A recent report by UK waste experts Wrap warned one third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste. Consumers are responsible for £259bn of it, but up to 250,000 tonnes of this waste could be prevented through supply chain efficiencies.
Huge progress has been made over the years to make food supply chains more efficient through the automation of processes and information flows. And at the very heart of this transformation lies the barcode. When it comes to managing food waste, the barcode has an important role to play because it can be encoded with additional information, such as a product expiry date - whether this is the best-before or use-by date. The most common application has been in the supply chain on outer cases; however, retailers are now starting to look at its potential for use on pack for short-life products: a leading Dutch retailer expects to save €1m per year from reduced food waste by encoding expiry dates into pack barcodes.
Using barcodes on products such as meat, fish and produce, and scanning the date both on shelf and at point of sale, can provide the store with a more detailed and accurate view of stock, distinguishing between different batches and expiry dates and minimising the risk that old stock remains on shelf.
Products with short date life at point of sale could be recorded on the till receipt, providing the consumer with better information on their purchases and reducing the potential for household food waste. And products past their expiry date could be flagged at the till and withdrawn from sale. Additionally, it would be possible to enable automatic price reductions of near-expiry-date products triggered at point of sale. In fact, a number of customer-facing apps have been developed in readiness for retailers taking that approach.
Few retailers and suppliers are taking full advantage of the technology that can help to tackle waste at the earliest opportunity. By extending barcode information, retailers can benefit from better supply chain visibility, optimised picking and shelf fulfilment processes - and improve the consumer experience.
Gary Lynch is chief executive of GS1 UK