You’d have trouble trying to find someone in the food and drink industry that doesn’t recognise the name GS1. The barcode and the set of standards underpinning it have been a cornerstone of producer/retail relations since their first commercial use in 1971 – a cornerstone that is constantly being developed by the organisation.
Guiding GS1 UK’s development is Chris Tyas, an industry veteran that spent 35 years at food and drink manufacturing giant Nestlé. Tyas took on the role as GS1 UK chair when he returned to the UK at the end 2018 after eight years as senior vice president of global supply chain at Nestlé’s Switzerland headquarters.
“I’ve had more than 40 years in the food industry – in procurement, in manufacturing, in human resources and in supply chain – 35 of those with Nestlé and five with Mars,” he recalls. “But when I look at procurement, manufacturing, supply chain, core to everything that I ever had to do is food safety, and particularly, traceability.
“I’ve had to manage hundreds of recalls and food crises. Lots of them are quite small, but very particular to the individuals involved. But some of them are larger. All the ones that we’ve heard of – BSE, foot and mouth, melamine in China, horsemeat – at the core of all of those has been traceability. At the centre of that they all come back to consumer trust.”
As Tyas describes it, consumer trust underpins the whole of food and drink manufacturing and is crucial to the safeguarding of more than 400,000 jobs currently in the sector. He hopes to put his in-depth knowledge of the industry to good use in his role at GS1 in helping everyone up and down the supply chain secure that trust from consumers.
“It really something that care about and I’ve had to care about throughout my career,” he continues. “I think probably more than ever quite a few of those issues have hit me and made me think about what we have to do in food. Something that is very clear is that today’s consumer expects a great deal more and wants to know more about the food and the drink that they consume in greater detail.”
Despite his short tenure with GS1 UK, Tyas has already identified the key drivers that will be informing the future direction of the organisation and the supply chain sector. He narrowed it down to three trends – consumer-led, new technology, and sustainability and recycling.
“The first one is the whole expectation of the consumer for greater information at the point of purchase – whether that is on the shelf, on the [computer or phone] screen or on the product that they’re buying – is growing rapidly,” says Tyas. “If you look at the changing eating and lifestyle trends, people want more information at the point of purchase.
“The point of purchase isn’t necessarily now always on the shelf. GS1 UK launched – literally just as I arrived – productDNA, which gives any manufacturer the opportunity to share information that has been independently verified. Whether it’s about what’s in the product like allergy or whether it’s physical dimensions, they can share it with all retailers just at one stroke of a key.”
“That’s very important for establishing the trust of those consumers that are looking for that much more information at the point of purchase.”
On the topic of new technology, Tyas points to the development of the barcode – a product that GS1 is world-renowned for – will be further supported by other methods of data capture, such as QR codes and blockchain. Regardless of the technology at play, Tyas argues that the standards underpinning it needs to be done right.
“Key underneath all of them is that you have to have common standards,” he adds. “If you don’t have common standards then you remove the opportunity for true traceability, whether it is of product quality or of the provenance of the product. The standards are really still the cornerstone, however, the technology changes.”
The last of the three trends, sustainability and recycling, is a more pressing issue and one that Tyas says is being experienced every minute of every day by both consumers and businesses alike. Playing back into the advent of new technology to capture data and consumers wanting more information about the food they eat, there will be an onus on manufacturers to produce food that is mindful of its effect on the environment.
The challenge for producers is how they communicate their sustainability measures. While a manufacturer could be doing everything in its power to reduce its carbon footprint, if it doesn’t report its actions in a way that’s accepted by consumers or retailers, they could be penalised and lose out on business.
As Tyas explains: “Some of the retailers are coming out with very strong statements about what they will and won’t list dependent on recyclability and packaging standards and I think that they’re seeing resistance from the manufacturers, not because they don’t want to share it, but because maybe they don’t know the answer to the exam question.”
Regardless of the direction food and drink manufacturing takes, Tyas is confident that GS1 will leading the charge towards global standards for all sectors of the industry.
“There are all sorts of people coming into these areas to try and make the quick buck, but GS1 is a not-for-profit body and it’s the trusted advisor to all the participants and the stakeholders in the industry, because it’s not just us who are participants in food manufacture, almost everybody is a stakeholder,” he concludes.
“Our industry is kept alive by consumer trust and we could lose that in an instant. Traceability is absolutely the key to that trust. Whether it’s what’s in my product, how it was made, where it was made, who it was made by.