There's been a lot of talk about standardising and sharing data in the retail world, with suppliers and stores getting together to build up data pools and catalogues. Now the foodservice industry is getting its act together.
It's recognised that it needs to talk the same language as suppliers and distributors Â and OFSCI has been tasked as the translator.
According to Paul Heathcote, MD of E-Chain Solutions, OFSCI's managing consultant, the Optimum Foodservice Supply Chain Initiative is necessary to keep it in line with retailers. "Foodservice is the third biggest UK industry with a value of Â£60bn but can be very fragmented. It's about time it brought itself into the 21st century."
OFSCI is a not-for-profit initiative which aimbitiously aims to slash Â£450m from the foodservice supply chain. It brought together the Food and Drink Federation and the Federation of Wholesale Distributors to share best practice in improved efficiencies, including reduced costs and improved service and delivery levels.
It initially sparked interest among companies such as Kellogg, Nestlé¬ Unilever Bestfoods, 3663, Woodwards, Compass and Whitbread. Wincanton, Scottish & Newcastle Retail and Fairway Foodservice have been more recent sign-ups.
Global hospitality group Six Continents was one of the first companies to get involved. Supply chain development manager Damian Ellis says OFSCI will be integral to its business-to-business strategy. "It's a one-off opportunity to get it right for us all. A lot of suppliers are common to us and Sainsbury and Tesco Â it's good we're as similar as retail as possible."
Defining standards for web cycles
OFSCI has already established a best practice for the application of barcodes to units, cases and pallets throughout the food supply chain as well as providing a standard electronic method for synchronising structured product data via UDEX.
Now it aims to define standards for web-based order fulfilment cycles, provide synchronising prices between buyer and seller as well as a method of sharing the stock, sales and forecasting data throughout the supply chain.
Overseen by the Food Standards Agency, it has formalised 23 definitions for dietary and suitability data to help people with food intolerances.
OFSCI is now starting work on electronic transactions with E-Centre. The first set will be delivered by April and adopted by July 2003. "Until now, the only real way people conducted them was through EDI which has proved to have a low adoption rate in foodservice as it is seen as expensive and cumbersome," says Heathcote.
It is in discussion with both UCC Standards in North America and Canada and EAN so other organisations understand its work.
Heathcote reckons OFSCI is more likely to be embraced by small and medium-sized companies, particularly the work it is producing with UDEX. This should create a unique, internet based tool providing data normalisation to standardise supply chain product information and define standards for a web-based order fulfilment cycle.
He believes the fact that it is globally based will give confidence to these smaller companies who he admits have been concerned that it was being developed by big multinationals.
OFSCI will soon become a legal entity to ensure that it is owned by and for the industry; trade organisations will become shareholders so no one company has undue influence or control.
And it is now proactively promoting itself, as Heathcote says: "The message is getting across that there are major benefits to be had and people can now see where this figure of Â£450m comes from."
Sharing of stock and forecasting information is one of the keys to improving efficiencies and he says there is a willingness among companies to do this. "They realise it's for the good of everyone Â it's non-competitive stuff. The edge comes from how they utilise it and how quickly they adopt it."