RFID tested on Dutch fresh vegetable cold chain

RFID Journal LIVE! in Amsterdam was recently presented withn the results of Vers Schakel (Fresh Chain) — the first project of its kind in the world — to test the use of RFID in the logistics chain for fresh vegetables.

Fresh Chain started in May 2005 with the objective of acquiring knowledge and experience with RFID in order to improve the quality and shelf-life of fresh cut vegetables.

In order to achieve this, a pilot scheme was set up in the chain for fresh cut vegetables from the supplier Heemskerk to the C1000 shop.

RFID tags were attached to 2,500 crates filled with small packages of cut vegetables and tracked through the entire chain. During the project, participants in the chain could access real-time information at any moment via a central database.

In this way, the partners obtained insight into the usability of RFID as a control mechanism and management tool for improving the quality of the end product.

“Fresh Chain was a voyage of discovery,” says René Bakker, Retail Director at Schuitema, who initiated the project.

“We were the first to use the latest RFID standards and the latest generation of RFID technology. Furthermore, RFID has never been used in this way before. Naturally, this meant delays but after a period of two years, we can show excellent results.”

The new technology makes it possible to track the crates with 99% to 100% accuracy through the entire chain. Fresh Chain shows that transparency in the chain increases for all parties.

In concrete terms, this means that it is possible to have a full overview of the passage of the crates from supplier to shop shelf and back, which enables optimum chain management.

Moreover, it is also possible to carry out checks at every link in the chain, so preventing distribution errors. Finally, Fresh Chain has shown that RFID is a good tool for monitoring temperature conditions in the chain, which is very important for the quality of the product.

Lastly, improved control and greater transparency ensure that the consumer benefits from better quality and availability of the product: the right products arrive at the right moment, with high quality guaranteed.

The link between Fresh Chain and a similar pilot scheme at Container Centralen (CC), the CBL crate pool manager, also appeared to be a success.

Container Centralen used Fresh Chain’s crate registration to research the possibilities of improving pool management with RFID.

The pilot scheme at Container Centralen indicated that the crates can be tracked within the distribution chain, allowing CC to better organise the availability and stocks of crates, react more quickly to developments in the market and thus serve its customers better.

Of course, Schuitema and its partners also examined whether it was possible to apply RFID profitably in practice. Here too the results were positive.

Implementation of RFID in the chain for potatoes, vegetables and fruit and other fresh articles supplied in CBL crates provides a return on investment within an average of 2.7 years.

However, an important precondition is that all chain partners participate. The first step that will have to be taken is the facilitation of the use of RFID by the crate owners and the crate pool managers. They must use crates that carry RFID tags as standard.

“Fresh Chain brought the large-scale rollout of RFID in the logistics chain a major step closer,” says René Bakker.

“We have proven that RFID is indispensable in improving the chain in a profitable way. This is a very positive result for us and also for the consumer.”

“After all, the customer gets better, fresher products. So the task for us and our colleagues in the sector is to make RFID the standard in the near future,” Bakker says.

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