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Lot tracking for small-scale food producers and processors of Vermont

Project initiated, advocated, and sponsored by the Mad River Food Hub in collaboration with the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, a program of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.  Food software research, consulting, and project management executed by Stan Ward of Stan Ward Consulting. Funding for this project phase has come from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the Working Landscape Enterprise Fund (through the Vermont Meat and Poultry Processors Association) and a private foundation.

      

 

Table of Contents

 

Vision

To provide every small-scale food producer and processor in Vermont with an affordable, easy to implement, and easy to use lot tracking system, especially food businesses using food hub facilities, in order to meet FDA, USDA, and market-enforced food traceability requirements.

What is lot tracking and why is it important?

Food traceability is the ability to track a food product throughout the supply chain, which is critical in cases of food recalls.  Food processors are required to respond to the FDA within 24 hours of a request to provide the lot number and origin of all ingredients as well as the lot number and location of all products manufactured – all in digital form.  In order to meet FDA and USDA requirements for traceability, food processors in Vermont need effective tracking of all food materials they purchase and the products they manufacture.

Having effective lot tracking is a good manufacturing practice and important business risk management tool for all food processors.  Furthermore, the impending Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will likely make lot traceability law for many food processors.  And while many Vermont food businesses may be exempt from FSMA due to their small size, it is likely that supermarkets and other food product buyers will start to demand food product traceability in order to be sold in their stores, for regulatory and insurance reasons, as well as customer and market demands including organic, GMO labeling, kosher, etc.    

Who needs to do lot tracking?

All food producers (growers) and value-added food processors should have a food traceability system of some sort.  This program is intended to help you do it.   

Project Phases

A phased approach is being used to develop the lot tracking program which will support small-scale food producers and processors.  Phase 1 was completed in April, 2013.  Phase 2 was completed in Dec 2013, with the final report published in February 2014.  Phase 3 is ongoing (as of February 13, 2014).

Phase 1 - Solution Research (completed phase)

Phase Status: Completed

Phase 1 of the lot tracking program development has focused on research, specifically research on the lot tracking capabilities and needs of Vermont value-added processors, the availability of existing lot tracking software systems, and the development of a simple paper-based lot tracking system.  Phase 1 was completed on April 26, 2013.  See the products of this phase below. 

Phase 1 Executive Summary

Phase 1 Producer & Processor Survey

Phase 2: Solution Selection for Small-Scale Food Processors (completed phase)

Phase Status: Completed

The goal of Phase 2 was to select the lot tracking software system which best matches the needs of Vermont small-scale processors for features and affordability.  This includes lot tracking for value-added processors that manufacture food products that include meat and produce, such as soups, sausage, pet food, burgers, cookies, etc.

Selection Process

This project phase included surveying of Vermont small-scale food processors to understand their requirements, a full market research of existing software solutions, and a cross-functional team of Vermont food system stakeholders, including businesses, service providers, government representatives, and software experts to help select the best solution.  Nineteen (19) vendors submitted completed questionnaires, each of which was scored using a weighted scoring methodology.  Those missing more than two “must-have” requirements or deemed unaffordable were eliminated from consideration, which resulted in a short list of seven vendors

From the short list, the cross-functional evaluation team chose to interview and demo with five vendors.  Based on the interviews and demos, two vendors stood out from the rest as a good fit for Vermont small-scale food processors.  Due diligence of the two finalists consisted of further interviews with the owners of each company, hands-on testing of must-have functionality, and customer reference calls.

Solution Recommendation

DEAR Inventory (DEAR) is the solution selection recommendation for the Vermont small-scale processors.  DEAR has superior features and usability over the other vendors considered.  DEAR Inventory provides an easy-to-use and affordable ($31/month) inventory management system with good lot tracking and food safety recall features.  In addition, DEAR offers integration with QuickBooks Online and  XERO cloud-based accounting services.  For an additional monthly cost, DEAR also offers integration to other cloud-based services including Shopify, Magento, and eBay ecommerce storefront services, and ShipStation shipping logistics (FedEx, UPS, USPS, DHL).  These integrations are unique to the DEAR Inventory solution and offer an opportunity for food businesses interested in selling their products online.  These features also create a compelling business reason to adopt this technology, above and beyond its lot tracking capabilities.

Phase 2 - Press Release: Lot Tracking software selected for Vermont value-added food businesses

Click through to view the press release "Lot Tracking software selected for Vermont value-added food businesses" issued on February 19, 2014.

Phase 2 - Processor Solution Selection Final Report

Click through to view the full Phase 2 Processor Solution Selection Final Report.

List of vendors that completed the request for information questionnaire

Click through to view the list of vendors that completed the Phase 2 request for information questionnaire.

Original Vendor Request for Information Questionnaire

The following are the cover letter, questionnaire, and Q&A documents provided for vendors.  Nineteen (19) vendors completed the questionnaire.

Phase 3: Pilot Testing of Solution Selection for Small-Scale Food Processors (completed phase)

Phase Status: Complete as of 2-July-2014

The objective of Phase 3: Solution Pilot Test for Value-Added Processors was the pilot testing of the lot tracking program for Vermont processors including pilot testing of training, technical assistance, and the use of DEAR Inventory as the processor lot tracking solution.

This pilot testing was performed from January 2014 to June 2014 with seven food businesses.  The food businesses were selected based on their affiliations with the Mad River Food Hub or the Vermont Food Venture Center and represent a variety of food processing businesses including meat cutting and processing, lightly processed vegetables, bean burger production, seed oil pressing, beverage making, soup making, and pet food products.  The participants also represented a range of business types and stages of maturity, including early start-ups, businesses with a single product, businesses with many products, for-profit food manufacturing companies, and non-profilt food aggregators.

A case study of the pilot testing is planned.

Spreadsheet / Paper-Based Lot Tracking System

The following are instructions (flow chart) and forms to be used as a part of the spreadsheet or paper-based lot tracking system.

Full Process

Receiving

Production

Order Fulfillment

Acknowledgements & Thanks

The project team would like to thank the following people and organizations for their participation in the project, including:

  • the more than 50 people who participated in the needs assessment survey,
  • the many vendors and consultants who have taken the time to speak with us to share their thoughts and discuss their solutions,
  • Joe Bossen of Vermont Bean Crafters,
  • Erin Buckwalter of NOFA-Vermont,
  • Joe Buley of Joe's Soups and Screamin’ Ridge Farm,
  • Chris Callahan, University of Vermont Extension,
  • Ela Chapin of Vermont Farm Viability Program,
  • Jacob Finsen of Mad River Food Hub,
  • Liz Gleason of Vermont Farm Viability Program,
  • Elena Gustavson of Vermont Food Venture Center,
  • Jean Hamilton of Black River Produce,
  • George Keener of Vermont Food Venture Center,
  • Donna Kenyon of Kenyon’s Farm & Variety Store,
  • Mary Lake of The Royal Butcher,
  • Royal LaRocque of The Royal Butcher,
  • Dan Holtz of Liz Lovely Cookies,
  • Chelsea Lewis of Vermont Agency of Agriculture,
  • Robin Morris of Mad River Food Hub,
  • Ginger Nickerson of UVM Extension Food Safety,
  • Londa Nwadike of UVM Extension Food Safety.

Contact

If you have any comments, feedback, idea, questions, or any other thoughts related to the project, please send us a message using the contact form.

Or send email or call:

Stan Ward, Project Manager
P.O. Box 1493
152 Old County Road
Waitsfield, VT 05673
phone: 802-595-3232
email: stan [at] stanward [dot] com