Washington, DC — Jan. 11, 2001 — The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has joined an initiative that could revolutionize shopping, distribution, cooking and many other activities through the use of an electronic product code (ePC). The technology is now under development at the Auto-ID Center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

FMI is the first food industry association to join the ePC Alliance, a new coalition of nonprofit groups supporting the Center’s efforts through education, advocacy and industry guidance.

“Ventures like the Auto-ID could have a more far-reaching impact than the Universal Product Code (U.P.C.),” said FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds. “It can improve efficiency, food safety and convenience — automating most activities associated with any product except the act of consuming it.”

“We are very enthusiastic to welcome FMI as one of the first ePC Alliance members.” said Kevin Ashton, executive director of the MIT Auto-ID Center. “FMI represents the entire spectrum of food retailers and wholesalers, and their customers, worldwide. The vision of both FMI and its members will greatly help the center reach one of our important goals — to improve the distribution of grocery products throughout the supply chain.”
With this technology, embedded in, or printed on, each product package would be a microchip that carries its ePC and an RF transmitter. This “smart” package can transmit data about the individual item on the Internet as it moves through the supply chain — from the manufacturer to the retailer to the consumer’s kitchen. Among the applications in the grocery industry:

  • Checkout lines could be eliminated as smart shopping carts record each item placed in them and the total is debited from the customer’s account through a reader at the front door.
  • Every single item affected by a food recall could be identified quickly, including special alerts to consumers who already purchased the product.
  • The technology can inform consumers when freshness dates expire and how to recycle the package.
  • It can tell consumers, retailers and all others in the supply chain when a product needs to be replenished, triggering a delivery to the consumer’s home, a supermarket or warehouse.
  • The microchip can program a microwave oven equipped with the appropriate technology how to cook a product, including when, how long and at what level.

“The greatest benefits for the industry,” Hammonds said, “will be the precision and timeliness of the product information that this technology offers. It can help us eliminate stockouts and excess inventory. The ePC can serve as a valuable strategic tool to ensure that we provide the exact products and services that our customers demand.”

Representing FMI in the ePC Alliance is Ted Mason, FMI’s technology standards manager.

The MIT Auto-ID Center was established in October 1999 by The Procter & Gamble Company, The Gillette Company, Uniform Code Council and EAN International. Since then, many other companies have become sponsors.

The fundamental mission of the Auto-ID Center is “to merge the physical world with the information world — to bring bits and atoms together to form one seamless network, using the very latest advances in technologies, including electromagnetic identification, computer modeling and networking.” For more information, visit the Center’s Web site (http://auto-id.mit.edu).