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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.

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: 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.

rfxcel Responds to Unprecedented Cold Chain Requirements and Logistics Challenges as COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Nears

Reno, Nevada, Dec. 2, 2020. rfxcel, the global leader in digital supply chain traceability solutions, continues to address cold chain and logistical challenges it anticipates will arise from the first widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The company has been preparing for a “vaccine surge” since the pandemic began to ensure it can respond to customer and industry needs when distribution begins to exert pressure on supply chains.

“The pandemic has revealed shortcomings in every supply chain, and we’ve seen increased competition for resources,” said rfxcel CEO and Co-Founder Glenn Abood. “We’ve worked with our global customers in pharma/life sciences, food and beverage, consumer goods, and government to keep their operations responsive and nimble. Now, we’re prepared to address additional stresses distribution of COVID-19 vaccines could create as the call for ‘all hands on deck’ commences and already scarce resources are redirected for the effort.”

rfxcel has provided traceability solutions since 2003. Its rfxcel Traceability System comprises discrete solutions that work in concert to harmonize, optimize, automate, and monitor supply chain operations, including serialization, compliance, environmental monitoring, raw materials traceability, and data analytics.

The company’s Integrated Monitoring (rIM) solution uses Internet of Things (IoT) technology to monitor the environmental condition of products in real time as they move through supply chains on land, sea, and air. rIM communicates with small IoT-enabled devices embedded with products and sends updates and alerts about more than a dozen environmental conditions, such as temperature, location, humidity, light, and shock. It can alert users about route diversions and ensure logistics providers remain in compliance with delivery agreements.

rfxcel has also developed Accurate Immunization Management (AIM), an automated, cloud-based solution that tracks the dispensing of vaccines. It seamlessly integrates with critical healthcare applications such as Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and Immunization Information Systems (IIS). It empowers healthcare practitioners to view patients’ immunization records in real time, manage accurate administering, monitor inventory, and safely dispense the right vaccines to the right patient at the right time. Because it is automated, users can be up and running with virtually no training, ensuring quick implementation in mission-critical locations.

“We want to provide foolproof traceability,” Abood said. “Today, it’s more important than ever to be able to question, examine, and control every part of the supply chain, which is what our rfxcel Traceability System platform provides with solutions such as rIM and AIM.”

For more information about rfxcel’s Traceability System, rIM, AIM, and other solutions, contact Herb Wong, vice president of marketing and strategic initiatives, at hwong@rfxcel.com or 925-824-0300.

About rfxcel

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

Why We Need Wine Industry Track and Trace, Part 1

It was tempting to write about wine industry track and trace as a film noir (or a film pinot noir, as it were). There would be clandestine grape-stomping, midnight rendezvous in terraced vineyards, rogue chemists, cases stuffed with euros and dollars, sting operations and FBI raids, people taken away in handcuffs. In the closing scene, the one-time victim would celebrate triumph over those who did them wrong.

This much drama for wine industry track and trace? Yes, though it’s about much more than the serious work of fighting counterfeits and illicit trade. It’s about using technology to build provenance, streamline operations, and satisfy customers.

Part 1 of our two-part story covers the basics of wine industry track and trace. Part 2 will get into specifics. Let’s start our investigation.

Seriously, why do we need wine industry track and trace?

Not all supply chains are created equal. For example, if you read our Seafood Transparency Trilogy, you know a large, geographically diverse, and fragmented supply chain poses many challenges.

Plus, some products are more complex than others, which means they have more complex supply chains. From raw materials/ingredients to what consumers expect (or demand), supply chains vary wildly depending on what’s being made, where it’s being delivered, and even “the culture” of the product.

As you might have guessed, wine has a complicated supply chain. GS1, in its 2009 Wine Supply Chain Traceability Guideline, said, “The wine supply chain has always been complex and fragmented and with more distant suppliers and ever-more demanding customers, the unique characteristics of this supply chain bring challenges to implementing an effective traceability system.”

If you wanted to get technical, you could argue that there are actually two wine supply chains.

First, there’s a supply chain for “table wine” or “mass market wine.” Depending on where you live, you’ll find these in your local grocery store, in a wine/spirits shop, or in a state-owned store (an “ABC Store,” “package store,” or “state store”). This supply chain has many actors and the product changes hands many times. The product itself changes dramatically as it moves from raw materials to a finished good. Stakeholders typically have access to technology, including track and trace technology.

