Tag Archives: food service

Pratik Soni, Omnichain
Retail Food Safety Forum

Top Three Visibility Challenges in Today’s Food Supply Chain

By Pratik Soni
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Pratik Soni, Omnichain

To say that COVID-19 has been disruptive would be putting it mildly. The pandemic’s sudden and seismic impact has brought major upheaval across industries—the food industry and its supply chain included.

There was the initial panic buying that drove upticks in consumer demand for which few manufacturers and grocers were prepared, resulting in widespread product shortages. With restaurants closed, distributors and suppliers were left with considerable excess inventory—most of which ended up as waste and losses. Inside production sites and plants, many had to try and maintain their output with a reduced workforce, even as demand continued to climb. Meanwhile, some plants unfortunately have had to shut down operations on account of employees testing positive for COVID-19.

In the time since the outbreak, the food supply chain has stabilized to an extent. Store shelves are continuously being replenished with products. Restaurants have started reopening with new health and safety measures. Yet even as the industry takes gradual steps toward recovery, the underlying problem that led to the magnitude of COVID-19’s impact persists: Lack of visibility. There was lack of visibility into supply and demand and what was happening upstream and downstream across the supply chain, which prevented timely, proactive action to optimize operations in face of disruption.

Looking ahead, participants across the food supply chain will need enhanced end-to-end visibility so that they can work together to get ahead of the curve. As part of gaining this visibility, they will need the transparent exchange of information and cohesive collaboration to adapt especially as the food industry continues to see shifts in consumer behavior and the marketplace in the wake of COVID-19—particularly in the following three key areas.

Food Distribution

While food producers have been working tirelessly to keep grocery store shelves and restaurant kitchens well stocked, there continues to be fluctuating availability on certain products, such as eggs, dairy, poultry and meat. This has led distributors and suppliers to increase their prices when selling these goods to stores and restaurants, who have had to then pass the additional costs on to consumers through their own price increases and surcharges, respectively. One report from CoBank, a cooperative bank part of the Farm Credit System, notes there could be as much as a 20% increase in the price of pork and beef this year due to supply issues.1 Many grocers have also implemented purchase limitations on consumers to combat shortages.

These downstream implications stem largely to uncertainty in the supply chain, with stores and restaurants unsure about available supply upstream and when they can expect to receive shipments. But if there was clearer visibility and transparency between production, distribution, transportation, food service and retail, then all parties could better anticipate and plan for supply shortages or delays. For instance, if a meat processing plant has to temporarily close due to cases of COVID-19, they can immediately communicate to the rest of the supply chain so that parties downstream can readily find alternative sources and minimize any necessary price inflations or other implications to consumers.

Consumer Demand

Even with the reopening of restaurants, people will likely choose to cook more of their meals at home. It was a trend that began with restaurant closures and will continue for the foreseeable future as consumers remain cautious of dining out. While this may bring tough times ahead for the food service industry, the grocery sector is seeing a huge lift in business. Research from restaurant management platform Crunchtime shows that, towards the end of June, restaurants were only seeing 64.5% of their pre-COVID-19 sales levels.2 At the same time, a study by Brick Meets Click and Mercatus reveals U.S. online grocery sales reached a record $7.2 billion in June, up nearly 10% over May.3

For food companies and brands, growth in the grocery sector has presented a challenge in the way of demand planning and forecasting. I’ve personally spoken with several company executives who have seen significant upticks in orders from their grocery channel partners—an increase for which they didn’t forecast—and are now struggling to adjust production levels accordingly to avoid the risk of excess production that would lead to unnecessary costs, wastes and losses. In such instances, real-time visibility into transactional activity and stock levels at the retail level would help production planners improve the accuracy of their forecasts and enable them to think steps ahead before orders come in and thereby optimally balance supply with demand. Stores would remain well stocked and the supply chain could flow in a more efficient and profitable way for all participants.

Food Handling

Without question, public health is the number one priority right now. Participants at each point in the food supply chain today need to communicate with each other, as well as to consumers, that they’re following best practices for social distancing, disinfecting and other precautions. It’s not to prevent the possible transfer of the virus via actual products, as the FDA notes there is currently no evidence of transmission through food or packaging. But rather, it’s to build greater confidence in the food supply chain—that everyone is doing their part to support individual and collective health and safety, which in turn prevents possible facility closures or other case-related bottlenecks that would inhibit consistent supply to the market.

