QUALITY OF DATA IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS PRODUCT QUALITY

Food retailers are rightly concerned about the quality of their products and the condition of their stores -- the consumer expects nothing less.By contrast, retailers are not as apt to view the data on those products with the same urgency. Data is just not "sexy," as Rhonda Horn, director of global adoption strategies for Ahold's Global Standards team, put it last month at the Food Marketing Institute's

Food retailers are rightly concerned about the quality of their products and the condition of their stores -- the consumer expects nothing less.

By contrast, retailers are not as apt to view the data on those products with the same urgency. Data is just not "sexy," as Rhonda Horn, director of global adoption strategies for Ahold's Global Standards team, put it last month at the Food Marketing Institute's annual show in Chicago. (Rhonda's views are more fully delineated in a feature article beginning on Page 79.)

Yet in this digital age, data may be worth a lot more than retailers think. By this I don't mean as a saleable commodity but as a valuable asset whose quality and condition are as important as the quality of food and the condition of stores.

A small but growing group of retailers, including Ahold, Wegmans Food Markets, Wal-Mart Stores and Supervalu, has joined forces with an expanding group of manufacturers in recognizing the importance of the product data they share. Many of those companies will be represented at the Uniform Code Council's U Connect Conference on June 7 to 9 at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas.

Why is product data so important? Many studies over the past several years have shown that when a manufacturer's product data does not match a retailer's data, a host of problems ensue, from faulty invoices and slower speed to market to more costly item maintenance and greater out-of-stocks. The cost attributed to these issues is clearly substantial.

Fortunately, there is now a solution to out-of-sync data. In the past year, the food distribution industry -- led by the UCC and EAN International (now called GS1) -- has established a Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) that provides a standardized platform through which manufacturers and retailers can ensure their data is in sync. Ten data pools have been certified to exchange data through the GDSN, with another round of certification set for this summer.

While some progressive retailers have begun to take advantage of the GDSN, adoption has been far from booming. In fact, the slowness of adoption was one of the primary factors behind the planned merger of UCCnet and Transora announced last month.

There is another impediment to adoption. It turns out that it is not enough for manufacturers' data and retailers' data to be in sync. The data itself has to be checked for accuracy, ensuring that it represents the right information about a product, such as its dimensions. "One supplier tried to synchronize information relating to a 5-foot bottle of shampoo," said Marianne Timmons, business-to-business director for Wegmans, at FMI's Distribution Conference in March.

But here, too, help is on the way. UCC is setting up an audit of suppliers' product data on behalf of Wegmans that will be open to other retailers. In addition, a consortium of associations, including FMI and Grocery Manufacturers of America, has been formed to address the data accuracy issue. (See Page 79.)

Eventually, there will be as little excuse for having inaccurate, out-of-sync data as there is for having spoiled, out-of-date product.