Tag Archives: inventory

Daniel Erickson, ProcessPro
FST Soapbox

Recall Risk Reduction: An ERP’s Role

By Daniel Erickson
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Daniel Erickson, ProcessPro

Consumer safety is of paramount importance and product recalls are a necessary means to this end. Product recalls are a serious, complex, and costly issue affecting the food and beverage industry in the United States. The FDA estimates that there are around 48 million cases of foodborne illness each year—causing one in six Americans to get sick from contaminated food. In addition to affecting public health, recalls have a dramatic effect on manufacturers by creating economic problems, damaging a company’s reputation, and imposing potential legal penalties and liabilities. In the search for a business management solution to better prepare themselves for and reduce the risk of recalls in their operations, many food manufacturers have discovered that technology, specifically ERP software, is key to lowering the risk of food and beverage product recalls.

An industry-specific ERP solution is a centralized business system with key industry features providing a system of record-keeping, with the tools to support the preparation and reduction of recall risks. While a manufacturer is ultimately responsible for a product recall, an ERP solution is essential in supporting and championing overall recall readiness and reduction. With the streamlined and automated inventory, manufacturing, and quality control processes managed within the software, critical steps and data that assist in recall mitigation are documented—including supplier verification records, audit logs, receipt records, quality testing, lot tracking, and shipment logs. The key to prevention of a product recall is preparation, which can be handled efficiently through an ERP’s functionality specifically in the following areas.

Supplier Management

An ERP facilitates best practices for supplier management and risk assessment within the solution to assure the acquisition of quality raw materials from trusted vendors. Its role is to maintain an approved supplier list for each product ingredient, documenting detailed supplier information, quality control test results, and risk level to ensure in-house and customer-specific standards are met. For approved or activated suppliers, information regarding materials that can be purchased through the vendor, applicable certifications, quality control results, and other pertinent supplier information is stored within the centralized data system of the ERP. A risk assessment for each vendor is also documented to ensure that any potential inherent risk(s) from vendor-issued recalls and to finished goods are limited.

In addition to activated suppliers, an ERP solution also assigns and manages qualified alternates to provide vetted selections should a primary supplier’s materials become unavailable. This positions a company well in the supply chain, as the investigative work has already been conducted on other suppliers, limiting the need and risk associated with onboarding an unknown supplier in a moment of crisis. Vendors are recorded within the system and ranked in order of preference and/or risk level so that they can be identified and put into use quickly if a supplier becomes unavailable—providing the preparation and leverage that companies need to mitigate the risk to safety in the supply chain. In a product recall situation, when a supplier notifies a customer of a contaminated ingredient, the supplier management feature within the ERP solution provides for a qualified replacement vendor that can fulfill the needed raw material quickly and efficiently.

Inventory Control

An ERP system offers end-to-end traceability, maintaining a comprehensive record that tracks raw ingredients, work-in-progress, and final products throughout the supply chain using barcode scanning to link product and lot information to batch tickets, QC testing results, shipping documents, and labels. This full forward and backward lot traceability is necessary to provide a documented audit trail imperative to locating raw materials or finished goods quickly within the initial 24-hour time period of a product recall. With full manufacturing, inventory, and reporting integrations, the ERP supports sound manufacturing practices that assist with recall preparedness – maintaining current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), FDA reporting, GFSI compliance, and other industry-specific regulations to provide a documented audit trail with the ability to adapt as compliance requirements change.

Managing protocols to ensure the quality of inbound and outbound materials is essential in minimizing recall risk across the entire supply chain—from raw materials to the delivered final product. With an industry-specific ERP solution, formulas, recipes and instructions are maintained, scaled and verified to ensure consistency of products within the manufacturing process. This instills preventative measures throughout the production cycle in the form of process steps and quality control test specifications to bolster safety and quality. Quality features such as quarantine status and other status capabilities permit the isolating, removing and disposing of raw ingredients and finished goods that fail to meet quality control standards—triggering an alert to notify the purchasing department to investigate the issue. Having the ability to remove ingredients and finished goods from inventory or production prevents contaminated items from reaching store shelves and consumers, which reduces overall recall risk.

Inventory control practices are an important part of the functionality within an ERP solution that help to reduce overall recall risk. This includes managing and reporting of shelf life and expiration dates to maintain precise and lean control of inventory and reduce variances. Automated inventory transactions with the use of an ERP’s warehouse management solution (WMS) follow industry best practices and improve efficiency to ensure the accuracy of shipments, transfers, and material returns. This real-time visibility allows for the maintenance of FIFO inventory practices necessary to reduce the risk of spoilage.

One of the leading causes of contamination for food and beverage manufacturers that results in a recall event is a lack of allergen control throughout the supply chain and production process. An ERP system helps to track, manage and record the handling, storage and batch steps of raw materials from farm-to-fork. This includes stringent sanitary practices, lot tracking, raw material segregation and process controls to avoid allergen contamination or cross-contamination. Accurate product labeling is also a significant factor in reducing risk and an automated system that generates nutritional and product package labels plays a key role in a company’s recall prevention. To meet the needs of consumers and regulators, an ERP solution automates label creation to include accurate ingredient and allergen statements, nutrient analysis, expiration dates, lot and batch numbers, and regulatory specifications. The labeling history documented in the software allows products to be identified and located quickly in the event of a recall.

Reporting

Utilizing the recall functionality in the ERP solution allows companies to plan and test their recall process in advance. Performing mock recalls permits regular measurement and improvement of procedures to ensure rapid, accurate, and thorough responses by all company stakeholders in the event of a recall. A successful simulated exercise identifies 100% of recalled ingredients/products and notifies appropriate entities in a timely manner. Evaluation and documentation of mock recall exercises help expose inefficiencies, process gaps and procedural adjustments, which are designed to improve recall readiness and minimize consumer exposure to potentially dangerous contaminants.

