1 supply chain trend of the year. It’s just a collection of trends that have occurred in different industries and that have made industry news as we’ve worked our way through the year. That said, without further ado, here are the top supply chain trends of 2021.

Automation

Automation includes robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, process mining, drones, and driverless delivery systems. This trend dates back to the first half of 2019, when companies in North America spent $869 million on more than 16,000 robots. This year, the World Robotics 2021 Industrial Robots report said there were 3 million industrial robots operating in factories globally, a record number and an increase of 10 percent. The report also said sales of new robots grew 0.5 percent, with 384,000 units shipped globally in 2020.

Blockchain

Blockchain has been a buzzword for years, and worldwide spending on the technology has been predicted to reach more than $11 billion by 2022. In regard to supply chain management, blockchain has great potential for traceability because it allows the provenance of any product to be easily demonstrated with and supported by immutable, tamper-proof data. It’s a big topic, so download our “Blockchain-Based Supply Chain Traceability” white paper to learn more.

Sustainability

There’s been a barrage of research about supply chain sustainability, particularly consumers’ expectations for transparency and environmentally friendly products and packaging. In one recent survey, 83 percent of respondents said it was “important or extremely important” for companies to design environmentally conscious products. Another found that 81 percent of shoppers say transparency is important or extremely important to them. In short, more companies are choosing to make their supply greener and more transparent.

Consumer engagement/customer experience

Consumer engagement and customer experience have always had a place in marketing and branding, but they’ve risen to a priority position over the last several years. (See a tidy summary of why here.) But what does your supply chain have to do with any of this?

The short answer: Your supply chain is a gold mine of information that can be leveraged for robust, innovative engagement/experience strategies. The basic building block is serialization. Read our two-part series to learn more. And definitely read our article about how supply chain traceability is building a “consumer kingdom.”

“The Trifecta”: Traceability, Visibility, Transparency

It should come as no surprise that we’re including these three “must-haves” on our list of the top supply chain trends in 2021. We’ve always maintained that visibility, transparency, and traceability are the key to a successful supply chain; however, the last two years have shown us that this trifecta is more important than ever and is the best way to optimize, safeguard, and leverage your supply chain for business value.

Visibility means using data to gain insight into how your supply chain is functioning and to take steps to make it run more efficiently. The goal is to see every ingredient/input, every product, every partner, every handoff … everything. Transparency means communicating supply chain knowledge internally and externally so all stakeholders, including consumers, can see how you operate. Traceability means you can follow a product to its point of origin and prove what it is and where it came from.

We have written extensively on these topics. Here’s a suggested reading list:

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is a network of physical objects that connects to the internet via sensors and software. It’s the basis of our Integrated Monitoring solution. It enables greater visibility and flexibility across your entire supply chain. For example, IoT-enabled sensors placed in a shipment of vaccines will send a real-time alert if a problem arises, such as a temperature excursion or route diversion. We’ve written about IoT in the food and beverage industry, and rfxcel CEO Glenn Abood wrote a great article about real-time monitoring in the pharma cold chain. We also have a great video about it.

Digitization

If we were ranking the 2021′ supply chain trends, we’d make digitization No. 1. A supply chain that isn’t digitized cannot function efficiently. It cannot give consumers what they demand. It cannot comply with regulations. It cannot compete. It cannot make your business better.

Final Thoughts

As we move toward the New Year, it’s a good time to think about the future of your supply chain. Ask yourself some basic questions:

    • Are you keeping up with the trends we talked about today?
    • Are there gaps and blind spots in your supply chain?
    • Are counterfeits a problem in your industry?
    • Are you doing everything you can to protect your brand?
    • Are you actively reaching out to your customers to bring them closer to your brand?
    • Are there compliance deadlines on the horizon?
    • Are you certain your current supply chain solutions are truly optimal?
    • Are you using your supply chain as a strategic asset?

The next step is to contact us. Our digital supply chain experts can share a short demo of our award-winning Traceability System that will clearly show why it’s the best solution for any business, under any circumstances.

Understanding GS1 Barcodes in the Global Supply Chain

Where would we be without standards? One thing’s certain: Your supply chain would be a lot messier, if not chaotic, if you and your partners didn’t have a “common language” to process and exchange data. Standardized GS1 barcodes are one way we avoid this chaos.

GS1 barcodes keep everybody “on the same page.” They allow companies in virtually every industry to easily record, store, and transfer data. We’ve all seen them, and chances are your organization uses them — maybe even millions or billions of them. But let’s do a quick refresher course as another way to keep us all on the same page.

Why are GS1 barcodes important?

The short answer is, as we said above, standardized GS1 barcodes allow us to maintain order and avoid chaos. Work flows become quicker and more efficient. The GS1 barcodes keep supply chains running by enabling companies to sell, ship, track, reorder, and return products, in most cases by scanning with a handheld device or a camera-based system.

GS1 barcodes also expedite communication, traceability, visibility, and transparency. It’s really all about sharing information quickly in order to know the source of ingredients/components and products, where they’ve been and where they’re going, and when they reach their final destination.

These capabilities not only make supply chains more efficient — they also increase product safety and protect consumers. If there’s a recall, for example, a company can locate its products quickly, make sure shipments are stopped, remove items from stores, and share data with regulators and even consumers.

GS1 barcodes also save money. Administrative costs come down when everybody uses the same standards and has the same expectations. And because GS1 barcodes facilitate digital supply chains, they increase speed and reduce paperwork.

GSI Identification Keys

GS1 standards define a set of unique identification codes, known as identification keys. GS1 says its identification keys “refer unambiguously to a real-world entity,” such as a product, a logistics unit, a physical location, a document, a service relationship, or another entity.