There also has to be confidence that, amid these countermeasures for COVID-19, companies are still upholding their commitments to food safety, integrity and proper handling. What can support that confidence is data—shared data from every point in a product’s journey from source to shelf. The data should be transparent and available to all supply chain participants as well as immutable so that it is tamperproof and fully traceable should there be any problem, such as mislabeling or a foodborne illness. The data ultimately holds everyone accountable for their role in ensuring a safe food supply chain.

To achieve the level of visibility outlined above, the food industry will have to break away from legacy processes involving the siloed management of operational systems and databases. Instead, the disruption seen during COVID-19 and ongoing shifts in the marketplace should encourage companies to consider digital transformation and technologies that can enable a more cohesive and nimble food supply chain. These are technologies like blockchain, which provides a decentralized, distributed ledger to publish and share data in real time. Moreover, artificial intelligence that can leverage incoming real-time data to guide next-best actions, even when the unexpected occurs. Personally, I always return to the notion that the supply chain is a team sport. You need visibility to know what each team member is doing on the field and how to align everyone on a gameplay. The digital solutions available today offer that visibility and insight, as well as the agility to pivot as needed to obstacles along the journey from source to shelf.

References

  1. Taylor, K. (May 6, 2020). “The American meat shortage is pushing prices to unprecedented heights — here’s how it could affect your grocery bill.” Business Insider.
  2. Maze, J. (July 7, 2020). “As the coronavirus resurges, restaurant sales start slowing again.” Restaurant Business.
  3. Perez, S. (July 6, 2020). “US online grocery sales hit record $7.2 billion in June.” TechCrunch.
Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Q&A: Pandemic Puts Worker Health & Safety, Leadership Skills and Business Adaptability at Forefront

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Issues with the health of frontline workers, supply chain disruptions, and changes in consumer behavior are just a few vulnerabilities that the food industry is experiencing as a result of COVID-19. Food Safety Tech recently had a conversation with Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D., director of the University of Minnesota Integrated Food Systems Leadership Program and Food Protection and Defense Institute about the hurdles that the industry is experiencing and where we go from here.

Food Safety Tech: What challenges is the food system facing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? Where are the vulnerabilities?

Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.: The food system is facing primary, secondary and tertiary challenges right now. I see two main drivers as disruptors as a result of COVID-19. The health and safety of employees is the first primary driver. As COVID-19 has more broadly spread through the U.S., ensuring the health and safety of employees in the food system has become essential; however, the pandemic has shown us the food system has struggled with that.

The other big primary challenge facing the food system has been the swift change in consumer behavior. Pre-COVID-19, nearly half of food was consumed away from home. When restaurants closed, and stay-at-home orders were in place, it put extreme amounts of pressure on our food retail segment, causing supply and demand issues.

Regarding the health and safety of employees: We’ve seen meat processing struggle with production demands because the health of their employees has been impacted by the virus. In mid-April, the beef and pork capacity in this country went down by over 40%. They are making great improvements and are approaching normal harvest capacity range for both [beef and pork production]. Meat cuts being produced are slightly different than normal, as this part of the meat plants are very labor intensive. This has really highlighted the need to make sure that we keep the health and safety of our food system employees front and center.

During the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, Jennifer Van de Ligt will participate in a panel discussion on November 5 about Professional Development and Women in Food Safety | Register Now Now that the meat supply chain is beginning to recover, we’re also beginning to see increasing effects on non-meat supply manufacturing. This isn’t isolated to food manufacturing; as we experience broader community spread, COVID-19 will impact all aspects of our food system.

On consumer behavior: As consumers shifted to food retail, immense pressure was quickly put on our food supply chain logistics, manufacturing timing and processes, the speed to warehouses and delivery, etc.

One example that demonstrates a challenge in manufacturing and consumer demand is the difference in volumes for food services versus retail. I like to use the example of shredded cheese. At a grocery store, you’ll find a one-pound pack, but shredded cheese in food service might be in a 10-pound bag. There are not a lot of consumers who want to buy a 10-pound bag of shredded cheese. Well, why can’t cheese manufacturers just package bulk product into one-pound packs? There are several reasons that don’t allow producers to pivot quickly: They may not have the machinery or packaging to do that. Also, changing packaging from food service to retail requires different labels and regulatory approvals. Examples like this led to many of the spot outages consumers found in grocery stores. In the produce sector, it led to produce being plowed under in fields because they didn’t have the distribution channels to go into retail instead of into food service.

