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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 check back soon for Part II of our brand protection series.

Top Reasons Your Supply Chain Is the Key to an Effective Consumer Engagement Strategy

Welcome to Part II of our series about effective consumer engagement. In Part I, we talked about the benefits of consumer engagement. Today, we’re focusing on your supply chain — and how you can use it for a next-level consumer engagement strategy. Let’s jump right in.

It’s all about data from your supply chain

Your supply chain is a gold mine of information that you can leverage for a robust consumer engagement strategy. The basic building block is serialization, which turns each one of your products into what we call “digital assets.” Each digital asset has a unique digital identity that can be monitored from production all the way to the person who buys it.

With rich, traceable data about every item in your supply chain at your fingertips, you can establish and maintain connections with consumers before, during, and after the sale. (You can also do much, much more, but that’s beyond the scope of what we’re talking about today.)

Four ways supply chain data can supercharge your consumer engagement strategy

1. You’ll share the product information that consumers demand. Consumers demand information. Every product — every digital asset — in your supply chain can be “loaded” with data that consumers can access at the store, at home, at a restaurant, at a sporting event. Anywhere. For example, a quick scan of a 2D Data Matrix code or QR code with a smart phone will reveal every detail you want to share about your product: where and when it was grown or made, its ingredients, the route it took to get to the consumer. This demonstrable provenance using supply chain data builds consumer trust and confidence; it is foundational to consumer engagement.

2. You’ll create compelling customer experiences. Consumers also want experiences. With data from your supply chain and other brand resources (e.g., an app) you can curate experiences such as contests, loyalty programs, games, and unique online content. You can encourage storytelling about your brand. If you’re a winemaker, connect people to a virtual tour of your vineyard. If you sell organic foods, share video recipes online or invite people to see your sustainable operations. If you make cosmetics, link to virtual try-ons. Importantly, you can hyper-personalize and hyper-target every engagement, and even “broadcast” specific information to specific locations or events.

3. You’ll communicate directly with consumers. Your serialized product is a device for one-on-one communication with the person who bought it. When a customer accesses the information from your digital asset, you can connect them to your website, social media, an app, a survey, or other forums where they can start a conversation with your brand. They can ask questions and provide feedback — and you can give answers and reactions. Relationship-building is another cornerstone of an effective consumer engagement strategy, and the products people are literally holding in their hands are the first step of the conversation.

4. You’ll gain valuable insight into your customers. An effective consumer engagement strategy creates a world for your customers. And as they navigate and participate in that world, they share information. Where are they buying your products? What do they like? What don’t they like? What inspires them? What engagement activities resonated the most? This business intelligence can inform every part of your business, from how your supply chain works to creating better consumer engagement strategies.

Final thoughts

The purchase used to be the last part of your supply chain; now it’s the beginning of a new realm of possibilities. Every digital asset is an opportunity to connect your customers to your brand and put your products front and center in their lives.

rfxcel’s Traceability System is an end-to-end supply chain solution that creates the digital assets. It gives you in-depth, real-time insights all the way from production to your final customers. The data you connect to your products will fuel compelling consumer engagement activities that can reach people everywhere you do business.

And now, as part of Antares Vision Group, we can offer even more ways to engage with consumers. Contact us today to find out more.

 

BONUS CONTENT!

Last year, we did a piece called “Supply-Chain Traceability Is Building a New Kind of Consumer Kingdom.” Here’s an excerpt that ties into what we’ve said about an effective consumer engagement strategy:

In fact, consumers are not only thinking deeply about where the things they buy come from and what goes into making them, they are actually becoming a pivotal part of the supply chain itself. What’s more, they’re participating willingly and with gusto, demanding detailed information about the goods they purchase and even expecting to interact with products far beyond the point of sale. Just how far will they go to get what they want? More than 70% of customers say they’re willing to share their data in exchange for a more personalized experience, according to one recent survey.

Read the full article here.

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.

 

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.