In other words, the ID keys let you quickly and conveniently access information about items in your supply chain and share it with your partners. Only GS1 members can build ID keys, which must include a GS1 company prefix. There are 12 ID keys:

        1. Global Trade Item Number (GTIN): identifies products and services, such as food and clothing
        2. Global Location Number (GLN): identifies parties and locations, such as companies, warehouses, factories, and stores
        3. Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC): identifies logistics units, such as parcels and palletized products
        4. Global Returnable Asset Identifier (GRAI): identifies returnable assets
        5. Global Individual Asset Identifier (GIAI): identifies assets, such as equipment used in manufacturing and transportation
        6. Global Service Relation Number (GSRN): identifies relationships between service providers and recipients, such as hospital staff and members of brand “loyalty” or rewards programs
        7. Global Document Type Identifier (GDTI): identifies documents, such as shipping paperwork
        8. Global Identification Number for Consignment (GINC): identifies consignments, such as logistics units being transported in a container on a ship or airplane
        9. Global Shipment Identification Number (GSIN): identifies shipments
        10. Global Coupon Number (GCN): identifies coupons
        11. Component/Part Identifier (CPID): identifies components and parts
        12. Global Model Number (GMN): identifies a product’s model number

The GS1 standards also encompass data capture, including definitions of barcode and radio-frequency identification (RFID) data carriers, that allow ID keys and other data to be affixed directly to an object. Data standards also address the hardware to read and produce barcodes (e.g., scanners and printers), and hardware and software to connect the barcodes and RFID tags to business applications.

The different types of GS1 barcodes

All GS1 barcodes are “containers” that can hold different amounts information, such as serial numbers, batch numbers, GTINs, and expiration dates. As the image below from GS1 shows, there are four types, or “families,” of barcodes: EAN/UPC, two-dimensional (2D), DataBar, and one-dimensional (1D).

GS1 barcodes

EAN/UPC family. GS1 says, rightly, that these “are printed on virtually every consumer product in the world.” They are characterized by a series of vertical lines and a horizontal row of numbers, and come in four types: UPC-A, EAN-13, UPC-E, and EAN-8.

These GS1 barcodes are designed to be used at the point of sale and can be read by omnidirectional scanners. None support attributes — they cannot contain product information such as an expiration date, a batch number, or item weight. UPC-A has 12 numbers and supports GTIN-12; EAN-13 has 13 numbers and supports GTIN-13; UPC-E has 12 numbers (the zeros are “suppressed) and supports GTIN-12; and EAN-8 has 8 numbers and supports GTIN-8.

2D barcodes. Like EAN/UPC barcodes, 2D barcodes are ubiquitous. They are incredibly robust, able to hold dense product information and remain legible at greatly reduced sizes or when they’re etched into a surface, such as a plastic bottle cap. There are two kinds of 2D barcodes:

      1. GS1 DataMatrix codes are omnidirectional and support attributes and all GS1 ID keys. They can hold 3,116 numeric or 2,335 alphanumeric characters.
      2. GS1 QR codes are also omnidirectional and support attributes and all GS1 ID keys. They can hold 7,089 numbers or 4,296 alphanumeric characters.

DataBar family. There are seven members in the DataBar family. Generally, they’re divided into two groups: those designed for use at the point of sale (i.e., can be read by omnidirectional scanners) and those that are not.

The first group has four types: omnidirectional, stacked omnidirectional, expanded, and expanded stacked.

      • Omnidirectional and stacked omnidirectional have 14 numbers. They support GTINs and Global Coupon Numbers (GCNs) but do not support attributes.
      • Expanded and expanded stacked have a maximum capacity of 74 numeric and 41 alphabetic characters. They support GTINs and GCNs, but do support attributes.

There are three types of barcodes in the second group: truncated, limited, and stacked. These have 14 numbers and support GTINs, but do not support attributes. They are not designed for use at the point of sale, so they cannot be read by omnidirectional scanners.

1D barcodes. The two types of 1D barcodes — GS1-128 and ITF-14 — are used in retail distribution, healthcare, and logistics. GS1-128 barcodes can carry any GS1 ID key and up to 48 alphanumeric characters, including serial numbers, expiration dates, and other information that helps track products through a supply chain. More than one GS1-128 barcode can be used on a single item. ITF-14 barcodes can hold only GTINs; GS1 says it is suitable for printing on corrugated materials.

Final thoughts

This year was the 50th anniversary of the GTIN. As GS1 said, “It is no exaggeration to say that the development of the GTIN set the stage for global, digitalized commerce.” Indeed, labeling standards and barcode technologies have evolved and advanced since 1971 to the great benefit of businesses and consumers alike.

We have been talking about the advantages of end-to-end traceability in a digital supply chain for a long time. When your products, labeled with powerful identifiers such as 2D DataMatrix codes, move through a digital supply chain powered by our award-winning Traceability System, you can leverage rich, unit-level data for much more than compliance and operational efficiency: You can create genuine, tangible business value. For example:

That’s really just the beginning of what a digital supply chain can do. To learn more, contact us today to see a short demo of our solutions. Our supply chain experts will show you how our Traceability System transforms your supply into your most valuable strategic asset.

Brand Protection Strategies and Your Supply Chain

Welcome to Part II of our brand protection series. In Part I, we talked about the top supply chain threats that brand protection strategies must address: counterfeits, diversion, theft, and insufficient traceability.

Today, we’re talking about the supply chain solutions that combat these threats — solutions that should be integral to your brand protection strategies.

A holistic supply chain approach to brand protection strategies

Your supply chain is the embodiment of your business. If it’s not healthy, your brand can’t be healthy. You need to be able to continuously scan it, diagnose it, and take immediate action should a threat arise.

Fine-tuned digital supply chain solutions are the answer. Working together from end to end, they create a “central nervous system” that monitors and senses every touch point in real time while collecting and sharing data to inform your next move.

