Bethesda-based AppNet Inc. said yesterday that it signed a deal with the organization that administers the ubiquitous bar-code system to build an Internet-based information clearinghouse for the grocery industry.

UCCNet, a subsidiary of the Uniform Code Council (UCC), hired AppNet to design a system allowing manufacturers and retailers in the grocery industry to access data about products in real time. Retailers and manufacturers will pay UCCNet to subscribe to the service, based on a company's revenues.

Terms weren't disclosed, but AppNet will receive a flat fee to develop and maintain the system.

"This will serve as a hub between buyers and sellers," said John Berry, vice president of marketing for AppNet. "It will provide a standard way of doing hundreds of thousands of transactions over the Internet."

UCCNet's director of marketing, Tom Duffy, said the technology will simplify the flow of information on pricing and availability within the grocery industry. New items and price changes now must be put into systems manually and can take 10 days to get onto store shelves.

"We're taking advantage of a process that was essentially broken," Duffy said. "We were sending out information and changes and [were] not sure that everyone was looking at the same set of standards. Now we will be able to ensure that the data is properly communicated in very close to real time."

Eventually, the system could be used to help the UCC track product data in 22 other industries that use bar codes, including health care, alcoholic beverage and apparel. Analysts following AppNet said they expect the system to increase efficiency in the standards industry.

"With this system, the UCC will be able to access, change, post new items and take off items in a standardized format," said Justin Behar, senior analyst with Gartner Group/Dataquest in Mountain View, Calif. "Everything will be automatically processed online, as opposed to retailers and manufacturers being burdened by having to go through paper, fax and phone calls to see standards."

AppNet, a consultant in e-commerce, said 60 grocers and package-goods companies have signed letters of intent with UCCNet to use the system, including Frito-Lay Inc., Kroger Co., Procter & Gamble Co., Ralston Purina Co., Supervalu Inc., Wegmans Food Markets Inc., American Greetings, Spartan Stores Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc.

The service will be running by summer.