Traceability Options For Small Growers

Small growers can buy into a very inexpensive traceability solution as charter members from now through the end of the year, according to John Bailey, executive director of Top 10 Produce, LLC in Salinas, CA. The Top 10 Produce brand provides small growers with traceability solutions, either by the case, per the mandate of the industry’s Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), or by the item, as required by a growing number of retail chains.

So what’s the catch? It’s not so much of a catch as it is an opportunity for local growers to join a national brand dedicated to helping small growers promote and sell their produce locally, according to Bailey.

Small But Mighty

The original intent for Top 10 Produce wasn’t based on offering a grower traceability option, but rather to encourage smaller growers in California’s Salinas Valley to work together to market local produce directly to the consumer under a common trademark that would be advertised nationally, says Bailey.

“Each grower is encouraged to retain and promote what makes them unique, and we encourage them to remain 100% independent by giving them free rein to contract with whomever, whenever,” he says.

Bailey says because most growers have a “Top” label (their highest quality grade), that inspired the common trademark name, “Top 10.” Under the brand, growers are encouraged to contribute at least 10% of their crop to sell locally under the commonly marketed brand.

“By pooling marketing dollars, small, local growers can afford to market their produce both locally and nationally, using direct item-specific marketing that can be achieved using ‘extended packaging,’ if each item is labeled with GS1 DataBar, which allows consumers to use a computer or mobile device to learn about the grower and where the produce was grown,” says Bailey. This transparency is appealing to today’s consumers and will make small, local growers’ produce more marketable.

Enter traceability; Bailey says he learned that smaller growers in Salinas Valley, and nationwide, were reluctant to adopt the new GS1
technology (www.gs1.com) because they saw it as expensive and a hassle to implement.

Top 10 Produce includes two trademarks for produce that is 100% traceable to the item level, and one service mark, which allows the grower to have produce traceable only at the case level, to provide maximum flexibility for the grower. Reserve is the top label, under which a grower may label no more than 25% of their labeled crop, because the Reserve label will be priced at a premium and marketed to restaurants and consumers willing to pay a premium for it.

While a number of growers have signed on under Top 10 Produce, the brand is keeping mum on numbers and names until Jan. 1, 2010, when its direct-to-consumer website is unveiled.

Top 10 Traceability

Within the Top 10 Produce traceability system, the brand itself holds the GS1 manufacturer prefix, which can cost each grower upwards of $750 to obtain if they do so by going through GS1 directly. Top 10 Produce then assigns a unique, 14-digit Global Traceability Identification Number (GTIN), issued by GS1, to each produce item and case and shares those GTINs with all trading partners for every grower. “Top 10 is designed with the smaller grower in mind, and the smaller grower is all about having hassle-free implementation. All the grower has to do is tell us what they grow, which field they grow it in, and who their buyers are, and they’re done with us. With the Top 10 system, there are no computers, software, or even label printers. Top 10 deals with all the red tape. We keep track of all of the data, and we keep all of the growers’ information current. Small growers understand that and they like the simplicity.”

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