In the Integrated Food System Leadership (IFSL) program, we’ve recently discussed food equity and food injustice as a result of COVID-19. As food retail became stressed and unemployment increased, we saw a huge demand for our food assistance networks. Because food retail is one of the primary contributors to the food assistance networks, there wasn’t enough volume being donated. In addition, food service foods are not appropriately packaged to go into the food assistance networks and food banks, similar to the issue in moving to food retail. This led to tremendous pressure and innovative solutions to source and distribute food to a newly vulnerable population.

As we look ahead into the coming months, many of the vulnerabilities in the food system will be the same. We have to continuously monitor the health and safety of our employees to keep our food system as a whole functional. There’s a growing recognition that our primary agriculture workers are also at risk—the people in fields harvesting and planting. There are many groups providing recommendations on how to protect agriculture employees and communities where they work and reside.

We’ll see continued adaptation in the food system to the new reality of how restaurants and food service engage with their consumers with the shift in behavior to limited restaurant dining and increases in online ordering.

FST: In what areas do food manufacturers, processors or growers need to adapt moving forward in order to thrive?

Van de Ligt: There are several. First, I think this crisis has really brought worker health and welfare to the forefront, and there will be more emphasis on the essentiality of food system workers. They were previously a behind-the-scenes workforce. The issue of worker health and welfare is going to accelerate in many industries, but I also see a push to more automation. The human workforce is necessary, and people do a really wonderful job, but are there areas that might benefit from automation? I think those go hand in hand.

I also think the global food system needs to rethink how it remains resilient. In the past, there’s been a focus on resilience and efficiency through economy of scale. That still exists and may look different moving forward. Using the meat industry as an example, that economy of scale was also its biggest weakness that had gone unrecognized. Going forward, I think there are many companies that are going to consider alternative supply chains. Should multiple, smaller plants be utilized instead of one large plant to provide a more resilient framework for production? Other companies are going to think about installing equipment or processing lines that could more quickly pivot between food service and food retail. There’s also a huge opportunity now for local and smaller markets to really make an impact as people look for alternative supply chains and sources. We found that many of the local food markets and co-ops, especially those that provided into food service, pivoted pretty quickly to pop-up online marketplaces to provide food direct to consumer. I think we’ll see that trend increase as well.

In order to feed billions of people worldwide, it’s essential that the food industry take a broader systems approach versus the siloed approach path we’ve been using. The pandemic has highlighted how the food system is an intricately functioning balance and requires collaboration. Our food system will only be able to move forward faster with less disruption when we have food system leaders who understand the intricacies and the ripple effects of the challenges we face. Leaders who understand the impacts of decisions outside of their sphere will be essential to plan for impacts from natural disasters, another pandemic, etc.—and to create a more responsive and resilient food system in the future.

FST: Where does this leave folks who are either beginning or rising in their careers in food safety? Do you think the pandemic has changed food safety careers as they’ve historically functioned?

Van de Ligt: I like to say that ‘what got us here is not going to get us there.’ In general, if you think about where food safety careers have been in the past, the roles have been all about consistency, understanding regulations, making sure we do everything precisely right all of the time so we don’t have a food safety outbreak.

The focus on doing things precisely right all of the time will absolutely continue. What I think will shift is the need for food safety professionals to think more broadly than just the regulations that are required for compliance. Food safety professionals need to understand more about the system that is happening outside their facility; the impact of their work going backwards and forwards in the supply chain.

How things have worked historically in a food safety role has been having a consistent supplier network that provides the same type of product every time; you know what to expect, how to produce and distribute safe food for the customers you serve. In a situation like COVID-19, because of the disruptions from farm to fork, the suppliers you need to work with may be different and you need to quickly make decisions spontaneously as supply shifts. Having the knowledge and skills to navigate changes is essential to ensure the quality and safety of your product.

A highly technical focus that many professionals have when they start their career is often too narrow and won’t be enough for emerging food system leaders. Leadership skills are vital as well. In the IFSL program we teach food system professionals how to explore proactive viewpoints, not just managing people or responsibilities. Managers make sure things are done things correctly; leaders make sure we do the right thing. In order to learn how to do the right thing, we teach skills and tools on how to navigate uncertainty; practicing active listening, constructive feedback; and understanding the concerns of a supplier or customer are examples.