Serialization, real-time monitoring, and end-to-end traceability are the key solutions that help mitigate supply chain threats and provide the intelligence for effective brand protection strategies. Let’s take a look.

Serialization

Serialization is the building block of a secure supply chain and effective brand protection strategies. By assigning a unique serial number to each product, you create what rfxcel calls a “digital asset” with a unique digital identity. Every product can be linked to virtually any information you want, such as its origin, when it was harvested or manufactured, its lot number, and its expiration date.

Serialization also enables you to track every individual unit through your entire supply chain, from production to retail distribution to the final consumer and beyond. It creates a barrier to fight counterfeits and fakes and contributes to end-to-end traceability that eliminates blind spots and locks down your supply chain.

Serialization also fuels brand protection strategies because you can leverage each digital asset for consumer engagement to build confidence and trust. As we said in Part I of our consumer engagement series, your customers are absolutely a part of brand protection, and serialization empowers them in three important ways.

First, it’s the basis of an indelible, demonstrable, shareable product provenance that proves that your product is what you say it is and gives consumers the information they demand.

Second, as we discussed in Part II of our consumer engagement series, your serialized product is a device for one-on-one communication with your customers. For example, with a quick smartphone scan of a 2D Data Matrix code, a person can access rich data about your product and exclusive content through which they’ll establish and build a relationship with your brand.

Third, serialization lets you “crowdsource” brand protection through your consumer engagement activities. For example, if a person scans a product and the scan doesn’t work or they’re taken to a suspect website or other suspicious content, you can incentivize them to contact you and report that something is wrong. This is actionable, granular data that will protect your brand.

Real-time monitoring

A blind spot in your supply chain creates opportunities for trouble. Common blind spots include deviations from prescribed routes and harmful environmental conditions. The solution is real-time monitoring.

rfxcel’s Integrated Monitoring solution paints a vibrant, detailed picture of where your products are and what is happening to them. It provides better data, continuity, visibility, and security to protect your products and consumers. With detailed, unit-level data coming in around the clock, you’ll understand and immediately act upon specific risks.

It works like this: Pallets, cases, or unit-level items are equipped with Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled sensors that send data over communication networks at regular intervals. The sensors provide real-time information about how long an item has been in transit, if the transport vehicle is sticking to its approved route, if the shipment stopped and for how long, and environmental conditions such as temperature, light, humidity, and shock. If something is not as it’s supposed to be, the sensors transmit an alert so you can halt shipments that may have been adulterated and redirect shipments to keep products safe. You’ll protect your customers and safeguard your brand.

Check out our short videos about our Integrated Monitoring solution for the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries.

End-to-end traceability

End-to-end traceability in a digital supply chain means you can design end-to-end brand protection strategies.

With a suite of solutions acting in concert — like our Traceability System — you’ll create a full, traceable provenance for every product. You can add critical tracking events and key data elements at any point in your supply chain. For example, add a photo of a product as it leaves the factory or integrate a quality inspection to enrich the data associated with the product. Consumers can access this information and confirm that your product is what you say it is. This burnishes your reputation and builds trust with the people who buy your products or are thinking about buying your products.

rfxcel Traceability System

And there are numerous other benefits of end-to-end traceability. If you can see every part of your supply chain from one end to the other, you’ll be able to manage operations more efficiently, including dealing with recalls and other crisis situations. You’ll make it harder for counterfeits and fakes to reach consumers. You’ll consolidate data to improve processes, outcomes, and product quality. And you’ll be empowered to make better decisions based on that data.

Mobile traceability: an on-the-go solution for brand protection strategies

A discussion of brand protection strategies isn’t complete without mentioning mobile traceability. Why? Because if you don’t have access to your supply chain data 24/7, no matter where you are, you’re not shedding light on blind spots and not building a solid perimeter around your brand.

rfxcel’s MobileTraceability solution brings our industry-leading track and trace capabilities to virtually any location, including places that traditionally may not have had absolute visibility in your supply chain, such as remote fields, distribution centers, and warehouses. With unparalleled convenience and speed, it gives you everything you need to keep you supply chain running at optimal efficiency. To learn more, read about what our Mobile Traceability solution can do for the pharmaceutical and food and beverage supply chains.

Final thoughts

A supply chain problem is a brand protection problem. By giving all your products a unique digital identity through serialization, then following and controlling them in real time with integrated monitoring and traceability solutions, you can demonstrate to the world that your brand is strong and reliable. You can build a reputation for integrity and transparency with partners and consumers. You can use data to innovate your brand protection strategies, consumer engagement activities, and every part of your operations.

With rfxcel, you can fortify your brand with data from a digital supply chain. You can combat the threats we’ve discussed no matter where you are and no matter where you supply chain goes. Contact us today to see how our solutions can work for better, stronger brand protection strategies.

Brand Protection Strategy and the Top Supply Chain Threats

We just did two articles about why your supply chain is vital to an effective consumer engagement strategy. Now we want to jump into brand protection strategy and your supply chain.

First, let’s define our terms. Although consumer engagement is a usually a dedicated effort to boost brand recognition and loyalty, it must always be considered part of your brand protection strategy. As we’ll see, getting your customers involved in fighting counterfeits and identifying disreputable sellers and other bad actors is critical. Let’s continue breaking this down.

Why do you need a brand protection strategy?

Do you want to protect your business? Your employees, your bottom line, your reputation, your supply chain, your intellectual property?

Of course you do. Your brand protection strategy is your firewall. It’s how you shield your business from things that can harm it. And many — if not most — of the factors that can harm your brand are directly related to your supply chain. These include counterfeits (also called fakes), diversion, theft, and insufficient traceability.

Top supply chain threats

Let’s take a closer look at the top supply threats your brand protection strategy should address.

Counterfeits and fakes

The joke is that the best way to fight counterfeits is to make products nobody wants to buy.

