DATA SYNC PILOT ADDRESSES VARIABLE-WEIGHT ITEMS

ST. LOUIS - The first data synchronization pilot aimed at variable-weight meat and poultry products at the item level has been successfully completed, according to the trade associations that sponsored it.The successful completion of the pilot was announced Aug. 25 by GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J., and the Meat and Poultry Business to Business Data Standards Organization (mpXML), based here. The pilot,

ST. LOUIS - The first data synchronization pilot aimed at variable-weight meat and poultry products at the item level has been successfully completed, according to the trade associations that sponsored it.

The successful completion of the pilot was announced Aug. 25 by GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J., and the Meat and Poultry Business to Business Data Standards Organization (mpXML), based here. The pilot, which included three variable-weight chicken products, took place in April and May.

The significance of the pilot is that data synchronization, which has been pursued by dozens of major retail companies and thousands of manufacturers, has until now focused exclusively on Center Store CPG products with a fixed weight and conventional bar code.

For technical reasons, perishable products with a variable weight (often called "variable measure"), such as packaged meat and poultry, could not go through the standard synchronization process, known as the Global Data Synchronization Network.

However, using new standards, the pilot demonstrated that producers of variable-weight chicken products and retailers that sell them could harmonize their product data down to the individual package level, as well as the case level, in the same manner as Center Store products, thereby opening up the GDSN potentially to a wide range of perishable products.

Data synchronization allows the product information used by manufacturers and retailers to be accurate and uniform in their respective databases, preventing a slew of administrative and logistical errors and inefficiencies.

Synchronization may be especially valuable for perishable products, for which data such as price "changes at a much more frequent pace than it does on the packaged goods side of the store," noted Richard Vander Horst, manager of business solutions and implementation services for Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets, a participant in the pilot.

Retailer participants in the pilot included Supervalu, Wegmans and a third food retailer that requested anonymity; suppliers included Perdue and Tyson Foods. 1SYNC and Agentrics served as the data pools for the pilot.

Challenges Overcome

"Data synchronization has been a challenge for the meat department," noted Greg Rowe, director of business development for GS1 US, in a statement. "But with the continued refinement of the standards, mpXML's members recognized that data synchronization for variable-measure products was now practical. The pilot proved it."

Vander Horst said the pilot met Wegmans' expectations. "Our goal was to understand what it would take to move a variable-weight item through the same data sync process that we use for our Center Store items," he said. "Not only did we get the items through, but the [internal] mapping for the variable-weight items was less complicated than we anticipated."

One of the findings of the pilot was that retailers and suppliers may have to adjust their internal work flow and systems to allow true "machine-to-machine synchronization" for variable-weight products. Wegmans is involved in that process, said Brad Papietro, e-commerce manager for Wegmans, in a presentation at the U Connect conference in June. "The pilot was great for us because it taught us what we need to build in [an item master catalog] to do data sync for value-measure items."

Wegmans plans to do more synchronization with Tyson as well as other meat and poultry vendors, Vander Horst said.

For Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., the pilot "in many ways it exceeded our expectations," said Lela Tripp, director, eBusiness information systems. "As a result of the pilot, we now know the most important product information to provide our [retail] customers."

The pilot also means that Tyson will be able to synchronize all of its products, both variable weight and fixed weight, she added. In fact, since the completion of the pilot Tyson has received requests from some of the pilot participants to synchronize its entire catalog, as well as requests from two new retailers to synchronize with them. "We look forward to continuing this effort to promote adoption of data synchronization for the meat and poultry industry," she said.

According to Blake Ashby, executive vice president, mpXML, Smithfield/Farmland and Hormel are both working toward variable-measure data synchronization. In addition, "most of the retailers that we have talked with that are syncing in the center of the store plan to sync variable-measure as well," he said.

In the pilot, the retailers were able to successfully receive Catalog Item Notification messages - product data in electronic form - from the suppliers. The CIM data includes the global trade identification number at the item level, the four-digit product code used in "Type 2" variable-measure bar codes, and a "variable-measure flag," Ashby said.