The second supply chain is for “fine wines,” which are produced in much smaller quantities than table wines. Though these vintages are sold in “regular” wine shops, they’re often reserved for boutique settings frequented by aficionados with deep pockets (or at least bigger budgets they’ve set aside for their passion). The steps of production and distribution may be very localized, resulting in a supply chain with far fewer actors than for mass-produced wine. For example, a winery in Burgundy, France, might do everything from growing the grapes and bottling to distributing pallets, cartons, or cases to local retailers. Because of their size, they may not have access to the latest track and trace technology.

So, why do we need wine industry track and trace? Here are the key reasons:

  • It’s a complex, fragmented supply chain.
  • There are diverse ingredients and raw materials, ranging from fertilizers and water to bottles, corks, and caps — and, of course, grapes.
  • Wine is heavily regulated.
  • Consumers of all stripes want the full provenance for what they’re drinking.

Wine industry track and trace will improve operations for all, ensure compliance with regulations, and satisfy consumer demand for detailed information and transparency.

Two other reasons for wine industry track and trace

Like other industries, wine has business and professional organizations for its supply chain stakeholders. There are trade publications and trade shows. It does big promotions. It has all the trappings of a large, important industry.

Unlike other industries, however, wine has a following. It is more than a product. Wine is a global culture unto itself. And this means there are aspects to its history and very existence that have ramifications for the supply chain.

For starters, there’s a thriving counterfeit market and illicit trade. Granted, this isn’t unique to wine, but the intricacies of the production process and the many facets of supply and demand make it an especially daunting problem. These stories from 2020 give an idea of its scope:

Furthermore, there’s a thriving, passionate collectors’ scene around the world. There’s a huge private trade, in-person and online clubs, mega-exclusive events and dinners, and auctions with nosebleed prices. And there’s lots of money changing hands. A desirable bottle of wine can cost as much as a car. Or a house. The 2019 auction market alone was valued at more than $520 million.

As a cautionary tale that combines the scourge of counterfeiting with the rarefied air of the highest echelons of the wine elite, there’s the fascinating case of Rudy Kurniawan. If you don’t know the story, start here. You might want to grab a glass of wine — just make sure you know where it really came from.

So, counterfeiting and illicit trade are major problems, including in collectors’ circles, where today’s wines are tomorrow’s pricey classics. Provenance, therefore, is vitally important across the supply chain, which is another compelling reason for wine industry track and trace.

Final thoughts

In our faux noir introduction, we said the victim triumphed in the end. What we meant was that wine industry track and trace protects everyone in the supply chain, from winemakers and their trading partners to everyday consumers and auction houses.

Producers can prove the provenance of their ingredients and final products. They can create a story about their wines, connect with consumers, and build and safeguard their brand reputation. Distributors and retailers can maintain the chain of ownership and help ensure only genuine products make it to market, all while streamlining and automating logistics. Consumers can know more about the wines they buy, such as where the grapes were grown, when they were harvested, and if they were treated with pesticides. For fine wines that may become collectors’ items, provenance can be “passed down” as a bottle or case or entire cellar ages, providing much-needed proof that a wine is what it’s label says it is.

As the leader in track and trace technology, rfxcel can help. Our award-winning rfxcel Traceability System is perfectly suited for wine industry track and trace. For example, our Raw Materials Traceability and Finished Goods Traceability solutions create the entire product provenance with detailed data about every aspect of production. Our Integrated Monitoring solution rides along with products as they move through the supply chain, protecting them from environmental excursions, diversion, and theft. With our MobileTraceability app, you can see and control your supply chain from virtually anywhere in the world.

Talk with one of our supply chain experts today to learn more about what we can do. And check back soon for Part 2 of our wine industry track and trace series.

How a Digital Consumer Goods Supply Chain Builds Brand Reputation & Trust

Everybody knows people don’t shop like they used to. Today, consumers demand detailed information about the goods they purchase and expect to interact with products far beyond the point of sale. To make this happen, companies have to build a sharable product provenance and create a product experience. And they can do this with a digital consumer goods supply chain. Let’s see how.

What is a digital consumer goods supply chain?

First, let’s establish that when we talk about a digital consumer goods supply chain, we’re really talking about a digital supply chain for consumer goods.

What do we mean by this? Well, though a digital supply chain can most definitely be designed to serve the specific and unique needs of any industry — consumer goods, for example — in and of itself, it doesn’t discern or care about what industry it’s working for. It’s an important distinction, because any industry can (and should) have digital supply chain.