We know that’s not how it works, though, which is why counterfeits and fakes are the No. 1 brand protection concern. In fact, counterfeits and pirated products accounted for up to 3.3 percent of world trade in 2016.

That statistic comes from a 2019 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) entitled “Trends in Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods.” The OECD also found that trade in counterfeit and pirated goods was rising steadily despite stagnation in overall trade volumes. Based on 2016 customs seizure data, the value of imported fake goods worldwide was $509 billion, up from $461 billion in 2013.

But there’s a lot more to be concerned about. Counterfeits are of inferior quality and often contain harmful, even deadly, materials/ingredients. The people who make them, including children, often work for long hours in sweatshop conditions. Some may have been trafficked or coerced. Furthermore, it has been established that counterfeits are inextricably linked to organized crime.

The pandemic provided many examples counterfeits making their way into the global supply chain — fake vaccines, fake COVID-19 testing kits, fake masks, fake nitrile gloves. But counterfeiting affects every industry, from food and footwear to cosmetics and computers.

Diversion and theft

When your goods are in transit along your supply chain, you want them to reach their final destination as quickly and safely as possible. This is why diversion is another key consideration for a brand protection strategy.

Diversion is actually a two-pronged problem. Let’s use pharmaceuticals to illustrate. Many drugs must be kept within a certain temperature range or maintained under certain lighting or humidity conditions. Even the slightest delay could spell disaster — ruined products, which means patients might not get medicines on time.

Diversion can also indicate theft. If a truck goes off its prescribed route, bad actors might be hijacking it and your product could end up on unauthorized e-commerce sites (rogue websites) and other grey markets or black markets. If the diversion has compromised the integrity of your product — a drug, for example — people’s lives may be jeopardized.

Insufficient traceability

As we’ve discussed before, supply chain traceability brings tangible value to just about every part of your business, including your brand protection strategy. If you’re not taking traceability seriously, you’re not just opening the door to assaults on your brand; you’re risking problems with regulators, alienating (and losing) customers, and weakening your supply chain.

A recall is among the most damaging events that can happen to a brand, so let’s use it as case study. If you can trace a recalled item, you can better collaborate with trading partners and authorities and help to get the product out of the supply chain and out of stores. With traceability, you’re protecting consumers from a health hazard and safeguarding your brand from bad publicity. And with a transparent approach to engaging with customers about your products, you create a strong brand image that conveys trust, credibility, and reliability.

Traceability also helps fight counterfeits, diversion, and theft. The ability to trace and authenticate every product in your supply chain in real time, 24/7, is foundational to an effective brand protection strategy. We’ll get into those details in Part II of our brand protection series.

Final thoughts

At the end of August, the Office of the United States Trade Representative published a request for comments “that identify online and physical markets to be considered for inclusion in the 2021 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy (Notorious Markets List).”

Counterfeits have also been making headlines in recent weeks:

In this environment, a comprehensive brand protection strategy driven by granular supply chain data is your best defense against bad actors. rfxcel understands this. We can help you leverage your supply chain to combat counterfeits and the other concerns we addressed today. Our brand protection solutions will fortify your brand with data from a digital supply chain. Contact us today to learn more — and read Part II of our brand protection series.

Mobilogix and rfxcel Announce Strategic Partnership in IoT Solutions

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 13, 2021 (PRNewswire). Mobilogix, the leading provider of cost-optimized state-of-the-art cellular IoT solutions, today announced a strategic partnership with rfxcel, part of Antares Vision Group and a leading serialization and traceability enterprise solution provider. Together, the companies will offer innovative supply chain and logistics IoT solutions that complement each other’s strengths to greater serve growing market demands, including asset tracking and traceability for full end-to-end supply chain visibility.

Mobilogix will support rfxcel with an array of its solutions, including the BAT-X IoT tracker and BTM250 Bluetooth beacon sensor. rfxcel’s track and trace software solutions meet the growing demand for smart, scalable asset-tracking optimized for logistics and supply chain use cases. “It is a critical time to serve the market’s growing needs,” said Charlie Williams, EVP Sales and Marketing at Mobilogix. “We are pleased to leverage our synergies to penetrate the market for both partners.”

“We are excited about partnering with Mobilogix to provide track and trace solutions that utilize the latest and best IoT technologies,” said rfxcel CEO Glenn Abood. “By combining Mobilogix’s innovative hardware with our best-in-class track and trace software, we offer better data and operational outcomes for any market and any industry.”

For more information about rfxcel and the Mobilogix partnership, contact rfxcel Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Initiatives Herb Wong at 925-791-3235 or hwong@rfxcel.com.

About Mobilogix

Mobilogix is the world’s leading provider in IoT asset optimization and management solutions. The company’s solutions are deployed by leading companies in Agriculture, Automotive, Construction, Industrial and Transportation to track, monitor, and optimize their assets with actionable real-time data. Mobilogix is headquartered in Irvine, California, and has global offices in BrazilIndiaHong Kong and China. For more information, please call +1.949.748.8895, e-mail info@mobilogix.com.

About rfxcel

Part of Antares Vision Group, rfxcel provides leading-edge software solutions to help companies build and manage their digital supply chain, lower costs, protect their products and brand reputations, and engage consumers. Blue-chip organizations in the life sciences (pharmaceuticals and medical devices), food and beverage, worldwide government, and consumer goods industries trust rfxcel’s Traceability System to power end-to-end supply chain solutions in track and trace, environmental monitoring, regulatory compliance, serialization, and visibility. Founded in 2003, the company is headquartered in the United States and has offices in the United Kingdom, the EU, Latin AmericaRussiaIndiaJapan, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region.

