When General Mills Talks To Wal-Mart, The Data Goes Through UCCnet

General Mills is the latest company to use the not-for-profit UCCnet to make sure the data it shares with its partners is accurate. The Minneapolis, Minn.-based food giant, maker of popular brands like Cheerios, Yoplait, Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, has entered the specifications for 1,500 of its top selling products in UCCNet’s GLOBALregistry. It is now using that data to exchange item information with Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal Mart Stores and Wegmans Food Markets, a Rochester, N.Y.-based supermarket chain with 60 stores in the Northeast.

UCCnet, a subsidiary of the Uniform Code Council — the not-for-profit organization that pioneered the bar code 30 years ago — provides space for up to 62 different attributes for each product in its registry. Those could include a product’s size, weight, color and flavor — for food items – according to UCCnet spokesperson Jennifer Roberts.

In the past, says Roberts, “if a manufacturer changed one of those attributes, it would send a fax to the buyers at all its retail partners, who would then have to take that data and change it in their internal system. Since a grocery store today can carry 40,000 items, the potential for error is huge.”

In fact, there are lots of these errors: 30% of item data in retail catalogs contain errors, according to a recent study by management consulting firm A. T. Kearney. And fixing them is not cheap. Cleaning up the data for just one item can consume 25 minutes, and cost up to $80. The cost to the retail industry each year from supply chain information inefficiencies totals $40 billion, according to the study.

UCCnet’s GLOBALregistry tackles the problem, says Roberts, by checking that data in the registry meets industry standards and that all trading partners are using identical data.

If a manufacturer using the registry makes a change to a product, it only has to change the product information once to give all of its participating
partners access to the information. The more partners that participate, the more efficient the system becomes, says Roberts.

UCCnet currently has 236 participating companies, including manufacturers such as Ralston Purina, and retailers like Shaw’s Supermarkets of West Bridgewater, Mass., which has 185 stores in New England, and Chantilly, Vir.-based Ahold USA, which owns 1,600 supermarkets in six chains across the U.S.

While most UCCnet members are in the grocery and consumer packaged goods industries, the organization is beginning to expand into hard goods, says Roberts. Oak Brook, Illinois-based Ace Hardware recently joined the group.