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Why Adidas Is Tagging ‘Billions’ of Products on This Traceability Platform

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With a vision to give every physical product in the supply chain a digital ID, or “soul,” that enables all stakeholders to see its true origin and surrounding details, Avery Dennison has launched Atma.io, a new digital product cloud solution enabling item-level visibility, traceability and reusability for billions of products.

Avery Dennison says that the end-to-end platform is capable of creating, assigning and managing unique digital identities for every physical item in the world. Using different digital triggers on products, such as UHF RFID, NFC or even QR codes, Atma.io connects all item-level events and product data inside the platform.

The company’s goal for Atma.io is to help create a more sustainable planet with true end-to-end product transparency at all stages from the raw material to the factory to the consumer, while also enabling brands to generate potential new revenue from reuse and recycling, whether it’s expanding a direct-to-consumer channel or entering the recommerce or peer-to-peer commerce models.

Francisco Melo, vice president and general manager, Avery Dennison Smartrac, told Sourcing Journal that in developing the platform, the company sought to account for both the brand’s sustainability journey and the consumer’s increasing desires for sustainably produced goods.

“How can brands differentiate themselves in the space, but also ensure that they are doing the right thing for the planet? I believe that most of the large brands, and certainly most of the people that we work with, they generally understand that they have to make a difference,” Melo said. He noted “one interesting data point is a recent study by the MIT that actually highlights that consumers are willing to pay as much as 10 percent more for a product that provides greater supply chain transparency, so there’s value in it. You do the right thing for the planet, you do the right thing for the consumer as you make them happy.”

Adidas is already in the process of using Atma.io to tag all of the 1.5 billion products it makes each year in an effort to bolster its circularity capabilities and consumer-product interactions.

“Adidas integrated Atma.io’s connected product cloud into our Infinite Play initiative to scale our ability to buy-back products and give them a second life,” David Quass, global director, brand sustainability for Adidas, said in a statement. “The program has been the first of many use cases we look to enable with atma.io and Avery Dennison to achieve our connected product vision and our sustainability goals.”

Although Avery Dennison has not revealed any brand partners beyond Adidas, it said that three of the five largest apparel companies worldwide are using Atma.io. The product cloud is also being used in the pharmaceutical industry to track the real-time temperature of individual Covid-19 vaccine vials.

Currently, Atma.io manages 10 billion products, a number that grows by 50 every second. The platform’s growth could help apparel and footwear retailers make significant inroads in gaining meaningful visibility into raw materials, which is one of the hardest tasks they face, according to Melo.

“When it comes to the visibility of the raw materials, the yarn and the origin of the yarn itself, I think it’s one of the elements that is certainly a requirement for the industry, and a connection that is not is not yet there today,” Melo said. “I think retailers and brands have a good handle between manufacturing something and selling something, and they have a bit more of a struggle on the extremes—what happens upstream and what happens downstream from that reality.”

A key component of the Atma.io product cloud that Melo highlighted is its wide range of use cases across achieve business objectives like tracking and tracing, consumer engagement, operational excellence, brand protection and sustainability. This makes the technology applicable to different brands.

Consumers can check everything from product provenance and authenticity to details about care and content instructions for apparel items, while also obtaining expiry and recall information for perishable products. Brands and retailers can use the platform to build out unique consumer experiences based on the specific context of each product interaction.

“It’s a platform that anybody in the consumer space can use to use the data and attribute and connect with to create new use cases we haven’t even envisioned,” Melo said. “The point I’m trying to make is, although we thought about specific ones around track and trace and traceability, we have new engagements around being able to optimize the carbon footprint, being able to know exactly how long a product takes from the moment it’s manufactured to the moment it hits my store, what has it been through, so on and so forth.”

Melo believes more use cases that go beyond the supply chain, including post-purchase and post-use, will be beneficial.

Through the Atma.io app store, brands can tap into an ecosystem of applications to unlock these use cases, and developers and partners can even build their own software on top of the platform.

The product cloud builds on Avery Dennison’s work with RFID technology to attribute unique digital identities to physical items and “allow retailers to know what they have and where they have it.” As e-commerce buying habits increased and stores became distribution centers that supported omnichannel fulfillment capabilities, the need for accurate information went much deeper than store inventory.

“We were historically using this extremely efficient tool for stock taking and inventory accuracy, but we were keeping it within the four walls of the retailers,” Melo said. “We can actually create the back-end platform that allows people to leverage that uniqueness of those items. With that, they create the digital identity that allows them to know things about the product, when he or she reads something about this product at home as an example, and also discover everything that has happened to this product throughout the journey.”

This, Melo said, is the “digital inlay” element that goes into every item, comparable to the physical trackable inlays that are adhered to the back of an RFID smart label.

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