About Antares Vision Group

Antares Vision Group protects products, people, and brands with inspection systems featuring 6,500 quality controls, track and trace software solutions for end-to-end transparency and visibility in digital supply chains, and smart data management tools for maximum operational efficiency, from raw materials to final consumers. It provides solutions to five primary industries: pharmaceuticals and life sciences (medical devices and hospitals), food and beverage, cosmetics, and consumer packaged goods. Active in more than 60 countries, Antares Vision Group has seven production facilities and three Innovation and Research Centers in Italy, 22 foreign subsidiaries, and a global network of more than 40 partners. Today, 10 of the world’s 20 leading pharmaceutical companies use its solutions to secure their production and supply chain operations; worldwide, it has deployed more than 25,000 inspection systems and more than 3,500 serialization modules. Antares Vision Group has been listed on the Italian Stock Exchange’s AIM Italia market since April 2019 and in the STAR Segment of the Mercato Telematico Azionario (MTA) since May 2021.

3 Benefits of Supply Chain Traceability for Your Business

Imagine for a minute that you get the phone call all companies dread. It’s the “I am dissatisfied with my product” call, direct from a customer. You take the call, help the customer, and move on, right? You’re feel good about solving the problem — and are definitely not thinking about supply chain traceability.

A few days go by, then you’re flooded with more complaints, none of which seem to be related. You scramble to identify the root cause of all your problems, but you don’t know where to look. What should you do?

This is when you should be thinking about supply chain traceability. It is the key to having total insight into how your products get made, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. By employing supply chain traceability, you can:

  • Assure your brand and customers are protected
  • Maintain regulatory compliance
  • Pinpoint common problems, such as counterfeits and diversion

Let’s take a deeper look into each of these benefits.

1. Supply chain traceability for brand protection and customer satisfaction

Customers grade a brand on both the quality of its products and how it responds when an issue arises. Brands build loyalty with their customers by being transparent and demonstrating consistent product and service quality. Brands lose customers by failing to respond to complaints and recalls.

Response to complaints and recalls

Supply chain traceability is helpful when investigating a customer complaint. It is also essential when assessing a potential recall or managing an actual recall.

All the products you make and sell must have identification that traces back their source. Manufacturers and retailers can follow a problematic unit backward through its life cycle. Information collected through traceability includes:

  • Date and time of manufacturing
  • Equipment used for manufacturing and packaging
  • Personnel involved in manufacturing and packaging
  • Raw materials and components
  • Physical locations of inventory throughout its life

In a best-case scenario, the complaint is an isolated incident that’s easy to fix. But if the complaint means there’s been a breakdown somewhere or a product has been compromised, a recall may be triggered.

Recalls happen for any number of reasons. For example, you might discover a material that is out of specification. Once identified, it is necessary to trace all usage of that material. Another example is contamination, especially in the food supply chain.

A recall of any size can have a significant impact on your business. Having a supply chain traceability system will speed recalls, improve cooperation with regulators and other authorities, enable better information-sharing with your customers, and reduce damage to your brand reputation. Faster batch recalls are possible only when there is a robust supply chain traceability system.

Transparency about sourcing

A study conducted by the Consumer Goods Forum found that “70 percent of consumers are most interested in transparency about products.” Customers want to know where the materials used in their products came from and how they were sourced.

Some companies are publishing reports to make their supply chains and operations more transparent — and to make their brand more appealing to consumers. In addition to how they source materials, they’re sharing information about things such as:

  • Origins and purposes of raw ingredients
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Safe handling practices along the supply chain
  • The brand’s mission and values

This type of “transparency marketing” is effective in the food and consumer packaged goods industries, as it entices consumers to make a purchase because they’re getting the product information they demand.

A 2016 study by Label Insight indicated that 94 percent of consumers are not only likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency but are willing to pay more for products that meet such standards. This has powerful implications for brands; it shows that transparency made possible with supply chain traceability inspires product and brand loyalty.

2. Supply chain traceability is key to compliance

Being able to track material movement and consumption is critical for regulatory compliance.

The ISO 9000 Standards Series is the basis for most industries’ standards and provides expectations to help companies structure their quality management systems. Within these standards, traceability is defined as “The ability to trace the history, application, use and location of an item or its characteristics through recorded identification data.”

To meet this standard, it’s critical to be able to identify individual product units. Also, you must collect information about subcomponents. This information will allow for the tracing of parts of products throughout your supply chain.

Serialization makes supply chain track and trace easier

Serialization is the process of assigning unique identifiers to outbound and inbound materials. This makes the parts of products easier to track and trace throughout your processes. Utilizing software such as our Serialization Processing solution will save you time and effort in managing your supply chain.

Collecting supply chain data on your materials and finished products can also help to identify problems before they become an issue. This empowers you to be proactive and assess what works well (or what does not work well) throughout your entire supply chain process, which allows you to standardize your work processes and cut out waste.

Prove your product claims

Marketing claims must be substantiated, not only to consumers but also to regulatory agencies. Claims about sustainable sourcing, organic certifications, and other attributes can be demonstrated with supply chain traceability. Safe and compliant handling of products is also best demonstrated with traceability. Many retailers and manufacturers have routine audits to assure that they have processes to trace a product’s life cycle. In some industries, the results of these audits are available as public information.

Regulations evolve over time

Regulatory requirements for the documentation of traceability are constantly evolving. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the “Proposed Rule for Food Traceability,” which called for additional traceability records for certain foods. The FDA is encouraging the voluntary adoption of these new practices for all food products. These new requirements will affect all who manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods.

We’ve written extensively about the FDA’s push for traceability in modern food supply chain. For example, check out “Food Traceability Regulations in the United States: A Timeline.”

rfxcel is prepared to help you comply with all current and future requirements in any industry, including food and beverage, life sciences/pharmaceuticals, government, and consumer goods. We track industry regulations and guidance documents for upcoming and proposed legislation. We have software solutions that take the guesswork out of compliance no matter where you do business.

