Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The acronyms that bring us our daily bread

"Give us this day our daily bread"  says the (Christian) the Lord's prayer. But these days we seem to be more at the mercy of the RDCs to get our daily bread.

There is an impressive number of acronyms each representing small itemized tasks in the flow of goods from producers to consumers in the food chain. Almost all supplies to British supermarkets go through the RDCs (Regional Distribution Centers). 3PL (Third-party logistic) specialists deal with the shipping and there are just a few companies dominating this market. Each time you buy something an automatic order goes to the RDC to replace the purchased item. In many cases the RDC are further linked to the suppliers so that also they know that I have bought my liter of organic milk. This is ensured by CPFR (Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment).

In January 2005, Wal-Mart required its top 100 suppliers to apply RFID (Radio-frequency identification) labels with unique EPCs (Electronic Product Codes) to all shipments. In the future, RFID chips embedded in the packaging will allow supermarket to trace food all the way to your home, when finally we will get those intelligent refrigerators they have been talking about – those that will make your shopping list, or why not even make the order to the shop which can let 3PL specialists deliver it to your doorstep. And the QR (Quick Response) codes – those are the funny squares which look like labyrinths—will give the consumer information to read in the smartphone or in the fridge display.

Perhaps the RFID, your fridge and the QR code can cooperate in activating streaming of cows moo-ing when you open the yoghurt package. You might even hear the farmer producing the milk telling you something about the life on the farm, which is how the food system tries to respond to the increasing disconnect between consumers and producers and increasing distrust in the system.

Alternatively you might want to grow food yourself, together with others or perhaps become a member of a Community Supported Agriculture initiative. If you are tired of acronyms.


  1. The alphabet soup supply chain you describe almost made me laugh. But then my consideration of its complexity and dependence on sophisticated technology left me a bit terrified of how easily that supply chain might fail. It's amazing to me that most people never even consider how vulnerable they have become by relying on such a system to supply something so essential.

  2. es Joe, it was the intention of the post to create such feelings and thoughts.