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Buy smarter: Foodservice GS1 Standards make it possible

Buy smarter: Foodservice GS1 Standards make it possible

It sounds like something only an IT guy can love, but the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative can be a restaurant operator’s friend.

Smartphones, tablets and social media have significantly shaped the way we interact, not only with each other, but also with the businesses we patronize. According to the National Restaurant Association, 36 percent of consumers prefer to order online and 35 percent scour the web to look up nutritional information. On the other hand, nine out of 10 restaurants will be using social media as a major marketing tool in the coming year, while 48 percent of restaurateurs plan to release mobile apps for smartphones.

It goes without saying that technology has dramatically affected the restaurant industry. As a result, operators—as well as foodservice manufacturers and distributors—are increasingly pressed to deliver the information consumers want and when they want it, often at a moment’s notice.  

What many consumers and even operators don’t realize—or are at least beginning to realize—is that gathering and sharing nutritional and other information about foodservice products does not come easy. On the consumer side, Google and mobile apps have made it easier than ever for diners to find places to eat and to gather basic nutritional information. On the foodservice side, the technology falls flat when product information is not available or, worse, is inaccurate. It’s challenging enough to gather and determine nutritional information, but if the information is incorrect to begin with, what’s the point?  

That’s where the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative comes in. Launched in 2009 by 55 leading foodservice companies and associations, the National Restaurant Association and others, and by third-party global standards organization GS1 US, the Initiative is an industry-wide collaborative to bring the technology of barcoding, scanning, traceability and product data sharing to the foodservice industry.

The goal of the Initiative is to have 75 percent (measured by revenue) of food manufacturers, distributors, operators and other supply chain partners voluntarily adopt GS1 Standards for product identification, location identification and data sharing by 2015. If we achieve this goal (we’re closer to this each day), operators and distributors will not only be able to track products from the plant to the restaurant’s back door and back again to establish a better platform for traceability and food safety; they will also be able to access enhanced product information, including nutritionals, allergen and other claims, professional images, and even cooking instructions.  

GS1 US is a not-for-profit organization rooted in the idea of identifying, capturing and sharing information through a common platform. “You probably have never heard of GS1, but you interact with GS1 Standards almost every day,” says Dennis Harrison, senior v.p. of GS1 US.

With humble beginnings in the late 1960s, the early iteration of GS1 US (formerly the Uniform Code Council) resulted in the scanning of the first barcode on a pack of Wrigley’s gum. Since then, GS1 has evolved into a massive global organization that connects a variety of different industries, including retail, grocery and healthcare. When you check out at a grocery store and the cashier scans your items, he or she is using GS1 Standards. Look at the barcode on your shirt label—that’s GS1. Today there are over five billion barcode scans globally every day, making GS1 Standards the most widely used in the world.

The importance of GS1 Standards

In the foodservice sector, the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative has been driving the adoption of GS1 Standards in the form of universally unique identifiers such as Global Location Numbers (GLNs) and Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs). These two things, combined with the sharing of product information through an electronic “superhighway” called the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), are what will allow a restaurant, a manufacturer and a distributor to communicate product information using the same “language.”    

Without GS1 Standards, many foodservice companies struggle to meet the growing consumer demand to know what’s in their food because of archaic systems and a lack of technological infrastructure to access this information electronically. While manufacturers and distributors need a common “language” to connect with each other and display item information on their websites and online ordering systems, restaurant owners and sales reps depend on the availability of critical information such as allergens, ingredient statements and images to make their purchasing decisions.

Not only does the adoption of GS1 Standards help drive sales and consumer confidence; it also greatly reduces errors in the supply chain traditionally seen as the “cost of doing business.” For example, the use of GTINs to identify products in the supply chain ensures that the right product is picked, shipped and received. That’s a big sigh of relief for the restaurant that has ordered one product and received something entirely different. Ever buy something online and track it to your door? Why shouldn’t restaurants have the same benefits of modern scanning and tracking? Think inventory management taken to a whole new level.

As a restaurant owner, operator, chef or other food industry professional, why is it important to understand all of this? Simply put, if we want this technology, the entire industry has to work together to advance their end of the game. Ask your distributors and suppliers how far along they are with adopting GS1 Standards. Sign up for a GS1 US webinar to learn more about the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative. Want to stay ahead of other competitors? Subscribe to the GDSN to access the information about food your consumers want and need.

Communicating critical information helps ensure profitability and customer satisfaction—for all industry players. Foodservice companies that fall behind and don’t keep in step with their peers run the risk of becoming obsolete.

Jason Gunn heads supplier development for Rosemont, IL-based foodservice distributor US Foods.

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