3. Combat counterfeits and diversion/theft by identifying supply chain weak spots

One of the worst things that can happen to any business is having their products counterfeited or stolen.

Counterfeits not only result in a direct loss of sales, but your customers might lose faith in your brand. If a person winds up with an inferior counterfeit product with your name and logo on it, there’s a good chance they will be dissatisfied with your brand and take their business somewhere else. And if your products are diverted or stolen, then you’re losing money and might have a much larger supply chain problem on your hands.

Supply chain traceability is like a forensic tool to help fight counterfeits and diversion — and host of other problems. Here’s how it works:

  • You know the origin of your ingredients. You can verify that all ingredients or components are legitimate. You can see the history of any ingredient, including its origin and when it was combined with other ingredients to make a finished product.
  • You can trace a product’s every move. Traceability means you can see everywhere a product has been before, during, and after it was harvested or manufactured. You can see every case or box, every pallet, every delivery vehicle, every stop along the supply chain (e.g., a warehouse, a retail store, a pharmacy or hospital). Even after a product has been unloaded from the delivery vehicle and taken out of cases or boxes, you see where individual units have been right up to the time the consumer takes possession (check-out at the cash register, dispensation at a clinic, etc.).
  • You can pinpoint where a product might have been harmed or compromised. Traceability data will show if a shipment strayed from its prescribed route, which could indicate theft or other mischief that could harm your bottom line and brand. Serialization, compliance, real-time monitoring, and other supply chain traceability solutions create a provenance that can demonstrate the legitimacy and purity of every product.

Final thoughts

We hope you have a better idea of how supply chain traceability can help your brand and business. Traceability is a crucial aspect of managing your business operations.

Are you ready to get started? Setting up your own supply chain traceability system might seem daunting, but rfxcel is here to help. We have easy-to-use, scalable solutions for all of your track and trace needs, no matter what industry you’re in.

Contact us today if you would like to see a short demo of how we can help you to build an effective traceability system. Together, we can protect your brand, ensure regulatory compliance, and fight counterfeits and theft.

Supply Chain Traceability Systems Make Your Business Better

One of the best ways to get more people to buy your products is to inspire consumer confidence. And one of the best ways to increase consumer confidence is to insist on airtight food safety protocols, which absolutely should include supply chain traceability systems.

Are there some areas where your food safety can improve? It’s always a good idea to periodically reflect on what you and your team are doing. This will allow you to improve on weak spots in your food supply chain. Supply chain traceability systems are a huge help.

Most important, the ability to trace everything in your supply chain ensures you are delivering safe food to your customers — and building consumer confidence. It also helps ensure compliance with regulations. So, if you don’t have traceability in your supply chain, you should consider implementing a system as soon as possible.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits supply chain traceability systems can bring to your business.

What are supply chain traceability systems?

Supply chain traceability systems are a powerful tool for any industry. They give you the ability to know where your ingredients and finished products have been and where they’re going as they move through your supply chain, through the “life cycle” of your business. They are particularly helpful with maintaining product safety and minimizing and proactively managing issues that could harm your business, such as a recall.

Advantages of supply chain traceability

There’s no doubt supply chain traceability systems will save your company time, money, and effort. But what specifically can they do for you? Let’s look further into the benefits of implementing a food safety program with supply chain traceability.

Effective recall management

Supply chain traceability is a key part of recall management. The food industry is one of the most vulnerable to recalls. A recent example is Tyson Chicken. On July 3, 2021, the food giant had to recall almost 9 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken in the United States. Thanks to supply chain traceability, however, Tyson could work quickly and effectively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pinpointing when the products were made and what labels were on the packaging, notifying consumers, and mitigating further troubles.

Needless to say, a recall of any size can hurt profitability and brand reputation. But supply chain traceability systems help manage damage. As we’ve discussed before, having the proper systems in place for effective recall management is paramount for protecting your business’ profitability and your brand reputation.

Regulatory compliance

Another advantage of implementing supply chain traceability systems is meeting regulatory requirements. The FDA keeps a watchful eye over food supply chain processes in the United States. And, with much of our food traveling far and wide before it reaches our plates, those processes require many moving parts. Being aware of where your food has been, where it is now, where it’s going, who is handling it, and how long it’s been in transit are all helpful metrics to keep your operation in compliance with the FDA and other regulatory agencies.

The FDA is pushing hard for more traceability standards, and consumers are more aware of where their food is coming from and demanding more information about what they eat. This is yet another reason why traceability is so important today.

Maximized efficiency

Being able to trace (and track) your products as they move through your supply chain also allows you to identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks. In other words, end-to-end traceability maximizes operational efficiency. It will enable you to see which processes are working well and which ones aren’t.

Supply chain traceability systems also help you cut costs. If you have rich data that quantifies that a particular process (or trading partner) is inefficient, you can take steps to improve it or remove it from your supply chain process.

Consumer engagement

Believe it or not, traceability will also help your sales. Customers love stories — and they’re demanding more information about the products they buy. Smart companies will use their supply chain traceability systems as part of their marketing, connecting with consumers by telling their story and sharing information about their products.

You see this all of the time in the food industry. In commercials, companies highlight how far their products have traveled and how much care goes into making, packaging, and shipping them. This kind of advertising paints a picture of the journey the products take to arrive in a customer’s home and emphasizes the qualities people want (e.g., salmon from Alaska or peaches from Georgia). Being able to “play up” the source and the journey will make your food products more appealing to shoppers.

Communicating with stakeholders

You always need to consider input from stakeholders. Supply chain traceability is an effective way to keep them happy. Making stakeholders aware of this information is known as supply chain transparency.

Supply chain transparency is an important part of your business. While food safety and quality are important, you also need to keep your trading partners in the loop. Any effective supply chain transparency plan has three main components.

