Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were becoming more conscious about the sources of the food they put on their tables, forcing a shift in supply chain transparency. Now, in a time of increased health concerns and supply chain troubles, there is an even more urgent need to secure consumer confidence with the assurance of food safety and reliability.
Recognizing the need to improve supply chain visibility and traceability, businesses involved in producing, transporting, storing, and selling food products have started to explore the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. While not a new solution, modern RFID is well-positioned to address the food industry’s unique challenges, like minimizing waste, optimizing inventory, and providing traceability throughout the supply chain.
What is RFID Technology?
RFID is a technology that involves labels or tags that emit a small radio frequency. This allows real-time and highly accurate radio stock counts of items that are “tagged” compared to traditional methods.
RFID has been adopted by apparel and major retail industries for years. Specifically, brands like Nike, Levi’s, Target, and Macy’s are among the technology’s most vocal supporters because the solution has helped make their supply chains more agile. Learning from these industries, the food industry is now poised to enjoy some of the same benefits.
Benefits of Using RFID Technology in Food Distribution
Conventional companies, like apparel and household items producers, don’t routinely show their consumers information about their supply chain. But the food industry is different. Consumers increasingly want to know the source of the food they are consuming. Other frequent concerns in this sector are food safety, compliance with regulations, and strict inventory control.
For all of these reasons and more, RFID is uniquely suited for the food distribution sector. Here are six advantages of using RFID in food distribution.
1. More Accurate Identification and Traceability
RFID allows you to identify products in real-time so that you know how much stock you have of a particular item and where it is at in the supply chain. Traceability is vital for a variety of reasons.
When it comes to food, you might need to trace its source or pathway through the supply chain to ensure safety. This information gives you access to weights, expiration dates, lot numbers, as well as other vital details like temperature and humidity.
2. Automatic Inventory Control
Controlling inventory can be a labor-intensive process. Not only does it take time to ship and receive food products, but this time spent on loading and receiving docks could also impact the efficiency of the supply chain and the safety of the products.
Instead, products with RFID tags are automatically counted and recorded, allowing real-time inventory management. Alerts can be built into the system to ensure cold storage items remain refrigerated and even triggers added for the automatic placement of new orders.
3. Better Control of Productivity
Logistics operations can often suffer from inefficiencies related to the repetition of routine tasks. Thanks to RFID, you can identify batches of products that require movement to the same location and record changes in product location and quantities automatically.
This capability gives you better control over your operation’s productivity, can reduce costs, and add value to your business. According to the 2015 annual industry report by the Material Handling Institute, RFID achieves 30% faster order processing, 30% reduction in labor costs, and nearly 100% accuracy in inventory, orders, shipping, and receiving.
4. Increased Efficiency in Shipments
When you use RFID in the food sector, you have much more control over shipments and expeditions, making the process more efficient. Growers and distribution centers can prepare and dispatch shipments faster and with fewer errors. The likelihood of duplicate or crossed orders is dramatically reduced or eliminated with real-time access to data about the products being moved.
5. Greater Customer Satisfaction
As with any business, customer satisfaction is vital in the food industry. Food producers and logistics providers not only need to satisfy their immediate clients but also the ultimate consumers of the products.
By controlling the supply chain, improving processes, minimizing defect risk, and ensuring adherence to regulations, growers and producers improve customer service and satisfaction at all levels.
6. Improved Packaging Recirculation
Some pallets and plastic boxes in the food industry are reused after the sale and a disinfection process. Depending on the procedure you’ve established, this can be efficient or a bit of a mess. Using RFID tags, pallets and boxes coming back through the supply chain can be instantly identified and processed.
RFID is Now Mature Enough for the Food Industry
In the past, RFID was reserved for eCommerce companies that wanted to improve the efficiency of their operations, lower costs, and boost customer satisfaction. Fortunately, the technology has now matured to the point that it can provide the same benefits to food companies.
- RFID tags are smaller, making them viable for even the smallest food items.
- The price of RFID tags has dropped dramatically, making it a more affordable solution for food products.
- Durable RFID tags have been developed that survive low and high temperatures, making them suitable for all types of food packaging.
- More advanced tags are available that work on liquid and metal products.
If your food business hasn’t investigated RFID technology as a solution, now may be a perfect time.
Incorporating RFID into Your Mobile Warehouse Solution
One of the most significant benefits of adopting RFID technology is that your business can integrate it with other automated warehouse and logistics solutions. For example, RFID works with your existing warehouse management system (WMS), voice recognition system, and mobile computing solutions. And, if you don’t have these systems in place, you can boost the efficiency of your operations even more by adopting them alongside RFID.
The food industry might face a multitude of challenges. But RFID technology is a solution proven to solve many of these issues. And it’s reached a point where it is a viable option for a complex and diverse range of products. While the food industry is relatively new frontier for RFID, it is being adopted quickly and providing businesses and consumers with benefits that make it a worthwhile option.