Food Traceability Regulations in the United States: A Timeline

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is orchestrating the construction of a more robust, technology-driven approach to food traceability and safety. And it’s happening as the food industry is undergoing major change, including scores of new foods being introduced to the market, rising consumer demand for more information about the food they buy, the development of more sophisticated production and delivery methods, and a growing push for digitization of the supply chain.

As regulations in the United States continue to evolve, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers need to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest developments. Today, we’ll help with a quick rundown of what’s happened with food traceability over the last year.

Food traceability regulations in the United States: 2020-present

On September 23, 2020, the FDA published “Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods” on its Food Traceability List. Referred to as the “Food Traceability Proposed Rule,” it’s part of the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint and aims to standardize the data elements and information required to rapidly and accurately identify foods that may be causing illness. It defines additional recordkeeping requirements for businesses that manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods on the FDA’s Food Traceability List, which must establish and maintain records containing key data elements (KDEs) associated with specific critical tracking events (CTEs).

In January 2021, the FDA made clarifying modifications to the Food Traceability List and published a detailed FAQ that answered commonly asked questions that emerged following the announcement of the Proposed Rule. In February 2021, the comments period for the modifications closed. The FDA has until November 2022 to finalize it.

More about the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint

These initiatives are part of the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety. Announced in April 2019, it envisions a modern approach to ensuring food safety through digital, tech-enabled traceability.

The New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, announced in July 2020, outlines the FDA’s methodology for achieving its traceability and safety goals. It’s based on the following four pillars, which leverage a range of technologies, analytics, business models, modernization, and values as its building blocks:

1. Tech-enabled food traceability

A supply chain that includes paper-based recordkeeping and yields insufficient data makes it difficult to track and trace foods rapidly. Fast, accurate food traceability is essential to safeguarding consumers’ health — and your brand reputation and bottom line.

For example, modernized food traceability that leverages the latest technologies and integrates expanding data streams empowers supply chain stakeholders to identify an outbreak and trace a contaminated food product’s origin within minutes — or even seconds — and be proactive about getting the product off of shelves.

2. Smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response

In addition to better food traceability, the FDA wants to ensure the root cause of an outbreak or contamination can be easily identified to support a prevention-based approach. To do this, stakeholders need to incorporate new knowledge while continuously assessing how they can make processes and communications more effective and efficient. As more data becomes available, the use of predictive analytics tools becomes increasingly important to predict when a significant food event may occur. With this information, manufacturers can prevent a contaminated food products from entering the supply chain or target efforts to remove a potentially contaminated product from the market.

3. New business models and retail modernization

As the industry continues to find new ways to produce and distribute food, the FDA is seeking to explore new approaches in ensuring food traceability and safety. This includes:

  • Educating supply chain actors on the importance of food safety issues
  • Adapting FDA oversight to ensure the safety of novel ingredients, new foods, and new food production methods
  • Advancing the safety of foods sold in traditional retail establishments
4. Food safety culture

The FDA wants to encourage an environment of support for a stronger food safety culture on farms, in food facilities, and in homes. If the food industry does not commit to embracing food traceability and safety, real improvements will be difficult to achieve.

Final thoughts

We can be certain of two things when it comes to food traceability regulations in the United States: they’re going to keep evolving and they’re not going away. The good news is advancements in technology are making it profoundly easier — and even more affordable — to ensure food traceability across the entire supply chain. Yes, the FDA’s proposed requirements technically apply only to items on the Food Traceability List, but the Agency is encouraging voluntary adoption of these practices industry-wide. Savvy food companies will see this as an opportunity to get involved early and be part of the process, helping to set the industry’s regulatory course while going a long way to secure their own business.

rfxcel can help you comply with U.S. food traceability regulations today, tomorrow — always. From raw ingredients to finished goods, our rfxcel Traceability System (rTS) offers end-to-end food supply chain traceability and visibility. Our rfxcel Integrated Monitoring (rIM) is a real-time traceability and supply chain visibility solution that helps you remotely monitor products in transit And our MobileTraceability app brings the power of rTS to every node of your operations, including places that have traditionally been “blind spots.” Contact us today to arrange a demo.

