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Q-and-A: DineEquity’s Brad Clem on how GS1US Standards can make the supply chain safer

As farm to table dining becomes more popular, it’s not uncommon to see ingredients’ origins printed on a menu. Knowing which farm grew the heirloom tomatoes in their salad or where the chicken on their plate was raised gives many diners confidence in their food choices. Still, knowing the exact journey food takes from farm to fork is rare, but advances in technology are making the supply chain safer and more transparent than ever before.

Imagine opening a menu at a national chain restaurant and being able to scan a code on each item to see not only where it was grown, but its nutritional information and whether it passed through any facilities where it may have come into contact with allergens. Traceability at the individual restaurant level could be a game-changer for diners with food allergies and restaurant operators who need to react quickly in the face of a recall.

In this interview, Brad Clem, manager of quality systems for DineEquity, talks about how the company is working toward this level of traceability by joining the GS1 US Standards Initiative and requiring its proprietary suppliers use the GS1-128 barcode.

Why did DineEquity decide to join the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative?

DineEquity joined the initiative in 2009, as a founding member in conjunction with Centralized Supply Chain Services. In 2010, I had just started with DineEquity, and we ran a pilot program in conjunction with Maines Paper & Food Services, a distributor outside of Chicago and a handful of proprietary suppliers.  The idea was to lay the groundwork for case level traceability from the supplier facility to the restaurant. That is our “holy grail” and why we decided to join the initiative. Our number one priority is food safety and brand protection.

How did you pave the way to move forward with GS1 adoption and implementation?

I wasn’t a big part of GS1 at the beginning, but after I attended the first GS1 Connect in Las Vegas, the information and potential for benefits was overwhelming. This year, I learned even more about what GS1 and the GDSN in particular could offer. To figure out how GS1 would apply to DineEquity’s goals, I paralleled our efforts after Yum! Brands’, working closely with Brenda Lloyd of the Unified Foodservice Purchasing Co-op, following her lead.

On which GS1 Standards specifically are you currently focused?

We have requested that our proprietary suppliers use the GS1-128 barcode because it has the extended data, such as the manufacturer lot number, production dates and time stamp we are looking for. This will allows us to achieve alignment and trace products through the supply chain, not only so we can have enhanced visibility, but also so we are able to respond to withdrawals and recoveries faster. With this barcode, we will be able to identify a product that was produced on June 27 from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and which distribution centers received the product. Eventually, using the GS1-128 barcode and GLNs, the [distributions centers] will be able to scan the case as it’s delivered to the restaurant so we will know which restaurants received that product. Though we are encouraging our stock item manufacturers to use the GS1-128 barcode, we are not mandating it like we are with our proprietary and exclusive product suppliers. This initiative is of such importance that it will become a requirement in approving potential supply base.

Are you motivated by FSMA to adopt GS1 Standards?

We are paying close attention to FSMA, but the main idea is to stay in front of the regulations. We know they’re coming, so why wait? Again, it all goes back to food safety and brand protection.

Why do you feel it’s important for other operators like DineEquity to get involved in the initiative?

Operators need to join together to provide a consistent standard for our suppliers so they’re not having to change product identifiers and other information from one operator to another. Many manufacturers provide product to both DineEquity and Yum! Brands, for example. If we are all using the GS1-128 barcode, they are able to use the same software, technology and standards, and still capture all products information down to the individual case level, regardless of the end-user. This is especially important if the supplier has a product recovery or withdrawal that affects more than one brand. During the face-to-face meeting at GS1 Connect in San Antonio this summer, we had a lot of people in the room talking about how to bring more operators together. This isn’t about whether DineEquity is doing better than our competitors. We should all be concerned about having full traceability and the best way to accomplish that is by working together.

Where do you see the initiative headed?

Our next plan of action is to investigate and ultimately implement GLN numbers, which will identify each Applebee’s and IHOP restaurant as a different final destination. We envision a barcode that would then be created to capture that information, so when the distributor arrives to deliver products, he can use a scanner to scan the restaurant GLN number on the door and each product as it goes through the back of the restaurant. At that point, that information is either directly transmitted “real-time” or the handheld scanner can be taken back to the distributor’s center for downloading so both parties know what was delivered, when and where. That gives us traceability to the individual restaurant level.  Beyond this, I can foresee customers in the future being able to open a menu at Applebee’s or IHOP, scan a barcode or QR code using their cell phone to help them identify potential allergens and nutritional information for different items. That is the wave of the future.