My career started when pricing in retail and wholesale was by individual tickets on items, and barcodes had not been invented. Stocktaking consisted of counting every item and multiplying it by its price to achieve a cash stock value - not only a time-consuming and tedious job, but also a very inexact measure. My second part-time job (after a paper round) was stocktaking in cash & carries.
Barcodes have revolutionised the industry. Sad as it might seem, the introduction of IT in general and barcodes in particular was one of the most exciting times of my career with the checkout benefits and stock control abilities that it gave.
The familiarity we all have with barcodes and their ubiquity mean that how they are used is critical in business operations.
EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) legislation regarding communication of allergen information results in increasing pressure placed upon wholesalers by caterers to give easy access to this information for all the products they buy.
It is important that products are easily identifiable and the barcode is the only common element to identify the product throughout the supply chain of supplier/wholesaler/caterer as each may use different descriptions and product codes.
Some suppliers are not changing barcodes when they have implemented recipe changes to their products. A wholesaler was recently told by a customer that a branded product they had purchased had a different recipe and the allergen soya had been added.
The supplier had not communicated this change and had not changed the barcode of this product, which meant it was impossible for the wholesaler to identify that there had been any kind of change.
Ultimately it is up to caterers to check the labels of the products to get accurate and up-to-date allergen information. However, if they are using a product that they purchase on a regular basis and the wholesaler has not communicated that there is a change to the ingredients, it is understandable that they would not check every time.
While nobody likes additional administration, this lack of barcode integrity could have a devastating impact should a caterer serve a product where they are unaware that allergens have been introduced.
The benefits of barcodes for all of us have been enormous and are often forgotten, but we rely on each other to sustain these benefits. It is vital to wholesalers that suppliers take this extremely seriously and ensure that they issue new codes when products change.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons