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Canadian Retailer Wraps Up RFID Pilot

Canadian supermarket giant Loblaw has recently completed an RFID pilot project and plans to work closely with its suppliers to develop an RFID strategy.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 10, 2006A few weeks after completing its first RFID pilot, Loblaw Companies Ltd., the $27 billion Canadian supermarket and general-merchandise chain, announced that the preliminary results have already helped the retailer identify ways to improve the flow of product into its stores. Still, Loblaw said it has no immediate plans to roll out any type of tagging requirement or mandate to its suppliers, acknowledging that deploying the technology is no simple task.

"RFID is not a plug-and-play technology. You can't just turn it on and go," warned Roman Coba, Loblaw's senior vice president, addressing attendees of the first annual RFID Journal LIVE! Canada conference, held this week in Toronto.

Coba speaks from experience. He helped conduct a six-month pilot program involving three of the chain's retail centers and four of its suppliers: General Mills (GM), Maple Leaf, Scott and Unilever. Coba's advice to attendees was to start learning about RFID technology now rather than "waiting for someone else to perfect it." He urged, "If you see value in RFID, get the education and [deploy] it."

The seminal Canadian pilot ended Oct. 31 and was administered by the Canadian RFID Center, a testing and education facility located at the site of IBM's Canadian headquarters in Markham, Ontario (see Canadian RFID Center Debuts). The goal of the pilot was to compile findings on the use of RFID in tracking consumer products to see if they would validate RFID's ability to improve overall supply-chain performance.

"We wanted to separate the hype from the facts on how the technology works," he said, "and then publish and share the results." The pilot participants plan to spend the next two months examining the results, though Coba said early findings helped the retailer identify some unusually long product dwell times in some of the retail centers' storage areas. By addressing these, it could improve the flow of product into its stores to ensure that its store shelves remain stocked.

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