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Michelle Covey, of GS1 US, on improving product trackability throughout the global supply chain

It was a pleasure to catch up with Michelle Covey, Vice President of Innovation at GS1 US, a global non-profit organization whose mission is to help businesses solve problems through standardized processes, such as identifying products and tracking them through the supply chain.

As noted on the GS1 US website, “Today, the beep of a barcode is heard over 6 billion times per day and GS1 Standards are the most widely used system of standards in the world. More than 300,000 businesses in 25 industries are members of GS1 US, including organizations in the apparel, general merchandise, grocery retail, foodservice, and healthcare industries.”

Being able to accurately track products as they move through the supply chain is especially important today, in an era when corporate sustainability goals typically include waste reduction and product recalls are, if not exactly commonplace, not terribly unusual.

As Michelle notes regarding a recent recall of spinach, lacking the ability to track products with precision can be very costly for businesses – and sometimes entire business sectors: “because there wasn’t good tracking, it basically required everybody to pull all of their spinach off the shelves. And it basically decimated the spinach industry for a while, although the outbreak was in just one small field. If you knew that, and you could track back to that field, you could have just recalled that particular batch, and then the rest of the supply chain would not have been disrupted.”

We discuss the fact that direct-to-consumer sales of products by influencers, celebrities, and other individuals with their own custom formulas have increased in recent years, creating new opportunities for supply chain optimization and product traceability. As Michelle notes, being able to correctly identify products throughout the supply chain is critical, even if these products don’t seem destined for large retail chains.

Michelle outlines the evolution of barcodes, highlighting their potential to carry more information and be scanned by phones, expanding their use beyond checkout lines, and explains the importance of Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) in tracking inventory and preventing counterfeiting. She also notes that RFID — whose first real use case was in the apparel industry, is expanding into other sectors, notably the food service and health care industries.

We address the fact that retail systems will need to be ready to scan 2D barcodes by 2027 by investing in new scanning technology to accommodate them. Here, GS1 US will be of assistance in terms of providing resources for companies to learn about and implement the new standards; resources will include a website, YouTube channel, and a data hub.

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