The product traceability is becoming increasingly important. The topic has been on the agenda for years, and not just in the food trade. Direct information about the origin production and distribution also offers great benefits for consumers and especially for our customers in the hospitality industry.
Restaurants, cafés or other catering businesses can ensure at all times that the products used meet relevant quality and sustainability demands and expectations.
In addition, information about, for example, the origin and farming of salmon, can be easily integrated in customer communication, e.g. the menu, to enhance transparency and trust with their customers. In the interview of this issue, two experts from METRO share insight into how food traceability works with the help of a state of the art data system and practical access codes. We also showcase our digital traceability system "PRO TRACE" and have some fascinating facts and figures on the subject. Enjoy reading!
“Our customers appreciate real-time access to product information”
As an international wholesaler, METRO attaches great importance to traceability, especially for ultra-fresh products such as meat, fish and seafood. For this reason, METRO began years ago to build up its infrastructure on traceability, including digital tools. Three countries, Germany, France and Austria, are pioneers in the digital traceability with the tool called PRO TRACE.
We speak to two experts in this field, Britta Gallus, from METRO AG Corporate Responsibility and Public Policy, and Severine Caron, from METRO France Quality Assurance, who share their insight into the goals, benefits and implementation of digital tools in food traceability.
What does "traceability" mean for wholesale trade? What are the main objectives of traceability in our sector?
Britta: In food wholesale, traceability in short means the ability to track and trace food products along the supply chain and to securely pass on reliable product information. One of the primary objectives of traceability is to equip customers with specific product information. Therefore, it is very relevant for the food wholesale sector and we at METRO, have been taking the initiative to develop a modern and robust traceability system.
When it comes to legislation within the EU, for years there is also a regulatory basis for traceability called General Food Law Regulation and it is the subject in other regulatory rules, such as in the EU fisheries control regulation. In this sense, traceability plays an important role in efficient withdrawal and recall of food products when required and contributes to sustainable procurement of food resources.
Digitalisation strengthens traceability. What can digital tools achieve?
Britta: Digital solutions in traceability make it easier and more reliable to access and process the data. Even crucially it maintains the data integrity through the journey of the concerned product. Digital interoperable systems allow real time access to such precise and robust data which would not be possible if data is still recorded on paper and not passed along the supply chain.
However, to ensure the success and efficiency of digital traceability, it is critically important to apply a harmonized framework and aligned protocols for data exchange. In practice, METRO adopts GS1 standards in digital traceability and supports the international organization GDST, Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability.
How does the process run in practice and who needs to be involved?
Britta: The digital tool for traceability we are currently using in Germany, France and Austria for meat, fish and seafood is called PRO TRACE – and there are mainly three stakeholders involved in this process: the supplier, METRO and the customer. The supplier is responsible for providing the information and data about origin of the concerned product and its production, to be uploaded to METRO’s database.
Based on this, the customer is able to access the information by scanning the PRO TRACE code on the package to make informed purchasing decisions. At the back end, different departments of METRO work closely to ensure the integrity, reliability and transparency of the PRO TRACE data.
How does this look like at METRO France?
Severine: In METRO France, PRO TRACE is used for the categories of meat, fish and seafood and fruit and vegetables. The key idea is to make available information about the origin and production of the products available to our customers. For meat products, PRO TRACE shows where the livestock is born, where and how it is raised.
For fruit and vegetables, customers are able to see the production area and the packing station location, thanks to the enclosed GPS data and pictures of the facilities provided by the producer. In France, customers simply need to scan the PRO TRACE code with the camera on their mobile device, then the product information page is loaded on the screen.
As Britta said, it is critical that suppliers and METRO make joint efforts to ensure the quality and reliability of the product data, so that our customers can access them promptly when purchasing the products.
As data is crucial - how do you ensure data integrity?
Britta: Let’s take PRO TRACE again as an example. In the center of this digital solution lies a database called PIER (PROTRACE Inhouse Event Repository) and it is hosted by METRO. PIER is built on GS1’s global data sharing standard EPCIS (Electronic Product Code Information Services). Once suppliers have uploaded information in this database, the data are immutable and recognized as “safe”. I’m sure Severine can share with us more first-hand insight into the data that empower PRO TRACE.