We emphasize and teach in the IFSL program that food system professionals and leaders need to be much more proactive. This means equipping them with the food system knowledge and leadership skills so they can predict and prepare for how decisions affect upstream and downstream. Having a broader viewpoint is critical to adaptivity, which will build resilience and help limit disruption.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Fraudulent Dinner Is Served

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Olive Oil, Food Fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.
Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Due to extensive opportunities for fraud, the lack of an adequate monitoring system, cost pressures in the industry, and lack of transparency in the food supply chain, amongst other factors, fraudulent food products still pose a significant risk within the hospitality industry. A recent study discusses the food service food fraud vulnerability assessment (FS-FFCA), showing as an example that one-third of extra virgin olive oil samples at restaurants and catering facilities were adulterated. More tools are urgently needed to protect consumers and legitimate operations from illicit activities.

Resource

  1. van Ruth, S.M., et al. (March 9, 2020): “Feeding fiction: Fraud vulnerability in the food service industry”. Food Research International, Volume 133, July 2020, 109158

 

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Future of Food Service

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

The food service industry has rapidly changed since Boulanger disputably opened up his doors to the first modern restaurant in Paris over 200 years ago. While soups, sandwiches and pasta dishes continue to be served, the ever-changing landscape of this industry continues to evolve and not only provide new dishes, but innovative practices to cultivate products and introduce technological advances that ultimately enhance the consumer experience.

Localization

In attempts to reduce waste and increase visibility, grocers are looking to localize their product assortments. Whether they garner these products from within their market or a predetermined radius, they can increase traceability best practices while appealing to local shoppers. An example of this would be regional grocery chains selling beer only from local breweries or vegetables from local farms.

In executing this strategy, grocers increase sales by appealing to local shoppers while reducing produce shrink due to shorter delivery times from farm to fork. While some may argue focusing on local offerings takes away focus from more profitable national brand names, keeping your local consumers’ best interests in mind ensures their happiness and strengthens their brand loyalty.

Healthier Foods

Healthy food and beverage options continue to drive demand in grocery stores. As clean eating and heart healthy diets become the responsible practice, grocers must increase their offerings surrounding this category. Companies such as H-E-B have introduced clear labeling to signify certain products were produced without high-fructose corn syrup, while others are removing junk food offerings from checkout lines.

One way grocers are making healthy foods more appealing is by reducing the price of fresh produce by implementing shorter delivery cycles. This strategy ensures food safety, the freshness of the products, and their aesthetic value on display shelves, too. While this makes them more appealing, it also reduces the risk of product spoilage and profit loss due to the perpetual freshness of the product coming in.

Digital Coupons

While paper coupons have been the industry norm for decades, more grocers are turning to digital offerings. Wegman’s recently introduced a mobile app that allows consumers to digitally clip coupons, look up recipes, and find where products are within their stores. With the popularity of mobile devices, this trend will continue to burgeon.

The switch to digital also helps grocers strategically place products and offerings to their customer base. They can optimize sales and marketing approaches this way while discovering patterns and trends in the buying cycle. This allows them to understand their customer base while simultaneously increasing sales.

The Future of Grocery

Like most people, I enjoy eating. However, unlike most people, I actually enjoy the grocery shopping process. Typically, I go hungry while envisioning the endless possibilities of what I could make for dinner. Of course, due to my hunger, I end up purchasing copious amounts of unnecessary items while overspending in an impressive and irresponsible manner.

Due to my rare affinity for grocery shopping, the current and future landscape of the grocery market is interesting to me. I know, pathetic, but we all must have our odd interests.

Walmart Scan & Go

Walmart has developed an app that allows buyers to skip the lines and enjoy a seamless shopping experience. The app allows buyers to scan their desired goods, while keeping a running total of the goods in their cart. Once done shopping, you simply click ‘pay’ and you can check out wherever you are standing. A Walmart employee must verify your receipt before leaving the store but that only takes a moment.

You may be asking yourself, “How do they know I scanned everything?” Well, the honor system comes into play here so just because you hate grocery shopping, don’t rip off the nice people of Walmart, no matter how rich you think they are.

The app is only available at three stores currently – but keep an eye out for a location near you!

Cart MRI

Scan & Go is great for convenience, but if you’re in even more of a rush then this technology is great. The product debuted at Euroshop this past year. This technology allows for buyers to simply push their cart through a device that scans everything within the cart. This technology adds up everything, allows you to pay, and you’re out the door. No more dealing with 10-minute waits or lane closures.