Food Traceability Gets Precise: The State of the Art

In recent years, the food industry has been under increasing pressure to trace products from farm to table. When COVID came onto the scene, the need for food traceability only intensified, as consumers wanted assurance from retailers and their supply chain partners that they could rely on the safety of their food.

Food traceability, however, is only as good as the degree to which it is executed up and down the supply chain. In order to improve supply chain management, facilitate feedback for food quality and safety, and differentiate your food product from your competitors’, you need to get precise in your traceability efforts.

Precision food traceability

Precision food traceability refers to the in-depth tracing of supply chain data and critical tracking events (CTEs) backward (to the source of the product) and forward (everywhere a food product has been used) to facilitate the quick and effective review of every action taken related to a product at each stage. With the ability to pinpoint a particular food product’s movement and characteristics, precision traceability not only offers detailed information about a product’s freshness, nutritional values, and logistics, it also supports proactive, informed decision-making should a food safety event occur.

Serialization is an essential tool in a precision food traceability system. The process of creating a unique code for each product, serialization delivers granular data about the food product to provide significantly more end-to-end visibility. With the ability to track the product at every stage, item-level traceability makes it easy to capture key data elements (KDEs), which could be used to trigger an investigation and reduce traceback time in the event of a food safety issue.

For example, let’s say you want to track a harvest operator’s location beyond the primary farmer and farm. Serialization gives you access to data down to the person who picked a vegetable, and from which row, ranch, or plot. For meat products, you can quickly trace back to not just the exact animal, but also to its pen location, feed, and even medicines.

With the ability to track outcomes (e.g., quality inspections and safety test results) and associate them to the product beyond the original facility, you can look back at any event in a product’s lifecycle even after it’s been shipped from the original facility. Precision food traceability makes it possible to track customer feedback and connect it to supply chain data points to deliver a complete picture of the product’s safety and performance. You can also evaluate how you’re doing on a sustainability front by tracking post-consumer activity, such as recycling and waste.

Specific uses for precision food traceability

On its journey from farm to table, a food product may be exposed to disease-causing organisms and food safety hazards. As the volume of international trade expands, so does the potential for transmission of pathogens or chemical contamination.

We all know problems can arise anywhere in the supply chain. Containing ingredients — perhaps from all over the world — and processed in different facilities and handled by wholesalers, retailers, and transportation companies, a food item is handled by many actors before ending up on the consumer’s plate. A precision food traceability system is paramount to ensuring food safety and minimizing the impact should an event arise.

Precision food traceability makes it easy to investigate food safety issues, identify the source of contamination, assess the scope of impact, and resolve the problem quickly. With the ability to trace back to the health of the animal, feed production, rearing, transportation, and more, you can quickly identify the source of infection or prohibited additives and take preventive and control measures to avoid the introduction of the contaminant.

Beyond safety, precision traceability also supports profitability. With detailed food traceability data, you can intelligently evaluate your operations, optimize efficiencies, analyze yield, and even apply consumer feedback to measure return on production investment. Precision traceability can also reduce food waste by tracking and recording data through every stage of the supply chain.

Final thoughts

Maintaining food safety is critical to your overall success and, more important, consumer health. The better and more precise your tracing system, the better equipped you will be to isolate the source of an issue and address quality control problems, quickly and efficiently. By minimizing the production and distribution of substandard and perhaps even illegal products, you reduce the risk of recalls, negative publicity, and liability, and have a “firewall” to protect your brand in the process.

Keeping tabs on every event related to your food supply can seem daunting but rfxcel can help. Offering the most complete and flexible raw materials and finished goods traceability solution in the food and beverage industry, we can help optimize your supply chain operations, meet compliance requirements, track products, and increase business value.

Food Traceability: What’s the Latest for 2021?

As we all know, the pandemic has revealed shortcomings in the supply chains of virtually every industry. And though the vaccine supply chain has dominated headlines over the last several months, food traceability has been top of mind for companies and governments alike since the earliest days of COVID-19.

Let’s take a look at the state of food traceability — what it is, how it works, and its future as we kick off 2021.

