5 serialisation lessons food and beverage manufacturers can learn from the healthcare industry

The healthcare industry has long been celebrated as the leader in serialisation.  So if you want to export products to overseas markets with serialisation requirements, no matter your industry, it pays to look their way for some valuable pointers.     

With recent news about China’s exploding demand for Australian baby formula, the spotlight has once again landed on authentication. Especially when memories of the melamine trauma are still so raw. In 2008, Chinese authorities discovered that milk and infant formula included the industrial and toxic chemical melamine. Six infants died from kidney stones and kidney damage and an estimated 54,000 babies were hospitalised. It was later discovered that some 18 Chinese local dairies were adding this chemical to products.

Since then, there has been a “gold rush” in baby formula and milk into the country from overseas, especially Australia and New Zealand. Many Chinese mothers rely on a regular supply of Australian-made infant formula, which they believe to be superior to local products. The bottom line is they can’t trust milk powder made in China.

However, while consumers trust imported goods, China’s food regulator remains very nervous. Australian companies face strict regulations from Chinese authorities to be able to export to the country. Products must pass China’s food serialisation and track and trace regulations to ensure their consumers are protected from potentially unsafe and counterfeit products. (See here how Camperdown Dairy has used QR codes and serialisation as an anti-counterfeit measure on infant formula exported to China.)

Here’s the bottom line: for processors want to export to China and other overseas markets, it’s never been more important to implement serialisation. 

Serialisation is the process of putting a unique mark at various packaging levels. There are many reasons to serialise, but arguably the most important are authentication and traceability. Serialisation effectively puts the supply chain in lock-down, making it more difficult and less financially viable for counterfeiters to enter. This helps minimise the risk to consumers and improve consumer safety, while also protecting the brand.

The healthcare industry is the “poster boy” of serialisation, with well-defined processes and standards across the industry – especially in the
pharmaceuticals sector. It might not be perfect (and indeed probabl
y never will be, given the complexity of the industry) but healthcare players are continuously improving and developing their approach in order to enhance patient safety.
Try scanning the demonstration QR code below right.

demo QR code how wine makers can beat the counterfeitersIf you’re considering serialisation – and any would-be exporters should be – here are five lessons you can learn from the healthcare industry:

  1. Be flexible

When properly implemented, serialisation should allow manufacturers to prepare a serialised item to meet any country’s rules and regulations, now and in the future, without having to start over each time. The key here is flexibility: don’t design and build a system that complies with the regulations of one country, but won’t handle future laws of other countries you may want to export to.

For example, in 2015, South Korea introduced a requirement for serialisation of medicine packs to protect against counterfeiting and provide a more secure supply chain. All products must be serialised by the end of 2015. So leading pharmaceutical companies are thinking beyond the imminent U.S. requirements and looking at how their systems will support regulations around the globe.

The best approach is to keep abreast with regulations in all countries you might export to. Because if you are ready to export when the time is right, you could get the jump on your competition.

  1. Take a structured approach

Success in both designing and implementing a serialisation program comes down to a structured approach. Think of serialisation as an ongoing process, rather than a project with a set end date. Countries modify and establish new regulations. Trading partners come and go. All these things require updating of a serialisation program. Be sure to get early input and buy-in from all stakeholders and prepare them (and yourself) for the long haul.

  1. Collaborate for success

The goal of serialisation is for everyone to share reliable, standardised information across the supply chain. The healthcare industry recognises that, with so many players in the supply chain, the only way to achieve this is with a common set of standards. It has taken a long time, but the industry is moving decisively towards adoption of GS1 standards for serialisation.

This means industry players need to collaborate. In 2014, Australia’s Community Service Obligation (CSO) wholesalers – Symbion, Sigma, API and National Pharmacies – set aside their competitive differences to implement a common, central source for all medicine supply chain product information under the framework of global GS1 Standards. By using unique Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) identification encoded in GS1 barcodes, product identification is already proving to be more robust and traceable than ever before, helping to safeguard against counterfeiting, assist with management of medicine shortfalls and enhance the ability for recalls.

The lesson here is that industry players of all sizes need to collaborate. It’s only by working together that serialisation can truly work for everyone.

  1. It all starts with coding

While serialisation reaches deep across multiple parts of the organisation and supply chain, it all starts with one simple physical code applied to the packaging. Take time to work out which code you need, where it should go and what changes you will need to make to accommodate it.

For example, when a pharmaceutical manufacturer was printing a 2D code for a temperature-sensitive product, they needed to move the code from the side flap to the end flap. This required a slightly bigger carton, which therefore required a slightly bigger shipping case, and led to revalidation of the entire chain. Look at your coding equipment – is it serialisation ready? It’s not just about printing a 2D code, but having built-in two-way communications that can receive and transmit information.

  1. Never forget the big picture

The healthcare industry stays focused on the big picture: how serialisation can enhance patient safety. After all, this is a sector that deals with human lives. Global product identification can help reduce the growth of counterfeit drugs and allow faster responses upon detection in the supply chain. This understanding of the big picture continues to drive the industry forward in how it implements serialisation.

But why should this be restricted to the healthcare industry? Consumer safety is critical in almost every industry, including the food and beverage. It’s easy to lose sight of the “why” while implementing the details, but by keeping your eye on the big picture, you are better able to maintain momentum and achieve success.

See here how Camperdown Dairy has used QR codes and serialisation as an anti-counterfeit measure on infant formula exported to China. You may also be interested in how QR codes are being used in serialisation to prevent counterfeiting in wine and in preventing the growing issue of counterfeiting in fresh produce.

Want to know what it takes to get serialisation ready? Download our infographic: Serialisation_Matthews Australasia

Matt Nichol
Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.
Matt Nichol

by Matt Nichol

Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.

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