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Product expiration data within a barcode will help reduce food waste

Date: March 26, 2015

Category: Opinion piece

Author: Gary Lynch

Gary Lynch, CEO of GS1 UK, discusses how the barcode has an important role to play in providing a more detailed and accurate view of stock – removing the risk of selling out of date food to consumers and contravening food safety legislation.

A recent report by UK waste experts WRAP warned that one third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste. Consumers are responsible for a staggering £259bn worth, but up to 250,000 tonnes of this waste could be prevented through supply chain efficiencies. Huge progress has been made over the years to make food supply chains more efficient through the automation of processes and information flows. And at the very heart of this transformation lies the barcode – a device that has been enabling point of sale scanning for almost 40 years and is used extensively through the supply chain to help get the right product, to the right place, at the right time.

When it comes to managing food waste, the barcode has an important role to play because it can also be encoded with additional information, such as a product expiry date – whether this is the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date. The most common application has been in the supply chain on outer cases, however retailers are now starting to look at its potential for use on pack for short-life products: a leading Dutch retailer expects to save €1m per year from reduced food waste by encoding expiry dates into pack barcodes.

Using GS1 barcodes on products such as meat, fish and produce, and scanning the date both on shelf and at point-of-sale, can provide the store with a more detailed and accurate view of stock, distinguishing between different batches and expiry dates and minimising the risk that old stock remains in store or on shelf. Retailers would no longer have to manually inspect expiry dates of products and re-label them with price markdowns in order to minimise waste. The risk of selling out of date food to consumers and contravening food safety legislation could also be minimised.

Products with short date-life at point of sale could be recorded on the till receipt, providing the consumer with better information on their purchases and reducing the potential for household food waste. And products past their expiry date could be flagged at the till and withdrawn from sale. Additionally, it would be possible for the retailer to enable automatic price reductions of near expiry date products triggered at point of sale. In fact, a number of customer-facing Apps have been developed in readiness for retailers taking that approach.

There is no doubt that retailers and suppliers are now taking some measures to reduce food waste, but few are taking full advantage of the technology that can help to tackle the issue at the earliest possible opportunity. By extending the information in the barcode, retailers can benefit from better supply chain visibility, optimised picking and shelf fulfilment processes - and improve the consumer experience too.

This article was first published on The Grocer (subscription required).