Unique serialization comes to fresh produce
PackagingWorld, May 19th 2015
Proudly representing the food industry at The Automation Forum, and the produce industry in particular, was Dewey R. Scott, Operations Manager at North Carolina sweet potato packer Scott Farms.
By Pat Reynolds, VP Editor
Scott’s May 19 presentation at the Chicago event, produced by PMMI Media Group, was titled “From ERP to Farm to Fork and Back—Serialization Comes to Produce.”
Scott described a recently built facility that brings a whole new level of automation to the produce business. From an efficiency and productivity standpoint, Scott Farms is only beginning to reap the benefits of this automation solution, which has now been in operation for about three months. But already the benefits gained are impressive. Thanks to camera-aided sortation systems, automated case erection, automated weighing and filling, and automated palletizing and shrink wrapping systems at the new facility, the firm now requires about 40 people to ship about 50,000 lbs/hr where it used to need 75 people to ship 20,000 lbs/hour.
Also part of this automation initiative is sophisticated software that lets the firm put unique codes at item level—even down to a single, shrink-wrapped, branded potato that consumers cook in the microwave oven. These codes give Scott complete track and trace visibility of the sweet potatoes from farm to warehouse to packaging to consumer. And while supply chain visibility and improved operational efficiency was obviously a key goal here, this solution also opens up exciting possibilities for consumer engagement. Consumers only have to text, snap, or scan the unique serialized code on the item, and when they do, the information is then sent to the platform at Scott so that the firm knows who bought the product, where, and when. Consumers can also participate in loyalty programs, access coupons, or communicate directly with Scott Farms. Likewise, Scott can send notifications directly to the consumer’s smartphone. This kind of grower-to-consumer interaction is viewed as a breakthrough because historically, with few exceptions, it’s always been the retailer who was able to engage directly with the consumer. Now produce growers, and other Consumer Packaged Goods companies, can have a connection with consumers that once was available only to retailers.
Scott described the Kezzler serialization software as being algorithmic in nature as opposed to being one that relies on a more traditional relational data base. The big advantage gained from this approach is that because the data is not stored in a data base, there’s no fear that latency issues will get in the way of data retrieval. Also part of the overall solution was GS1-compliant software from Authentitrace, a firm that has played a leading role in helping produce packers comply with the Produce Traceability Initiative.
One thing that Dewey Scott made clear in his presentation is how important it was to work closely with the three key suppliers who assisted on this project: the maker of the grading and sorting equipment, the maker of the palletizing and conveying equipment, and software providers Kezzler and Authentitrace. “We sat them all down early in the process and made it clear what it was that we thought we wanted. Then we said, ‘Make it happen.’ As the project progressed, they all taught each other along the way. And even now, should there be an issue, they interact with each other so well that they solve problems sometimes without us even getting involved.”