So, a digital consumer goods supply chain is exactly that: a digital supply chain for consumer goods. It has all the wonderful, powerful, customizable, data-centric capabilities of a digital supply chain “pointed at” the specific and unique needs of a consumer goods company. That can mean an apparel company, a company that makes fast-moving consumer goods, or a laundry detergent concern.

To break it down with industry lingo, a digital consumer goods supply chain will optimize operations for the four types of consumer goods: convenience products, shopping products, specialty products, and unsought products.

Using a digital supply chain to secure brand reputation and trust

Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Franklin (probably) wasn’t thinking about the ability of a digital consumer goods supply chain to deliver end-to-end visibility and transparency, or its unique ability to engage people almost everywhere they go, before and after a sale. But if we could explain to Ben what all this means, he would (definitely) agree that a digital consumer goods supply chain was the key to securing brand reputation and trust.

Here’s how.

End-to-end visibility

End-to-end visibility in a digital consumer goods supply chain creates 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.

And let’s not forget the other benefits of end-to-end visibility. (In fact, all the things we’re talking about have additional benefits for consumer goods companies.) If you can see every part of your digital consumer goods 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.

End-to-end transparency

Transparency is a kind of “full disclosure” about what happens in your supply chain. For example, were the ingredients sourced in sustainable manner? Are all actors in your supply chain adhering to regulations and other pertinent laws?

And consumers want transparency. According to one recent study, a staggering 81 percent of food shoppers say transparency is important or extremely important to them — and if they don’t get it, they’re more than happy to buy another brand.

In a digital consumer goods supply chain, consumers can verify that you employ sustainable practices to make and deliver your products. They can get information that shows exactly where and how their shoes or clothing were manufactured. And if they can see that you’re doing everything “right,” your reputation will grow and they’ll trust you more (and maybe even tell their friends about you.)

Engage people almost everywhere they go

The customer is always right — but today that means more than merely ensuring they’re happy with your goods and services. Now it means you’re nurturing a committed relationship. Therefore, when we talk about engagement in a digital consumer goods supply chain, we’re talking about bringing the supply chain directly to consumers. Sharing details (not just visibility and transparency, by the way) and bringing people into the “world” of your brand.

The most effective way to do this is to use mobile traceability technology, which of course is all digital. It puts the supply chain right into the consumer’s hands. For example, using their mobile device, a person scans a 2D Data Matrix code on your product and is taken to a website full of relevant content, special offers, and so on. If you sell shoes, it may be a video of a famous athlete wearing your latest model. If you sell food items, it could be recipes or information about where the ingredients came from. It can be anything you want, really, from coupons to information about your sustainability and environmental efforts.

By taking advantage of mobile traceability, you’ll build your brand reputation and trust by presenting visibility and traceability information in a clear, compelling manner; enabling consumers to share a pre- and post-sale experience with your product; and fostering a lifelong relationship with your brand.

Final thoughts

If you don’t have a digital consumer goods supply chain, you aren’t maximizing your potential for building your brand reputation and consumer trust. Plus, you’re missing out on its many other benefits, including:

  • Monitoring and protecting your products 24/7
  • Mitigating risk and supply chain blind spots
  • Combatting counterfeits, fakes, and theft
  • Automating your workflow
  • Eliminating paper records
  • Future-proofing your operations

If you don’t have a digital supply chain, it’s all right. rfxcel was made for this moment. Our digital supply chain solutions, anchored by our award-winning rfxcel Traceability System, feature leading-edge products like our rfxcel Integrated Monitoring solution and MobileTraceability app for supply chain traceability and visibility. Our teams of experts can help you create a digital consumer goods supply chain that builds your brand reputation and consumer trust while delivering all the other benefits we’ve discussed above. Contact us today to find out more.

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Supply Chain Visibility Can Fight Fraud in the Time of COVID-19

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted an update about actions it’s taking to keep fraudulent COVID-19 treatments off the market. The examples of fraud the Agency gave illustrate why all industries — not just the pharmaceutical industry — need to embrace supply chain visibility. Let’s take a look at what the FDA said and why supply chain visibility is a panacea for the problem.

Consumer vulnerability, scammers, and unproven and potentially dangerous products

The FDA’s update addressed “the extremely concerning actions by companies and individuals that are exploiting or taking advantage of widespread fear among consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This statement reveals one reason fraud exists: consumer vulnerability. When people are confronted with a problem, especially one they feel they cannot control (such as a pandemic), some may tend to seek solutions without pausing to think them through. Peddlers of fake and substandard products are always ready to exploit this situation.

