It has been ten months since Walmart advised a lot of their suppliers of changes to barcode requirements for shipping cases and trays. Walmart wants to improve efficiency in the supply chain and in their stores and it was determined that improving the quality and accuracy of the barcodes on the packaging would help with this project. Walmart advised only barcodes that were pre-printed using the flexographic process would be acceptable. We posted information on this at the time – you can read it here.
In essence, Walmart’s new mandate stated that the GS1 GTIN barcodes on shipping cases were only acceptable if printed using flexographic print technology, using artwork approved by Walmart.
This new mandate conflicted with the trend of in-line printing that had become common on packaging lines as well as contradicting Walmart’s own specification for frozen bakery products. Instead of buying pre-printed cases for every item sold through retailers, suppliers often use generic packaging and customize with the correct text and barcodes on the packaging line – improving efficiency and reducing cost.
Obviously, suppliers to Walmart were not thrilled with the new barcode mandate and didn’t rush to make changes or get into compliance.
The Last Ten Months
The response to the Walmart mandate has been very mixed.
We know of some companies that have complied, some have done nothing and others that have worked with Walmart’s team to get their case barcoding method approved. Everyone in the industry shares Walmart’s aim of getting best possible barcodes on every type of package, which means optimizing the technology used for each application. Business has been going along uninterrupted and here at ID Technology, we’ve been shipping a lot of labeling and printing systems to Walmart suppliers.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, an article on this topic appeared in Packaging World Magazine which has caused some confusion for many of our customers.
The Packaging World Update
The Packaging world article started off by reporting that Walmart had no feedback on their mandate. This is fine and corresponds with what we and our customers have found as well. It is also (correctly) pointed out that some food companies have been able to negotiate with Walmart in order to use the print technology of their choice.
It is then suggested that according to Walmart, it is “okay” to use hot melt inkjet for printing the barcode on cases.
While there are certainly some instances of this technique that have been approved by some Walmart buyers, it is false to suggest that hot-melt inkjet has approval by Walmart for case coding in general.
Many of our customers who supply goods to Walmart have found that inkjet of any type is not being approved for case coding – one of the main reasons being that it doesn’t produce the best quality barcodes. For corrugated cases and trays, labeling provides the opportunity to get the best possible barcode quality. Several large Walmart suppliers have worked out an arrangement to use labels (either pre-printed GTIN labels, or printed on-line on the labeling system) for the GTIN barcode and either include the other variable information as part of the label or print with inkjet elsewhere on the case.
One large customer has approval from Walmart to use two labels (one each side) on shrink-wrapped trays and two corner-wrap labels (so that a GTIN barcode is visible on each side of the case) for corrugated cases. This same customer told us that the Packaging World article seems more like a paid advertisement than an editorial piece.
For customers with approval to print high-quality barcodes onto uncoated corrugated cases and trays using inkjet, we’ve found the Trident printhead (as used in our FoxJet printers) gives fantastic results. The print resulting from the Foxjet printer is less prone to being damaged by products rubbing together than hot-melt inkjet prints that sits on the surface of the material.
Why Did Packaging World Only Mention One Technology?
Several of our customers asked why Packaging World didn’t talk to more people in the industry and provide better coverage. I think the main reason is that Packaging World magazine is owned by PMMI – the packaging equipment industry’s trade association. As such, it’s mission isn’t to print carefully researched information, it is to publish paid advertising from PMMI members (including ours from time to time). The article is clearly part of a marketing campaign from a PMMI member company (the article was quickly followed up with a press release and email marketing campaign) and should be looked on as such.
Update – several people in the industry were able to discuss this with Pat Reynolds, the editor of Packaging World and express concern that the situation was being incorrectly portrayed. As a result, Mr. Reynolds published a new article, explaining that Walmart suppliers have had several different technologies approved and there is no one printing method that has been selected over the others.
How Should Companies Deal With Walmart’s Mandate?
The short answer is to talk to them. If you are not sure if you are affected by the mandate or if you are unsure how to respond, talk to your Walmart buyer. If that person can’t help, have them get you in touch with Walmart’s merchandising team to get clarification.
If you are putting together a plan to provide Walmart (and all your customers) with the best possible barcode grades (not just be readable but score highly under the ISO verification standard), consider that a black barcode on a white label – regardless of whether you use pre-printed or on-line printed labels – is always going to score higher than even the most perfect inkjet printed barcode. Also be aware that various inkjet technologies can produce perfectly acceptable barcodes as long as everything is correctly set up and well maintained.
Also, be sure you have systems in place to ensure your barcoding is correct. I’ve participated in some Walmart conference calls and one of the concerns is that suppliers print incorrect barcodes. UPC instead of GTIN14, the product GTIN instead of the case GTIN, the GTIN for the wrong product. Set up a scanning system to check your barcodes – avoid antagonizing your customers and reduce chargebacks.
Why Should We Listen to You?
Labeling News doesn’t pretend to be a news outlet. ID Technology is part of Pro Mach, one of the largest packaging equipment companies, and we strive to provide our customers with the best and most accurate information. Our team is in daily contact with many of the largest food companies so we have first-hand insight into trends the industry.
Ask us what is the approved way to barcode cases for Walmart and we’ll be 100% honest – pre-printing the cases with barcodes using flexo technology is the only globally approved method. If you want to show Walmart that you can meet their demands another way, please do: if your system is solid, you have a good chance of success.
We are selling printer applicator labeling equipment and inkjet systems to food companies that supply Walmart at record rates as companies enhance their barcoding capabilities. There is also increasing interest in using laser coding for printing the cases, in conjunction with DataLase materials. Lots of good choices in coding technology.
There is no “one size fits all” – we work with our customers to ensure they have the best solution for their particular circumstances.
Contact us today at 888-438-3242 Option#3 or you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll get you in touch with one of our ID Technology barcode specialists right in your area who can help you get the best possible barcode system for your products.