E-commerce forces barcode testing

Products coming from companies with unaudited barcode systems will not be allowed to be sold in the country's three largest food retailers.

Products coming from companies with unaudited barcode systems will not be allowed to be sold in the country’s three largest food retailers.

Local food retailers and representatives of coding body EAN say the rise of e-commerce and supply chain automation has added new importance to the accuracy of barcodes.

Barcode inaccuracy is no longer just a matter of customers waiting in the checkout queue while the operator manually keys in an unscannable code or being charged for the wrong product. Misreadings in an automated distribution system can now compromise inventory totals and disrupt the supply chain, they say.

For this reason Woolworths, Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises have enforced compulsory checking of barcode accuracy, to apply from April 4 this year, with the support of the retailers’ industry body, the Grocery Marketers Association.

Manufacturers can send newly packaged products to EAN New Zealand for testing and for the production of a verification report. Alternatively, manufacturers who have completed the EAN New Zealand accreditation programme, EANacert, are licensed to produce their own verification reports.

Without a report, say the three chains, products will not be accepted for sale in their stores.

Barcode error rates are likely to be higher on bulk consignments, where codes may be on an unsatisfactory cardboard surface or printed with less reliable inkjet technology rather than laser, than they are on the more professionally and consistently printed single packets, says EAN chief executive Margaret Fitzgerald. Ironically, the bulk stage of distribution is where errors can potentially cause the most disruption.

Barcode verification is already compulsory in Australia. Prior to compulsory verification, Woolworths Australia says it was experiencing error rates as high as 6% from some manufacturers when a 1% error rate can mean six million individual scanning failures in a year.

Verification reports will be mandatory on all new products, promotional packages and newly packaged products for retail and trade unit items, say the food retailers. This will have a magnified effect this year, as a large number of product labels are being redesigned to accommodate the requirements of the newly introduced Australia-NZ Food Agency regulations on labelling. These are aimed to increase consumer information on ingredients and expiry dates.

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