The first component is the “what” of your supply chain traceability. What information are you going to share with your stakeholders? You’re also going to want to determine what format you’re going to use to display the information.

The next step is to decide the “who. Who needs to see this information? Several different groups might need it, such as internal stakeholders, vendors, suppliers, clients, and consumers. You’ll also want to consider why they need to have it.

Last, you’ll want to consider the “when. When are your people going to get this information? And how often?

You’ll also need to decide how often to update your information. Today, the trend is toward real-time updates. This is the ideal scenario, but it can be a challenge to attain. Supply chains involve a lot of moving parts and have many different nodes or tiers. Providing real-time updates in this complex framework requires efficient, streamlined operations utilizing supply chain traceability systems.

Supply chain mapping

Supply chain mapping — the process of mapping every tier of your supply chain with easy-to-follow imagery — is an effective way to keep all your stakeholders happy. A supply chain map doesn’t show every person involved in the process; instead, it shows all of the players within each tier of the supply chain.

One of the benefits of supply chain mapping is that it presents an opportunity for risk assessment. Seeing your supply chain clearly mapped out allows your management team to decide which areas need to be carefully monitored. You can also analyze your supply chain with a “bird’s-eye view” and decide if you need to make adjustments for greater efficiency.

Safer, healthier food

Today, grocery stores are full of food that’s touted as being locally sourced, sustainably caught, and so on. How can companies make and prove these claims? With end-to-end supply chain traceability data. Making these types of claims requires companies to make sure they are tracking the right metrics to support them. Companies also need to leverage the correct technology to support these initiatives.

Examples of how supply chain traceability systems work

How do companies achieve end-to-end supply chain traceability? Keeping track of your products and all the important metrics requires modern technology.

One of the ways companies are doing this is by putting QR codes and 2D Data Matrix codes on their packaging. These codes contain important information and can be scanned as products move through the supply chain. This allows vendors, suppliers, and people responsible for transport to “check the food in” at various points throughout the process and add important data, including critical tracking events (CTEs) and key data elements (KDEs).

Leveraging this technology is a critical aspect of today’s supply chain traceability systems. It helps companies keep track of where their products are at all times, throughout all nodes of the supply chain. For more information about it all works, download our new white paper, Traceability in the Food Supply Chain.

A quick word about blockchain

As technology moves forward, supply chain traceability systems also continue to evolve. One of the newest technologies with traceability applications is blockchain.

Most people probably associate blockchain with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. One of the reasons Bitcoin is so valuable is because it can be traced across the internet via the blockchain. Investors and computer programmers can map each Bitcoin to its proper place on a global digital ledger.

This and other characteristics give blockchain tremendous functionality in a wide array of industries. For food in particular, blockchain can help companies achieve a “locked down” supply chain, providing indisputable, verified data and a level of security not possible with other technologies.

What do you think tracking food products in the same manner as cryptocurrency would do for supply chain traceability systems? It’s still in the early stages, but blockchain could revolutionize traceability. It’s a complicated subject, so we encourage you to download our white paper, Blockchain-Based Supply Chain Traceability.

Final thoughts

Supply chain traceability systems are an essential part of any business. But they’re especially important in the food industry. The safety and quality of your product is the most important part of your business. Consumers’ health depends on it. Your brand reputation depends on it. Your bottom line depends on it.

rfxcel can help. We have the software solutions you need for your business — for supply chain traceability, regulatory compliance, serialization, monitoring, and even vaccine track and trace.

Contact us today if you have any questions about supply chain traceability systems or would like to see a short demo of how our solutions can help you build your business, no matter what your business is.

 

Traceability in the Food Supply Chain

Traceability has always been an important part of the food supply chain. It helps ensure food safety, speeds recalls and investigations, and makes the food supply chain faster and more efficient. In recent years, however, there has been a stronger push for traceability from regulators and consumers alike.

Regulators, notably the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have developed new traceability requirements for food products, including rules governing specific types of food (i.e., those that are more prone to contamination), guidance for stakeholders to collect more data at every node of the food supply chain, and modern, digital systems to optimize safety and efficiency and aid recall management.

Similarly, consumers are demanding more information about the foods they eat. They want a demonstrable provenance of what they’re taking home to their families, “on-demand data” that demonstrates that foods are exactly what companies say they are. And if they don’t get this, they’re only too happy to take their business somewhere else — and let other people know that Brand XYZ isn’t living up their expectations of quality and transparency.

Every stakeholder in the food supply chain, from manufacturers and processors to distributors and retailers, has to think about traceability. If they don’t, they’re risking problems with regulators, alienating consumers, damaging their brand reputations, and, ultimately, putting their business in jeopardy.

This rfxcel white paper covers the fundamentals of traceability in the food supply chain. It describes how critical tracking events (CTEs) and key data elements (KDEs) build “digital assets” that can be traced (and tracked) from farm to fork. It takes an in-depth look at the FDA’s initiatives to modernize the U.S. food supply chain using digital technology, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the “New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” the “Food Traceability List,” and the pending “Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods,” also known as the Proposed Rule. It also describes the many benefits of food traceability, which include better consumer engagement and brand protection.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Traceability Requirements for Imported Food

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia imports about 80 percent of its food, according to a June 2020 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To prevent food-borne illnesses and increase visibility in the food supply chain, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) strictly regulates imported food.

