barcode tracking supply chain
  • Smart Device Scanning for Food Distribution Efficiency

Featured Image Caption: Barcode Tracking Supply Chain

The food distribution market is estimated to be at $280B in annual revenue, according to information provided by Applico. Also, the top eight distributors account for around 40 percent of the market. That also means there are a lot of SMBs in food distribution. But innovation is paramount for them to compete and smart device scanning is one place to innovate.

For a food company, understanding inventories are vital, and creating virtual inventories can transform supply chains in food distribution. In part, this means establishing a networked understanding of stock across multiple locations for efficient restocking strategies. Grocery stores today carry tens of thousands of items that need to be tracked, not just for stock and restock but also for health reasons like expiration dates and recalls.

The back warehouse is also important. Sensors can be employed to track when stock on shelves is low and alert management or even automate re-ordering. Much of this is well understood and the barcode scanner has long been a tool relied upon to achieve this. To most users, barcodes seem to have remained the same for decades, but barcode scanning software has not. There are various levels of performance to consider.

Basic Barcode Software Considerations

The business world was recently thrust into mobility scenarios, much of which will stay in place. But teams are also headed back to work facilities in droves. Like never before, it is essential to strongly support central office and remote or mobile workers. So, the first consideration for barcode software is precisely this – that it can be deployed cross-platform, whether on a smartphone operating system or desktop operating system.

Speed is likely the next most essential element, particularly when needing to process tens of thousands of SKUs. It is then ideal that a barcode scanning software solution is capable of scanning hundreds of codes per minute. Furthermore, it should do so with high accuracy or a low read error rate. Nothing hinders workflow productivity in inventory management like missed barcode scans. It also leads to inaccurate inventory counts, which carries its own set of large problems.

To this end, a good barcode scanner and software can also overcome certain obstacles that are bound to happen, particularly damaged barcodes. Most highly capable barcode scanning software solutions can handle processing out-of-focus, skewed, wrinkled, curved, distorted, grainy, or barcodes that have glare or low contrast. Still, a food company looking for a solution should include this on their checklist for vetting software.

Common Barcodes Used in Grocery and Retail

It is important to touch upon some of the more common barcode symbols used in grocery stores or retail. This is because a food distributor will need to ensure the barcode scanning software they seek to employ supports all the barcode symbols they plan to use.

The UPC-A barcode is arguably the most commonly found on consumer goods packaging, including food items on grocery store shelves. It encodes 11 digits of product information in addition to a trailing check digit. So, 12 digits total. The first digit here is used to identify a product type. The next five digits identify the manufacturer or maker, and the last five digits contain information about the specific product being encoded.

Without getting into that much detail about the other common barcodes, there is the UPC-E. It is basically a more compact version of the UPC-A. EAN-8 barcode includes two or three digits for a country code, four or five data digits for product or manufacturer information, and a checksum digit. EAN-13 is similar but has 13 digits, of course.

Another symbol that has arguably risen to fame recently is the QR Code. A QR code, the long name being Quick Response code, is one of many two-dimensional barcodes that are available. It is made up of black squares positioned in a square grid on a white background. It can be read by a camera, scanner, or other imaging devices.

While other barcode symbols might be used, these few make up the bulk of what is common in food distribution. It would be wise for a food distribution company to audit symbols used prior to investing in the barcode scanning software.

Food Distribution Insight Innovations

Another possible innovation a food company can consider is in technology to read labels. One scenario for such a technology might involve a worker in the grocery store area. Here, they can scan a label, for example, a sale sign over-produce like cabbage.

Tied to the inventory database, they can confirm the sale sign matches the barcode scan data. They can also do a secondary inventory check. Retailers lose a lot of money due to mispriced items and lose out on nearly a trillion dollars in sales from out-of-stock items, according to research by IHL Group.

The technology employs optical character recognition (OCR) to scan and then convert images on physical labels into usable digital alphanumeric information. With it, many use cases are possible, like scanning price tags, inventory labels in warehouses, vehicle identification numbers (VIN), license plates, identification cards, and more.

Another use case is in warehouse management. With label recognition technology, warehouse management or staff can capture content that may not be barcoded. Or they can alleviate concerns from seriously damaged barcodes. So, every item of inventory can be easily scanned with label recognition technology to make sure everything is in its place or to determine items that need to be restocked. Warehouse staff can also make use of pallet ID labels, also known as box labels, for example, to make sure products are stored at the correct location in the warehouse.

Another new innovation in warehouse inventory management is in providing more holistic views of inventory. For example, automation can be employed to scan whole isles of barcodes at once.

In a typical scenario, a worker or automated machine can move alongside boxes or shelves with a camera. Meanwhile, the barcode reader concurrently captures the barcode images. No, in an instant, the warehouse manager can receive a stitched image or a panoramic view of his or her entire warehouse. This is helpful in comparing stock reports to discover missed barcodes in real-time.

Growing Competition

The food distribution industry is highly competitive, especially with emergent major entrants like Amazon. Globally, the food and beverage industry is pegged to add around $635 billion in sales by 2026 to reach $3.6 trillion in chain retail sales, according to Ascential. Amazon online edible grocery sales is expected to about double in size to nearly $27 billion by 2026, also according to Ascential.

There are roughly 16,500 companies in the food distribution industry, according to Applico. As a result of this market size, growth, and new competition, smaller food distributors are more and more seeking technology advantages to remain competitive. No doubt, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and other such innovative industries will chime in. However, tried and true technology like the barcode has evolved, particularly because of innovations in the barcode scanning software. As a result, a food company can do well to look to further innovate with what they already use.

By Anvi Lewis
who is a Technical Support Executive with a combined experience of more than 12 years. She is currently working with – an Enterprise-Grade Document Capture and Barcode Reading SDKs provider. In her free time, Anvi enjoys reading, writing and travelling.

Member since May, 2022
View all the articles of Anvi Lewis.

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