What is food traceability?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines food traceability as “the ability to follow the movement of a food product and its ingredients through all steps in the supply chain, both backward and forward.”

That’s a spot-on definition, but we’d like to add a few things. First, food traceability in 2021 means you can follow your products in real time. Yes, you can see where they’ve been and know where they’re going, but you can also see where they are right now. And with powerful tools like our rfxcel Integrated Monitoring (rIM) solution and Mobile Traceability app, you’ll have access to real-time information about environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, humidity, light, tilt, and shock) and location.

With this rich, actionable data, your food traceability capabilities expand exponentially. Not only can you take immediate action if there’s an environmental concern — a temperature excursion, for example — but you can course-correct if your vehicle is approaching a traffic jam or encountering other obstacles or delays. You can also tap data to combat theft and make recalls more efficient. (We wrote about modernizing food recall management late last year; check it out here.)

The other thing we’d like to add to the FDA’s definition is that, today, food traceability should be occurring in a digital supply chain. If you’re still pushing paper in 2021, it’s time for you to contact us and start thinking about upgrading to a digital supply chain powered by the rfxcel Traceability System (rTS). Our award-winning platform will transform your supply chain and how you use it. From ingredients to finished goods, rTS will bring state-of-the art food traceability to your operations.

Furthermore, rTS turns every one of your products into a “digital asset” that you can use to nurture and protect your brand and engage consumers. Complete food traceability, starting at the harvest and ending in your customers’ homes, builds an ironclad product provenance and a compelling story you can promote and share. Today’s consumers, especially with the health and safety of their families foremost in their minds, are demanding more from brands — more information, more transparency, more quality, more interaction. As we wrote last fall, food traceability is creating a new kind of “consumer kingdom,” and it’s a digital supply chain that’s making it possible.

Food traceability: An FDA priority

In “Modernizing Food Recall Management,” we talked about the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety. Announced in April 2019, it’s “a new approach to food safety, leveraging technology and other tools to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system.”

Then, in July 2020 the Administration released the “New Era of Smarter Safety Blueprint,” which included a Food Traceability Proposed Rule designed to “help the FDA rapidly and effectively identify recipients of foods on its Food Traceability List to prevent or mitigate foodborne illness outbreaks and address credible threats of serious adverse health consequences or death.”

Next, to ring in 2021, the Administration on January 12 “made clarifying edits” to the Food Traceability List and published a FAQ for the Food Traceability Proposed Rule.

The Food Traceability List contains the foods that have additional traceability recordkeeping requirements per the Proposed Rule. The January 12 edits did not add or remove items from the list; instead, the FDA changed the descriptions of some commodities. For example, “fresh” was added to several fruits and vegetables “to clarify the scope of those commodities.” Revisions also clarified what cheeses fell under the category of “cheeses, other than hard cheeses.” See the FDA’s four-page memo for all the changes.

The FAQ for the Food Traceability Proposed Rule addresses questions the Administration has received about the Proposed Rule. Its primary goal is “to assist stakeholders who are considering providing feedback during the comment period, which has been extended until February 22, 2021.” If you want to submit a comment or review the comments that have been submitted, go to regulations.gov (Docket ID: FDA-2014-N-0053).

Final thoughts

Companies and governments around the world have been compelled to re-examine the security, efficiency, and resilience of their supply chains. Food traceability is vital to public health and safety, so it should rightfully remain a top priority.

rfxcel was founded on the principle of helping consumers know where products come from and being able to confirm that they’re safe and legitimate. With rfxcel’s Traceability System, Integrated Monitoring, Mobile Traceability app, and other solutions for food traceability, you’ll increase food quality and safety, modernize and improve recall management, optimize inventory tracking, and improve every aspect of customer service and interaction.

In other words, food traceability in a digital supply chain from rfxcel will ensure you’re doing everything possible to safeguard your customers, your brand, and your bottom line. No matter where you do business — the United States, Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East — we can help make sure you’re ready for whatever 2021 (and beyond) has in store. Contact us today to arrange a demo.