Kroger, Barcodes and the FSMA

First Published: March 22, 2024

When it comes to barcodes, the grocery chain Kroger has always been at the front of the line.

Kroger played a pioneering role in the adoption of barcodes and the Universal Product Code system in the grocery industry. In the early 1970s, Kroger worked closely with companies like RCA and IBM to test barcode scanning technology in their stores.

This included a bullseye-style barcode and the early UPC versions.

Kroger’s early adoption of UPC barcodes paved the way for wider implementation across the grocery and retail sectors. Their partnership with manufacturers to integrate unique UPC codes on product packaging accelerated the transition from manual entry cash registers to more efficient barcode scanning systems. Kroger’s commitment, along with other industry leaders, helped overcome initial skepticism and demonstrated the tremendous productivity and inventory management benefits of the UPC technology that is so prevalent today.

Kroger and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The FDA’s FSMA was finally published in 2022 and included a list of food products that would be mandated to have enhanced levels of traceability.

The list of products that FDA has deemed to need this additional traceability includes produce, seafood, some types of nuts and others.

The Kroger team has taken a large leadership role here and is mandating that their suppliers include this extra level of traceability for ALL food products, regardless of whether they are on the FDa list.

This is a huge step in food safety, and Kroger has given suppliers until June 2025 to comply. The FDA’s compliance date is January 2026, so Kroger suppliers will automatically comply with FSMA traceability.

What About Labeling?

There are two areas where Kroger suppliers may have to change their barcode labeling. In some cases, a supplier might already be in compliance with how they label their packaging.

Pallet Labeling

Suppliers must label pallets with SSCC barcode labels as outlined in the GS1 specifications.

They must also certify that the pallet labeling corresponds to the data transmitted to Kroger via EDI 856 ASN.

The pallet labels must include these data elements (from Kroger documentation):

  • GS1-128 or Data Matrix SSCC Barcode
  • Supplier Name & Ship “From” Address, City, State, Zip, and DUNs + 4 Suffix
  • Ship To Company & Ship “To” Address, City, State, Zip, and DUNs + 4 Suffix
  • Carrier Name
  • Bill of Lading #
  • Purchase Order Number
  • Single SKU Pallet OR Mixed Pallet designation

A lot of suppliers will already be using these pallet labels for shipments to Kroger.

Case Labeling

Kroger uses GS1’s North American Guidance for Case Code Labeling to determine the labeling needed for shipping cases. Suppliers already adopting this standard will have a head start on Kroger’s new requirements.

Data elements that need to be included on cases are:

  • Packer Information
  • Global Trade Item Number or GTIN-14 (AI 01)
  • Product Name & Description
  • Lot Number (AI 10)
  • Product Date (production date (AI 11), pack date (AI 13), expiration date (AI 17), best before date (AI 15), sell by
    date (AI 16))
  • Quantity
  • Unit of Measure

In addition, some of the data needs to be in machine-readable form using either GS1-128 or GS1 Data Matrix barcodes, as shown here:

Suppliers in the protein or produce industries will be used to providing this kind of barcode labeling, but it is going to be new to other food producers who currently only have to use a GTIN-14 barcode label on their cases.

Conclusion

By adopting the FDA’s traceability requirement for all food products, Kroger is making a big move in terms of food safety.

Many suppliers are likely to have to invest in new labeling equipment to meet the traceability barcoding requirement for shipping cases (and perhaps pallets). Still, the result will be a more robust food safety infrastructure, and that can only be a good thing.

Further Reading

Download Kroger’s Food Safety Document with all the details.

GS1’s Case Coding Guidance.

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