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The US retail giant, whose support for RFID has driven take-up of the technology across the globe, is testing EPCs with eight manufacturers, including Gillette, Procter & Gamble, Nestl' and Unilever, at a regional distribution centre in Dallas.
The manufacturers' support, at a time when many are raising doubts over the benefits of RFID, will be vital to the success of the project, said Linda Dillman, chief information officer at Wal-Mart.
"We are grateful to these companies for their commitment to improving the supply chain process," she said. "It is not easy being a pioneer, but that is how progress is made. These eight companies are revolutionising the way we do business."
The trial, which will initially cover 21 products in seven stores, will pave the way for Wal-Mart to achieve its target of having its top 100 suppliers using RFID by January 2005, Dillman said.
The announcement followed speculation that Wal-Mart was backing off from the deadline, rumours of which intensified when the first round of suppliers of tightly-controlled prescription drugs missed their deadline.
All but two of Wal-Mart's top 100 suppliers are on track to meet the deadline, with many planning to join the trial earlier, said Simon Langford, manager of RFID strategy at Wal-Mart.
Langford also said RFID tags would be rolled out to Asda in the UK during 2005 as part of Wal-Mart's global implementation of the technology.