Additionally, the technology provides a touchscreen on the cart that informs you about your selected items, where other products are, and gives you suggestions that compliment your shopping experience.

Sip and Stroll

While the above technologies make the buying experience more convenient—how about something that allows customers to chill out?

As I stated before, most individuals hate grocery shopping. Nevertheless, what if you could have a beer or two while shopping?

Whole Foods first adopted this burgeoning trend. The company sought out on-premise liquor licenses so their patrons could enjoy a few drinks while they shop. This allows for a more relaxed shopping experience while also giving customers insight on different or new brands they may not be familiar with.

Plus, if we’re being honest, if the drinks are good enough… the customers may be more willing to splurge.

The Future of Convenience Stores

Ah, convenience stores, pleasantly reeking of greasy hotdogs, gasoline, and cigarette fumes from the miserable 17-year old cashier outside neglecting the line. That’s generally the perception, right?

Well, not anymore! Convenience stores are now becoming a popular destination for consumers everywhere.

C-stores are beginning to seek alternatives from the slimmer margins of gas and cigarettes. In 2016, the industry saw a 9.2% drop in fuel sales, however, in-store sales increased by 3.2%.

While electric cars and public transportation can explain the precipitous drop in fuel sales—the industry took note of the increased in-store sales. Discovering potential reasons why and how to sustain them.

As the general population becomes increasingly more health conscious, convenience stores are beginning to adapt. Trending now are plant-based protein bars, dried fruits and nuts, and upscale jerky.

“Protein is the new energy,” says Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores. The demand for grass-fed and cage-free offerings are increasing in demand. Leaving the industry to either adapt, or fall behind.

After protein inspired snacks, convenience stores are beginning to incorporate their own restaurant concepts within their stores. The Pride Stores, a small c-store chain in the greater Chicago area, hired a corporate chef and introduced two different concepts, one being taco themed. This allows for consumers to eat-in, spending more time in their stores, or carry out for their convenience.

If you haven’t noticed lately, more convenience stores are beginning to expand their offerings of beer. Craft beer and wine selections are becoming bountiful options within the aisles. The copious amount of microbreweries opening up nationwide has spiced up the masses taste buds and demand for these crafted beers has continued to steadily increase.

National and local brands allow consumers to enjoy their local favorites, or to discover a new personal favorite.

Vineyards have begun to spring up more than ever, too. While the west coast has long been notorious for their wine, the fad has begun to spread nationwide. Whether you want to try something from the west, or upstate, NY, convenience stores are now becoming a go-to for the moderate connoisseur.

Putting Food Safety on the Clock

A new hand-washing device, the SaniTimer, helps ensure bacteria-free hands and clean food.

A new award-winning device attaches easily to any standard hand washing sink faucet to ensure your staff rinse, lather and wash their hands for the full 20 seconds recommended by the CDC and taught in food handlers and health code courses nationwide to avoid the spread of harmful bacteria.

SaniTimerThe SaniTimer® automatically begins a 30-second countdown — the extra 10 seconds account for an individual’s preferred hand-wash prep — shown on an easy-to-read LED display as soon as the water is turned on. At the end of the cycle, the SaniTimer beeps to alert the hand washing user and resets itself to 30 seconds for the next member. The device works with pedal sinks as well as hands-free sinks for ease of installment and operation with your existing system.

The SaniTimer is a simple and straight forward, yet very effective tool in food service as statistics show that improper hand hygiene timing could account for up to 84 percent of food poisoning in food service establishments. The truth is as infectious as the negative results of poor hand hygiene and your employees, customers, and staff should know that this is a priority for you in your establishment.

Zachary Eddy, the inventor and patent holder is a professional chef of over 15 years and worked in countless commercial kitchens around the country and was constantly a witness to poor hand hygiene standards. “Food service staff have a lot on their plate but this is one step they can’t afford to overlook and is crucial to a quality product and experience. There has to be an effortless way to make sure health code regulations actually get adhered to each and every time to stop the spread of bacteria,” says Eddy.

The SaniTimer is the most effective and low-cost way to raise hand hygiene compliance and awareness in your facility today, period! When it comes to quality control, clean hands should be at the top of the list and the SaniTimer creates a great habit in a professional setting.

For more information, visit www.SaniTimer.com.