The business of food is changing fast. From click-and-collect models to delivered gourmet meals, shoppers are taking advantage of all that digital modern conveniences have to offer.

The way food travels throughout the supply chain from source to store is undergoing a serious change to align with the new ways consumers think and shop. To better track and trace food, the retail grocery and foodservice industries recognize the benefits of increased collaboration between industry stakeholders to establish end-to-end supply chain visibility based on GS1 Standards. 

GS1 Standards help lay the foundation for clearer communication in an increasingly complex food supply chain. Unlike siloed, proprietary systems, standards-based ones enable companies to uniquely identify products in the supply chain to optimize visibility and efficiencies. Manufacturers, retailers, distributors, foodservice operators and other industry stakeholders have prioritized food traceability as a key part of enhancing overall food safety in the supply chain.

Here’s three key factors driving track-and-trace progress forward:

Foodservice formalizes best practices for traceability

Last year, many companies, particularly in the foodservice industry, realized that putting food traceability on the back burner could mean risking extensive brand damage. To play a more active and vigilant role in traceability, the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative published a new guideline for implementing case-level traceability.

This guideline outlines specific details on how to create successful traceability programs, including best practices for capturing important traceability information such as product and location data, production dates and batch/lot/serial numbers. By collecting and maintaining this information, trading partners can support visibility of the product’s movement through the distribution channel, and minimize the impact of product withdrawals by removing affected product faster.

Responding to transparency demands

Today’s consumers are making purchases based on product attributes. Extended attributes—those that go beyond the basic product description—might include sustainability information, a product’s origin or detailed ingredients listings. These characteristics are more scrutinized by consumers who want to evaluate for themselves if the product fits into their lifestyles, beliefs or dietary restrictions. Some studies have gone so far as to say that consumers have a newfound fear or distrust of food. In fact, about 40% of consumers reported in a survey by Daymon Worldwide, Stamford, Conn., that they no longer enjoy the foods they eat due to safety and quality concerns.

Traceability programs coupled with enhanced transparency for consumers sends a clear message that they care about the food they produce. Traceability can help distinguish companies competitively, while improving communications with their trading partners. Through the common language of standards, food companies can break down the barriers that come with using proprietary systems, and gain unprecedented visibility into their supply chains.

Digitizing the supply chain

Using last year’s digital sales as a key indicator, growth in grocery e-commerce is predicted to happen fast this year, underscoring a need for more automation in the food supply chain. U.S. shoppers who bought groceries online in 2016 more than doubled to 19%, up from 8% in 2015, according to a survey by Unata, Canada.

In preparation for a potential e-commerce boom this year, some CPG companies are already reorienting their supply chains and testing out new distribution methods for select product lines. For instance, Kellogg, Battle Creek, Mich., began delivering product to retail distribution centers instead of to individual stores to save on delivery costs. This essentially marks one of the first major CPG companies to eliminate the direct-store delivery model.

Implementing industry standards can support these new distribution models and ensure inventory accuracy and efficiency in transportation and logistics. Having more visibility into their supply chains, food companies can gain the flexibility needed to compete online and embrace the disruption of digital in the grocery industry.

Ultimately, the most forward-thinking food companies are investing in traceability to create unprecedented visibility into their supply chains and evolve along with today’s changing consumer attitudes. They are understanding and executing precise data-sharing scenarios and processes from source-to-consumer. Adopting standardized traceability processes means a more sustainable business outlook and a way to continue to support brand longevity.

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