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From Farm to Fork

Norway's Nortura is using RFID to bring increased efficiency to meat production.
By John Edwards
Mar 10, 2008—Old-time meat packers used to brag about their efficiency by claiming they could sell "everything but the squeal." Nortura, Norway's largest meat producer, is taking this concept to the next level by employing RFID to further streamline just about every aspect of the meat production process. "RFID is a technology with almost unlimited potential in this industry," says Geir Vevle, Nortura's RFID and industrial IT architect.

Nortura is currently working to build RFID into virtually every aspect of its fresh meet production and logistics processes. "From farm to fork" is how Vevle describes the organization's overall RFID strategy. Nortura is beginning to take advantage of the technology's potential to provide detailed product information, as well as increased visibility and efficiency, at every step: at the farm, young animals will be RFID-tagged for identification and classification; at the production site, tags will identify the age and origin of specific animals; and on the cutting line, meat parts will be identified according to their type, weight and nutritional characteristics.

Lambs and sheep are tagged at birth with 125 kHz low-frequency (LF) tags.

In the future, the cooperative plans to extend its RFID use to the storage and transportation stages to provide greater supply-chain visibility. Beyond that, Nortura hopes to bring RFID onto the sales floor, enabling consumers to check product details by scanning packaging with specially equipped mobile phones.

Nortura, a cooperative of some 30,000 farms, ships more than 200,000 metric tons of meat annually. The company reports annual sales of approximately US$3 billion and employs some 7,000 people in 43 production plants distributed across Norway. The cooperative provides both fresh and frozen meat, as well as eggs and several types of convenience foods, to retailers, catering firms and other food industry businesses.

Nortura markets its products under a variety of brand names well known throughout Scandinavia, including Gilde and Prior. The cooperative bases its operations on Norwegian culture and food traditions that demand fresh, natural and high-quality products. The cooperative's focus on meeting and exceeding consumer demands has helped turn it into a market leader. "We have about 80 percent market share when it comes to raw meat material," Vevle says, "and about 50 percent market share on end-user products."

Nortura began considering RFID in 2000, after examining several major tracking and tracing projects in the United States and Germany. Yet as soon as the cooperative began its RFID planning, it realized it faced some serious challenges, the most critical of which was its highly distributed production infrastructure. The organization operates 43 processing plants, serviced by some 30,000 farms.

"We keep the production facilities close to the farms," Vevle says. Norwegian farms are significantly smaller than their U.S. counterparts, which is why the cooperative has so many members and production facilities. "They're not ranches—not that big in Norway—so we have a lot of them," he explains. The sheer number of facilities involved meant Nortura faced the prospect of designing, building and managing RFID systems in 43 separate locations, as well as training both employees and farmers on the technology's operation.
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