Which brings us to the scammers, many of whom use the internet to sell their bogus goods. Today, the FDA says, unscrupulous actors are claiming their products “mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19.” With the pandemic dominating headlines and weighing heavily on people’s minds, these quacks are only more than happy to offer unproven and potentially dangerous products.

What is the FDA doing, exactly?

The Agency has launched Operation Quack Hack to find and stop scammers. It’s located scores of phony products online, including fraudulent drugs, COVID-19 testing kits, and personal protective equipment. The FDA has issued 42 warning letters to companies making false COVID-19 claims and has sent hundreds of abuse complaints to domain name registrars and internet marketplaces, most of which have voluntarily removed the offending product pages.

One of the warning letters went to an organization selling fraudulent chlorine dioxide products as a COVID-19 treatment. When it refused to cease and desist sales of its so-called Miracle Mineral Solution, or “MMS,” a federal court issued a preliminary injunction requiring it to immediately stop distributing the product. The FDA characterizes chlorine dioxide as the equivalent of industrial bleach and since 2010 has been warning consumers about MMS and other products with names such as Master Mineral Solution, Chlorine Dioxide Protocol, and Water Purification Solution (WPS).

The FDA also intercepted and investigated a case of mislabeled COVID-19 “treatment kits” that someone was trying to import into the United States. Also, an FDA investigation led to a U.S. Department of Justice criminal complaint against a British man “who sought to profit from [the] pandemic and jeopardize public health.”

How supply chain visibility can fight fraud

Visibility means using data to gain insight into how a supply chain is functioning and to take steps to make it run more efficiently. The goal is to see everything.

A company must have systems that can gather and report data from one end of the supply chain to the other. Data should be as “rich” as possible; today, that means a digital supply chain with real-time access to unit-level data about everything from ingredients to temperature.

Here’s a rundown of how supply chain visibility can fight fraud. We’re using the pharma industry in our example, but the tenets apply to any product in any industry.

    • You know the origin of your ingredients. Supply chain visibility allows a manufacturer to verify that all the ingredients of a drug are legitimate. It can track every ingredient up until the time they’re combined to make the drug.
    • You can follow the drug’s every move: Part 1. After the drug has been manufactured, bottled, and packed into cases, you can see everywhere those cases go after they leave the plant — warehouses, stores, pharmacies, hospitals, etc. — and you can track their movements in real time. With supply chain visibility, you can anticipate traffic bottlenecks and reroute the delivery vehicle, keeping the shipment on time. You’ll also know if the delivery vehicle has been diverted from its prescribed route, which could indicate theft.
    • You know if the drug has been harmed or compromised. Supply chain visibility means you’ll be alerted if there’s a problem with the shipment. For example, if there’s been a change in temperature, light, or humidity that can affect the drug’s efficacy, or if the cases have been dropped or jolted in a way that might have damaged the bottles, packets, or vials inside. And we’ve already mentioned route diversion and theft.
    • You can follow the drug’s every move: Part 2. When the cases are separated (e.g., taken off a pallet), you can follow each one; when a case is opened, supply chain visibility lets you follow the individual bottles or packets all the way to check-out at the cash register or stocking at a pharmacy or hospital.

Final thoughts

Supply chain visibility creates an “airtight” supply chain that leaves virtually no room for unproven, potentially dangerous, fake, or otherwise fraudulent products to sneak in. And if such a product does appear, supply chain visibility means you can remove it faster. After all, when you can see everything, it’s easier to spot imposters and get rid of them.

rfxcel can provide supply chain visibility in any industry. Our signature rfxcel Traceability System (rTS) is a full-stack visibility and track and trace platform that comprises solutions that empower end-to-end supply chain visibility, including:

    • rfxcel Integrated Monitoring (rIM) is an award-winning solution that uses Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices to provide real-time data about 12+ environmental conditions (e.g., location, temperature, shock) of products anywhere in the world.
    • rfxcel MobileTraceability brings the power of an rTS digital supply chain to your smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device.

As FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs Dr. Judy McMeekin said, “It is imperative that we continue our efforts to find and prevent the sale and distribution of products that may be harmful to the public health.” Supply chain visibility is the way to do this. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

COVID-19: Now Is the Time for Food Supply Chain Transparency

The novel coronavirus pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in food supply chains around the world. It’s also pushed the conversation about food supply chain transparency into the public square. Indeed, it’s likely that more people are thinking about supply chains today than at any other time in history.