Severine: Certainly. At METRO France we have two options when it comes to data entry. The first one is built on dynamic data, where the producers upload information of each production batch to the PIER database. Accordingly, our customers are able to access the most up-to-date information about the specific batches and thus have a good awareness and knowledge about the products they purchase from us. The second option is to use fixed data: here we describe different steps within the product process. In addition, we include the origin’s information with the marking on map. For both options, PRO TRACE is a practical solution to bring production closer to our professional customers.
How do customers respond to PRO TRACE in France?
Severine: Our customers appreciate this tool that gives them real-time access to product information. In particular, they like the embedded maps that illustrate the product origin and production process. Especially as it’s not practical to print all details about the product on the package, PRO TRACE can help provide the digital info platform. Our hospitality customers are then able to share the information with their customers to increase both transparency and their confidence in food sourcing and product quality.
Looking ahead, what´s the prospect of traceability? What can we expect in the coming years?
Britta: The awareness of traceability and call for sourcing transparency among consumers is clearly on the rise. Moreover, protecting food resources through traceability is increasingly addressed by the EU legislation. For example, the digital traceability for fish is expected over the next months to be adopted as mandatory and to be fully implemented after a transition period in EU.
Additionally, the forthcoming EU deforestation regulation will also include rules for soy, palm, beef, coffee, cocoa, timber and rubber. Against this background, digital traceability represents a good and practical solution which will continue to spread, while it is based on joint efforts from all supply chain stakeholders.
Severine: In France, on top of legally required information, we have also introduced additional product information such as Nutri-score and Eco-score to give customers more awareness in their food purchasing. All information needs to be integrated into a practical solution to enhance the transparency but also simplify customer communication in this regard. A digital tool like PRO TRACE is strong solution and answer to respond to this new trend with big potential.
Insights “PRO TRACE”
PRO TRACE is an innovative digital traceability solution established by METRO and currently applied in Germany, France and Austria for assortments of meat, fish and seafood as well as fruit and vegetables (only in France). It is METRO’s response to its customers’ growing awareness of and needs for enhanced transparency of the supply chain and knowing more about the source of the product. While EU regulation already requires lot-based product data for fish, with PRO TRACE METRO is going one step further providing transparent data digitally and often extended information about the individual product for its customers to make informed purchasing decisions.
PRO TRACE is a cloud-based data system that adopts GS1’s standards for the entry and transfer of data as well as labelling products with GS1 barcodes. PRO TRACE data are uploaded by producers and suppliers to METRO’s database called PIER (PRO TRACE Inhouse Event Repository) or alternatively fTRACE. To facilitate the transfer of various data volumes, different uploading options are made available to suppliers, who are responsible for the data accuracy and uploading data before the respective shipment arrives at METRO. Data once entered by suppliers are fixed in the database and can't be modified any more to ensure their integrity and authenticity.
From a customer perspective, the package of the PRO TRACE products offers a QR code to be simply scanned with a mobile device’s camera (in France) or products are labelled with a lot-barcode to be scanned with free-of-charge PRO TRACE mobile app (in Germany and Austria). In this way customers are able to anytime access the respective product details including the product source or catch area, production or raising process, date of production and packaging, storage conditions even the profile of the producer, all stored in METRO´s database.
By this, PRO TRACE effectively brings the professional hospitality customers closer to the source and production of the food products they are buying - and also gives them the opportunity to share such information with their customers to boost trust and confidence in the ingredients. Moreover, PRO TRACE offers further roll-out potential for other food categories and more countries to ensure compliance with the traceability regulations at EU and local levels.
Facts & Figures
How broadly is METRO’s PRO TRACE system being applied for the fresh food categories? How do its customers in Germany make use of the tool? What potential does digital traceability hold to enhance the sustainability of supply chains? Let’s explore these insights with the selection of infographics.
PRO TRACE Assortments
Currently in Germany, France and Austria, there are about 5,500 PRO TRACE products, nearly half of which are in the fish and seafood categories. In total about 250 producers and suppliers work with the PRO TRACE system.
Purchase of PRO TRACE Products and Customer usage in Germany
In METRO Germany, there are about 1 million purchases each month that contain PRO TRACE products, with about 4 items on average per invoice. PRO TRACE codes are scanned on average 35,000 times each month by METRO Germany’s customers.
Digital Traceability for Sustainable Supply Chains
Digital traceability has big potential for enhanced transparency and sustainability in supply chains, for example to ensure the sourcing in compliance with applicable deforestation-free regulations.