Let’s take a look at what food companies must do to comply with SFDA regulations when shipping their products to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s requirements for imported food

The Department of Agriculture report lists the following import procedures. First, companies must create an “E-account” with the SFDA and register their food products. They must have a Commercial Register, which includes imports and distribution of food
products. They must also submit an original invoice certified by a chamber of commerce in their home country. Last, depending on the product being imported, the may be asked to present some of following certificates:

  • Certificate of origin (copy)
  • Halal certificate (original). A Halal certificate is proof that the product meets Islamic Law requirements and is acceptable for consumption in Muslim-majority countries, as well as Western countries with a large Islamic population.
  • Certificate of slaughtering for meat and poultry (original)

Other requirements for imported food items

The GCC Standardization Organization (GSO) was established in 2001 and began operations in 2004. It is exactly what its name says: a standards organization for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. GSO requirements for Saudi Arabia’s imported foods are listed below. Many of these regulations also apply to domestic food items.

GCC Standards Organization (GSO) 9/2007

Since the end of 2010, Saudi Arabia has enforced the Gulf Standard 9/2007. Per this standard, all prepackaged and domestic foods must at minimum contain the following data points:

  • Product name
  • Packer’s name
  • Country of origin or manufacture
  • Listing of ingredients
  • Instructions for use (if applicable)
  • Shelf life

GSO 2233/2018 requirements for nutritional labeling

In 2013, the SFDA began enforcing GSO 2233/2012, a regulation from the GSO that requires labels to clearly disclose a product’s nutritional information (e.g., calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) that may affect its nutritional value and consumers’ health or safety. The labels must list the ingredients, and nutritional information must be presented in a standardized, easy-to-read table so customers can readily understand what they’re purchasing. The labeling is also designed to increase people’s nutritional education to improve overall health. Some products are exempt from labeling, including bottled water, fresh fruits and vegetables, one-nutrient foods such as rice and coffee, and foods for special dietary uses, including infant formula.

Final thoughts

Keeping up with food traceability and regulations in Saudi Arabia — or any market — is a challenge. But rfxcel can help. Our solutions for food and beverage cover everything from farm to fork, from compliance to environmental monitoringContact us to book a demo of our award-winning rfxcel Traceability System and see how this  customizable, scalable platform will simplify and accelerate all of your supply chain operations.

Food Traceability Data: Not Just for Compliance Anymore

As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to evolve its traceability and modernization initiatives across the U.S. food supply chain, the need for more accurate food traceability data is more important than ever.

Foundationally, the FDA’s initiatives require companies to have digital traceability systems in place that facilitate greater food safety. But food traceability data means more than ensuring you’re complying with regulations: It offers significant business value. Let’s take a look.

FDA’s food traceability initiatives: a refresher

In 2011, Congress enacted the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested, and processed in the United States. The law transforms the nation’s food safety system from an after-the-fact response to foodborne illness to a proactive posture aimed at prevention.

To address the rapid and effective tracking and tracing outlined in FSMA, the FDA in April 2019 launched the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, a tech-enabled approach to food traceability to ensure food safety, and the New Era of Smarter Safety Blueprint (July 2020), which outlined the Agency’s vision for how to get there and included the Food Traceability Proposed Rule, which defines specific traceability recordkeeping requirements for foods on its Food Traceability List.

Food traceability data delivers benefits beyond mere compliance

Although food traceability data serves as the cornerstone of effective recall management and outbreak prevention as required by the FDA, it means much more than compliance. Here are three ways food traceability data can drive business value to support sustainable growth.

Create operational efficiencies

Food traceability data yields complete, real-time visibility into operations across every node in the supply chain. This empowers food companies to take immediate action, solve problems, coordinate with partners and regulators, and keep things moving.

For example, by tracking a product’s ingredients from harvest through production through the last mile to delivery, you can quickly trace raw materials backward and forward, pinpoint supply chain weaknesses or trouble spots, and strengthen your recall program and minimize the impact of recalls. And with a traceability system that allows you to monitor products anywhere in transit, you can collect data on environmental conditions, track the location of all your deliveries, and set precise parameters for alerts.

This food traceability data allows you to proactively protect your shipments, safeguard their environmental integrity, track their position on land, sea, and air, and intervene immediately should something seem awry, such as a spike in temperature or a route diversion. Add critical tracking events (CTEs) and other information (e.g., quality inspections) to the process and you’ve got an indelible product provenance from farm to table.

Build consumer engagement and trust

These days, consumers are more attuned than ever to family health and finances. They want to know more about what they’re eating, such as ingredients, how food is raised or grown, and the safety and environmental practices used to produce it. They want to feel good about what they eat and where they are spending their money. By supplying information that meets this demand, you build trust and loyalty and build a community of customers who will advocate for your products.

The simple truth is that food traceability data creates tremendous opportunities to communicate with consumers and nurture more committed relationships. You can back your claims and prove your product is what you say it is.

Protect your brand

This dovetails with consumer engagement and trust. With modernized, secure, and compliant food traceability protocols, you can better collaborate with partners and authorities if there’s a recall. In this scenario, you’re not only protecting consumers from a health hazard — you’re safeguarding your brand from bad publicity. And with a transparent approach to engaging with customers about the foods they consume, you create a strong brand image that conveys trust, credibility, and reliability. You can even use your food traceability data as a core differentiator in your value proposition messaging.

Final thoughts

Food traceability data has always been important, but the FDA has clearly put it center stage with FSMA, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, the Food Traceability Proposed Rule, and the Food Traceability List.

Do not expect this to change.

rfxcel believes industry leaders will see traceability as an investment in their businesses and brands, not a compliance mandate from the government. If fact, savvy companies will know the FDA’s initiatives are an opportunity to be involved in shaping the future of the U.S. food supply chain. Keep an eye out this summer for more from rfxcel about how you can tap into the FDA’s initiatives to help lead the transformation of the U.S. food supply chain. As we said above, this is a moment of opportunity for the food industry. Don’t miss the boat.

In the meantime, take a look at our solutions for food and beverage:

Contact us today for more information and to schedule a short demo of our food traceability solutions. Get started now and take advantage of all the opportunities food traceability data can create for you.