However, it’s prudent to point out that the industry has resisted full end-to-end transparency. In light of the pandemic — and with the U.S. food supply chain in the news in recent weeks — we might have approached what’s commonly referred to as a teachable moment. The question is, will stakeholders finally realize that food supply chain transparency is in everybody’s best interest?

Why is there industry resistance to food supply chain transparency?

The main reason for resistance is that the industry views food supply chain transparency as a cost instead of an investment. As we pointed out in our “Seafood Supply Chain Traceability Trilogy,” it takes money — sometimes a lot of money — to implement the necessary systems.

Resistance also stems from the fact that supply chains weren’t really designed to be transparent. Companies see their supply chains as things to be guarded, proprietary infrastructure that’s nobody’s business but their own. Why should they “give away” information that could jeopardize their market position or possibly harm their reputation?

Another facet of this built-in opaqueness is that companies can’t always keep tabs on what their trading partners are doing. If an upstream or downstream partner is bending or breaking the law or otherwise doing something they shouldn’t, how can the company know? The gist of this problem is data: If it’s collected at all, it may be incomplete or just plain wrong.

And one final thought: Does the resistance mean the industry actually doesn’t want to be held accountable? Though some companies say that they care and want to held accountable, if they don’t embrace food supply chain transparency, this amounts to an empty promise and deflecting accountability to their trading partners.

Why we need food supply chain transparency in the time of COVID-19 — and beyond

The benefits of food supply chain transparency are not contingent upon world events (though transparency helps companies stay steady when events bring risk and uncertainty). They are what they are, no matter the circumstances. But the pandemic has illuminated the benefits, like a lightbulb going off over the collective head of the industry. Specifically, we need food supply chain transparency now for several key reasons:

    • It decreases risk. Food supply chain transparency helps companies identify problems and risks before they escalate into a crisis (or crises). If all trading partners adhere to the same clear standards and can be held accountable for their actions, they’re more likely to self-govern to avoid trouble. Furthermore, with everybody “on the same team,” it’s significantly easier to solve a problem.
    • It boosts efficiency. As we just said, food supply chain transparency gets everybody on the same team. And with teamwork comes efficiency. Stakeholders keep each another informed, enabling upstream and downstream trading partners to make better decisions, take pre-emptive action when needed (instead of waiting to react to a problem after the fact), and keep the supply chain moving.
    • It helps increase the volume of actionable data. Transparency means being open about what you’re doing — which means sharing data about your operations with your partners, customers/consumers, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders. With more high-quality data flowing inside and outside of the supply chain, every aspect of your operations can be improved.
    • It encourages cooperation. When trading partners have seen their risks lowered and efficiency increased, they’ll be motivated, if not inspired, to cooperate more. Cooperation is great when things are going well; it’s even better if a problem arises. For example, if there’s a recall, everyone will know how to work together to get the product out of the supply chain.
    • It increases supply chain resiliency. Transparency means you can know what’s going on in your supply chain, share information with your trading partners, put it in the context of events, and execute course corrections quickly. For example, if a factory closes due to a natural disaster, political unrest, or a pandemic, transparency intel empowers you assess the situation, see the real and potential impacts on your operations, and make necessary changes. All of this makes your organization more agile and the supply chain stronger.
    • It inspires trust. The ultimate result of food supply chain transparency is trust among all supply chain stakeholders, from manufacturers all the way to consumers. Without trust, systems can break down. That’s the last thing you want to happen during a crises.

Final thoughts

rfxcel is committed to transparency in every supply chain — food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, and government. As we’ve shown, it’s an indispensable tool that’s more important today than ever before.

When external factors such as the current pandemic affect supply chains, transparency helps ensure products are delivered on time, safely, and to exactly the right location and/or person. It helps vital supply chains keep moving. It helps guarantee a product’s authenticity (i.e., no food fraud or counterfeit drugs). It helps protect the public health and safety.

For food supply chain transparency, our signature rfxcel Traceability System (rTS) offers the most complete and flexible raw materials and finished goods traceability solution for the industry. Our rfxcel MobileTraceability app heightens transparency even further, able to track any batch, movement, and handler at any location. And our rfxcel Integrated Monitoring (rIM) solution lets all stakeholders see their products in real time and mine rich unit-level data about more than a dozen environmental conditions.

Learn more about these and our other solutions for food and beverage here and contact us to start a conversation about transparency in your supply chain.