LAKELAND, Fla. -- By the end of May, two suppliers of produce will begin shipping pallets and cases equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to a produce warehouse operated by Publix Super Markets here, SN has learned.
In a discussion with SN last week at the Food Marketing Institute show in Chicago, Steve Dean, director of business development, Franwell, Plant City, Fla., an RFID software provider, said Fresh Express and Tanimura & Antle, both of Salinas, Calif., will provide the RFID-tagged pallets and cases in a multi-vendor, product-tracking pilot in which Franwell is participating.
The pilot will be studied by the Center for Food Distribution and Retailing, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., said Jeffrey K. Brecht, director of the center, which has been testing applications of RFID to produce and seafood.
The RFID technology, based on EPCglobal standards, will allow Publix and the suppliers to "record each event from the [suppliers'] warehouses to the retailer's warehouse," said Dean.
In a statement provided by Franwell, Terri Crawford, business IT manager, information systems for Publix, acknowledged that Publix is planning a test "where we will receive product labeled with RFID tags into one of our produce warehouses."
The tests's purpose "will be to expand the research concerning the read rates and viability of RFID tags from a controlled lab environment at [the University of Florida] into a production distribution environment," Crawford said. "It should be interesting to see the differences noted when using real forklift operators, as opposed to graduate students and professors."
Publix is a member of the advisory board for the Center for Food Distribution and Retailing, through which the chain "has the opportunity to direct research into areas of interest to Publix and to the grocery industry as a whole," said Crawford. Publix did not respond to a request for further comment.
In addition to Franwell, other technology vendors participating in the Publix RFID test include Alien (tags and readers), Symbol Technologies (readers), VeriSign (networking) and GlobeRanger (middleware).
One objective of the pilot, said Dean, will be to show how RFID can help in product rotation -- shipping older product before newer product, for example. The technology will also be studied for its ability to trace products to their point of origin, which would be helpful in pinpointing which product needs to be targeted in a recall. Dean said the pilot will initially focus on shipments into the produce DC, but will ultimately be extended to the store level.
Given the potential for interference of RF transmissions by water-based produce, the pilot will look at "what it takes to get 100% reads on cases," said Brecht.