It is now looking for retailers and food manufacturers that want to work in collaboration with the firm to further tailor the technology to the food industry’s needs.
Supermarkets lose $15bn annually in unsold fruits and vegetables
James Stafford, global head of Food RFID Development, Avery Dennison RBIS, told FoodProductionDaily the use of RFID technology will continue to grow, and the food industry will be one of its biggest users.
He said currently, RFID technology is used in more than about 50% of leading apparel, clothes department store and mass merchant retailers globally. But, apparel is a small market compared to the food industry, which has the added complexity of perishability to contend with.
“We see a future in which RFID technology can help food retailers reduce in-store waste by 20% and improve efficiency, all while being able to track every aspect of food manufacture and distribution from farm to fork.”
The USDA estimates 40% of food in the US goes uneaten, and supermarkets lose $15bn annually in unsold fruits and vegetables.
“People are increasingly concerned about pedigree, traceability and perishability of the food they are buying and eating,” added Stafford.
“The best way to meet the needs of consumers without increasing the time-intensive labor involved is to employ RFID technology. We have begun running pilot programs on our RFID technology with food retailers to trace fresh food throughout the supply chain.
Design tags that could fit within existing food packaging
“One of the initial actions we had to take was to develop RFID tags suitable for use in the food supply chain, as well as with individual food items. For highly perishable products, such as meat, each individual package needs its own RFID, so we needed to design tags that could fit within the existing food packaging and were safe to place in a microwave.
“In the supply chain, we needed RFID tags that could be used on delivery cartons that were appropriate in a food environment, and could withstand multiple washing cycles over many years when placed on returnable totes. Totes are a very efficient way of managing the inventory of cheaper fresh foods with a short shelf life, such as dairy products or produce.”
Beyond day-to-day inventory management on retail shelves, Stafford said the tracking device has major implications when it comes to food recalls. For instance, when recent concerns related to Listeria infections caused Blue Bell to remove all products from stores and Sabra to recall 30,000 cases of hummus, item-level RFID tracking could have had broad implications around item visibility and timely detection of contaminated product.
“We know by employing radio waves rather than laser scanners, RFID can be read 100 times faster than bar codes, allowing for more efficient throughput of products and cargo vehicles, as well as better inventory management of items like perishable foods. RFID does not require line of sight, unlike bar codes which must face the scanner or reader to be read,” he added.
“In the food industry, fresh food retailers must achieve the correct balance between availability and waste of perishable foods to maintain profitability and customer service. This is true when dealing with fresh meat, which is expensive to stock and has a short shelf life.
“Currently, most food retailers use barcodes to try and manage inventory, but it can be a time-intensive, manual process, and packages that need to be moved can accidentally be overlooked when the store is busy or during shift changes.
RFID encoded inlays on labels or integrated into packaging
“By using RFID with encoded inlays typically on labels or integrated into packaging, food retailers can create rapid reports of both product availability and residual life throughout the supply chain. This, in turn, can enable more reliable stock rotation, reduce date-expired waste, save time in stock counting and clearance processing, and improve availability on display.”
Stafford said Avery Dennison RBIS, which works with Macy’s and Marks & Spencer to identify ways they can improve customer service and business efficiency, launched its pilot project after being approached by some fresh food retailers who were looking for ways to reduce waste in their highly perishable products, such as meat or produce.
He claims the retailers have so far seen four main benefits: the information helps them improve their stock rotation, and offers early visibility of overstock situations; the same RFID tags can be used for loss prevention of individual items, by creating alerts when items are stolen.
RFID chips offer a high-speed and efficient way of protecting the consumer from being offered food that has already perished through better scanning on shelf, and ultimately scanning at the point of sale and retailers deploying this technology can reassure regulatory authorities that all reasonable precautions are being taken to avoid the sale items that are past their sell-by dates.
“The biggest hurdle is the one that any new technology faces, which is how to change behaviors,” said Stafford.
“We see the critical nature of this technology in the food supply chain, and we believe it can revolutionize the way food is handled around the world.”