Mondi is working on a three-year project that could lead to a breakthrough in the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in the grocery supply chain.
The packaging firm is one year into the initiative, which entails the commitment of a global manufacturer, an international logistics provider and retailer with worldwide scope.
The trial is focusing on implementing RFID at a case level, rather than on individual items or, at a larger scale, on pallets.
Speaking exclusively to FoodProductionDaily.com, Reza Beglari, innovation manager for Mondi’s Corrugated Packaging business segment, said two main things had traditionally hampered the grocery industry’s adoption of RFID.
Commercial and technical challenge
“The number of players in the retail industry and the tens of thousands of different articles involved present a commercial challenge and a technical challenge.”
A big technical challenge presented by the variety of products in the grocery industry is that many products use metal and liquids, which interfere with the strength and range of an RFID tag’s signal.
By contrast, clothing suppliers and retailers had been able to use RFID more successfully because their supply chain was simpler and used compatible materials, said Beglari.
“The commercial challenge is to get to a point where a number of companies agree to share the cost and benefits. That’s more complex with the food industry.
“The objective of the project is to tackle the two challenges. Really fantastic things are happening as we speak.”
The cost of implementing RFID was a prohibitive factor for the grocery industry five years ago, but this was coming down and was now less of a problem, said Beglari. However, he said it was still a barrier to implementing the technology for individual products.
“The quality of the discussion is changing. It’s now not a question of cost, but of how we share the cost and the benefits.
“The question is: at which level can you achieve the best cost/benefit ratio. The industry is taking the approach that a case level will give us most of the benefits at the right cost level.”
Companies with sufficient scale were obviously better placed to overcome the cost issues, he added.
He said RFID was only one solution for tracking and tracing. Mondi is also pursuing the use of Smart ID bags that could use quick response (QR) codes on individual products that smart phones are able to read.
However, both approaches have advantages and disadvantages.
Smart ID was certainly cheaper for use with individual items and the development of smart phone technology meant it could be used more easily for businesses to communicate with consumers, said Beglari.
That said, QR codes, like standard barcodes, used optical reading technology and needed to be exposed to a reading device, whereas RFID codes did not, he said. “You can read an RFID tag that’s on the opposite side to an RFID reader, out of the line of sight.
“With a barcode, you could scan outer boxes [on a pallet] but the only way to identify others would be to take some out. With RFID you can scan all boxes on a pallet without taking away a single box.”