Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and eight of its suppliers were set to begin testing electronic product codes (EPC) in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on April 30, ushering in the next phase of Wal-Mart's efforts to introduce radio frequency identification (RFID) technology at its stores. RFID technology facilitates EPC. Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart has set a January 2005 target for its top 100 suppliers to begin placing RFID tags on cases and pallets destined for Wal-Mart stores. "It is imperative that we have the merchandise the customer wants to buy when they want to buy it," says Linda Dillman, executive vice president and Wal-Mart CIO. "We believe RFID technology is going to help us do that more often and more efficiently." The eight manufacturers participating in the first phase of the pilot are Gillette, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft Foods, Nestle Purina PetCare, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever. Additional suppliers are expected to join the trial in the coming weeks. According to Wal-Mart, 21 products initially are included in the trial. Cases and pallets with these products will carry EPCs when delivered to the chain's Sanger, Texas, distribution center. There, RFID readers on dock doors will collect shipment information. Additionally, seven pilot stores also have installed RFID readers that will confirm shipments have arrived at the proper location.