KEASBEY, N.J. — Some CPG manufacturers are failing to consistently follow industry standards designed to ensure the accurate use of product data, with adverse consequences for retail operations and consumer trust, according to a Wakefern Food Corp.  executive.
“The guidelines and rules created to support the GDSN [Global Data Synchronization Network] are not universally applied,” said Michael Durning, manager of data integrity for Wakefern here, during a presentation last month at the GS1 Connect conference in San Antonio, hosted by GS1 US , Lawrencevile, N.J. “Not everyone is playing by the same rules.” Wakefern is a wholesale cooperative operated by the owners of ShopRite stores in the Northeast.
“To do business with Wakefern, you must follow GS1 standards,” Durning told suppliers at the conference.
While Durning described the percentage of manufacturers in violation of the rules as a “minority,” he added that “this minority can affect a large number of [products].”
Wakefern employs the GDSN, a network overseen by GS1, Brussels, to receive and synchronize new and updated product data from more than 1,300 trading partners supplying more than 29,000 warehouse items. However, because some manufacturers are not adhering to rules governing data accuracy or the allocation of GTINs (global trade item numbers), Wakefern often is left to make corrections to the items it receives.
“The GDSN standards work very well,” said Durning. “But there is an opportunity for improvement in data quality and this comes from compliance and understanding [the rules].”
The impact of product data provided by manufacturers extends from the supply chain (warehousing and transportation) to the retail point-of-sale (scanning, shelf labels, replenishment, nutritional data) to e-commerce (product images, information on nutrition, allergens and ingredients).
Durning stressed the food-safety impact of inaccurate allergen information. “Someday [a manufacturer] is going to provide the wrong information and something bad is going to happen with someone eating something they shouldn’t have.”
Earlier this year Wakefern began piloting a Vendor Data Quality Scorecard, and is “close to rolling it out,” said Durning. The web-based scorecard is designed to measure the performance of suppliers in regard to data accuracy for new and existing items, and provide feedback on key indicators.
Among the standards manufacturers are expected to follow, Durning focused on three: GTIN allocation rules, the GDSN Package Measurement Rules and the Data Quality Framework.
The GTIN allocation rules govern the assignment of GTINs — the unique product identifier encoded in a bar code. The GS1 rules (available at www.gs1.org/1/gtinrules/ ) stipulate that a new GTIN should — Durning prefers the word “must” — be assigned to an item if the consumer is expected to distinguish a new item from an old item and purchase accordingly.
Durning emphasized two of the GTIN allocation rules that impact the consumer; they call for a new GTIN when there is a change in the net content of an item or the introduction of a similar item like one with a new flavor.
In the case of a size change, if a manufacturer doesn’t alter the GTIN, “our consumer is not getting the size promised on the shelf label or online at ShopRite From Home,” said Durning. This can also result in an incorrect unit cost, which can be a violation of state consumer protection laws as well as a “trust issue” for consumers.
Manufacturers’ continued lack of adherence to the GTIN Allocation rules prompted GS1 US to write a letter to the industry in March urging greater compliance. (See related story.) 
Durning also cited a need for suppliers to comply with the GDSN package measurement rules governing the measurement of packaging, from the consumer unit to the case level. He urged suppliers to make sure they apply the rules to products after they are produced, not just to preliminary pre-production models, which is a common practice that leads to inaccurate data on case dimensions.
Wakefern is a member of the Data Quality Framework Initiative pilot program, a GS1 US group formed to develop best practices for dealing with data inaccuracies, particularly weights and dimensions of product cases. The group is asking manufacturers to adopt a five-point best-practice process for data quality.
In the absence of universal rules compliance by manufacturers, Wakefern, like many other food distributors, has taken it upon itself to vet the quality of suppliers’ product data, and make corrections. Wakefern’s efforts include a data integrity department managed by Durning as well as oversight for the warehouse and e-commerce. This is necessary to prevent “breakdowns in the supply chain and any negative impact to the consumer,” said Durning.
Among its responsibilities, Wakefern’s data integrity group audits a range of key data attributes when processing new items, including product descriptions, net content, unit pricing, kosher certification, SNAP and WIC eligibility, and GTIN assignments.
At its warehouses, Wakefern employs CubiScan devices to measure case and inner-pack dimensions and weights for new items. “We wish we didn’t have to,” said Durning. In its general merchandise facility, the company audits store display shippers and “mixed mods” before they are delivered to stores, checking that items and quantities are correct.
Wakefern’s e-commerce team looks at consumer-focused information — on nutritional content, food allergens, ingredients and descriptions — and images for products marketed via its website and ShopRite From Home service.
Sidebar: Follow the Rules
LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. — In an effort to encourage food and CPG manufacturers to adhere to its GTIN allocation rules, GS1 US disseminated an industry letter in March pointing out the importance of the rules.
The letter was distributed to the industry via the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Grocers Association.
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The GTIN allocation rules govern the assignment of global trade item numbers — which are encoded in bar codes — to products. The rules are designed to uniquely identify products and avoid confusion about their characteristics, including weight, ingredients and other attributes.
Thus when any change is made to an item — however small — the rules call for a manufacturer to issue a new GTIN. “Even minor changes to a product — changes in size, net content or formulation — may have significant consequences for every stakeholder in the supply chain, including the end consumer,” the GS1 US letter said.
The letter also stressed the importance applying unique GTINs to similar items that may only vary by flavor.
The GTIN allocation rules continue to be developed by the North American GTIN Allocation Discussion Group and the Consumer Goods Forum, Paris.
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