The future is now

These are tumultuous times for the grocery sector. Ongoing activities include the £12 billion Sainsbury’s and Asda merger, Tesco’s takeover of Booker, the erosion of the Big Four’s market share by the likes of Aldi and Lidl, and Amazon’s increasingly high-profile forays into the food space.  

As if the battle for bottom line wasn’t enough to contend with, retailers now need to be mindful of a host of other ever-evolving issues, from sugar levies and debates around packaging to GDPR and how customers prefer to pay for their goods.

While these topics dominate column inches, another background issue has long been a cause of consternation – the lack of a consistent, industry-wide method of capturing and sharing product data.

The grocery sector has spent years grappling with the transfer of information, wasting vast sums of money and endless hours juggling conflicting systems and duplicating data to cater for the specific requirements of individual retailers.

As if this wasn’t arduous enough, increasing demands from consumers for more product information pertaining to nutrition, allergens and provenance has placed an already creaking system under additional strain.

Rather than let an untenable situation spiral any further out of control, GS1 UK’s Retail Grocery Advisory Board – including the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Co-Op, Ocado, Unilever, Nestle and Pespsico – identified product data management as a key concern in 2016 and signed an industry charter announcing their commitment to move to a single solution for managing and exchanging data last year.

The result of that pledge is productDNA, a service designed and launched by this industry-wide group to offer a single way to share and manage trusted product data faster and more efficiently. It’s a service by the industry, for the industry.

After a year in development, the service is now live and comprises three main components:

  • An industry data model for suppliers to share product data with retailers in a consistent format with standardised attributes.
  • A cloud-based secure product catalogue
  • Independent physical product verification to ensure the accuracy of the product data.

The service defines and manages more than 150 industry-agreed data attributes for products across the grocery sector, including physical product data such as dimensions, weight and volume, as well as ingredients, nutritional values and allergen information.  

In addition to the above, the service leads to an enhanced experience for the most important people of all – the shoppers.

For retailers it means easy and early access to information – especially new product lines – and simple automated updates.

For suppliers, it provides them with a single way of sharing product information with all retailers. It also frees them from the commercial constraints of third-party data platforms and can cut the go-to-market time for new product lines by weeks.

Moreover, it offers a fairly-priced model that has been agreed by the community to benefit the whole industry. Suppliers with an annual turnover of up to £10 million will receive a free three-year subscription to the service if they sign up by 31 December.

Where similar systems have been implemented overseas, suppliers were able to increase their sales figures between 1% - 3%. Scaled to the size of the UK economy, this could mean an extra £20 billion for the UK’s retail grocery industry.

When you consider the transformative effect that this could have on the sector, it becomes slightly puzzling that previous data disasters haven’t garnered more column inches.

We’re proud of our involvement in establishing a whole new way of working and we look forward to its imminent adoption. 

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