As proof or documentation of adherence to specific processes, reporting is essential to demonstrate that these processes have been completed—without it, an integral component is missing. Across the supply chain and throughout the manufacturing process, documentation and reporting accentuate steps that have been taken to prepare and reduce recall risk. Risk-based assessments in supplier management, lot traceability reports, and mock recall reporting all provide a starting point of analysis to allow for adjustments to be made across the business. In a recall situation, the system is able to create lot tracking reports that encompass raw ingredients through shipped finished goods. These reports can be produced in minutes, rather than the hours it takes if data is stored within separate software programs.

Due to the amount of time and money that food and beverage companies invest in getting their products to market, it is imperative that preventative measures are taken in order to avoid a product recall. Forward-thinking manufacturers can help prepare for and reduce recall risks by utilizing several important features in ERP software—including supplier management, inventory control, and reporting. Using the tools at their disposal, a company can mitigate liabilities and protect their brand to turn a potential crisis into a future filled with opportunities.

Bob Bentley, Crisp
FST Soapbox

Predictions: Planning for Increased Demand with Limited Supply

By Bob Bentley
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Bob Bentley, Crisp

We are seeing the beginning of a limited supply of certain products as containment of the COVID-19 pandemic keeps manufacturers, processing plants, and other suppliers in global stasis. But what does that mean for these manufacturers and other members of the supply chain? It means continued planning of master resources such as demand management, sales and operations planning and production scheduling, but with a greater focus on efficiency.

This process of master resource planning results in a detailed blueprint for manufacturing products to meet anticipated demand, accounting for various constraints such as limited supply of raw materials and purchase parts.

So what should manufacturers do if they run into serious shortages of raw materials or purchase parts? What can retailers do to cover operating expenses if they don’t have enough products to sell? We’ll take a look at these anticipated complications and possible methods for solving them.

Limited Supply

The current COVID-19 crisis has led to mandatory business closures that have already caused a shortage of supply. So far, we’ve gotten by with inventories that had already been sitting in various places up and down supply chains prior to the shutdowns, not just on warehouse and retail store shelves. Once all inventories within supply chains are depleted, we will start to notice more stockouts.

Some businesses can endure long-term production cessations without stockouts. For example, manufacturers in critical industries such as pharmaceuticals have a policy of stockpiling inventory in case of unforeseen events. Most businesses, however, cannot afford to miss months of production time because the lean manufacturing principles they adhere to include keeping minimal inventory.

For instance, automobile manufacturers and retailers do not hold excess inventory due to the expected annual product line changes from the previous year’s models, which are typically sold at a large profit reduction at the turn of the year. Clothing and other fashion-related businesses also keep inventory minimal due to a yearly change in styles.

Another source of upcoming shortages will be the sell-off of supplier facilities due to the downturn in revenue caused by emergency closures. Food is a particularly interesting case. Farmers are reconstructing the way their supply chains work to better serve their new target consumers—grocery retail. Some farmers may run into issues with transporting livestock or may need to repurpose crops that are nearing their harvest. Many of those that are pushing to endure and come out of the pandemic disruption with minimal casualties are starting to get creative by creating small farmers’ markets (pop-ups) or marketing directly to the consumer via direct subscription boxes.

It will take some time to re-establish farms, manufacturing plants, and other suppliers who were hit hardest during the months without revenue. However, refocusing on demand planning and forecasting could aid in spurring a regeneration of these industries.

Demand Management

Demand management is the first of three steps taken during the master resources planning process. Demand management includes demand forecasting, distribution channel planning and customer demand management.

Both suppliers and retailers need to know what demand they can expect, especially during uncertain times. After COVID-19, consumer demand will be high, supplies will be limited, and accurate demand forecasting will be especially important to getting businesses back on their feet.

Inaccurate forecasting will cause waste when businesses overestimate future demand for items that have a short shelf life. For instance, a grocery store that overestimates how much produce they will be able to sell within a certain time frame will end up throwing some of that produce away due to spoilage.

Consumer behavior during a crisis can complicate demand forecasting, though. In an earlier phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, worried customers over-purchased toilet paper and paper towels. This caused a shortage for everyone else, and the demand for those items was much higher than anticipated/forecasted. More recently, the same buyers bought up meat when they heard about the disruption in the food supply chain, and they expected the prices for meat to go up. Demand spikes like these cause lost sales for stores that don’t anticipate them.

Demand forecasting will remain tricky in the short-term for both suppliers and retailers whenever a retailer re-opens to the public with the imposed 25% capacity constraint. Overhead expenses will likely remain relatively the same, but 25% of the normal revenue may not cover expenses. Whether a full 25% of a retailer’s former customer base would return during a pandemic is also an unknown factor.

Companies will see high demand when the world opens their doors for business. The most efficient way for companies to plan during these times is by utilizing high-performance, demand forecasting software that will offer the best information available to deal with volatile demands, given the various known and predicted factors.

Sales and Operations Planning

After demand management is performed, manufacturers go through a sales and operations planning process that integrates sourcing, manufacturing, sales, marketing and financial plans, and resource planning. This process results in the creation of an approved production plan (at the product family level), purchase plan, sales plan and backlog plan that satisfies the anticipated level of demand within supply constraints.

In the early days following the end of the pandemic, some manufacturers won’t have the initial supply to meet the high demand for their goods. Some may find contingencies for creating their goods and products, while others may run into supplier issues when it comes to recreating their products and goods post-closure.

Getting manufacturers back up to speed will depend on building up the supplies of raw materials and purchase parts. Sometimes out-of-the-box solutions such as part designs can eliminate the need for some unavailable purchase parts and dependency on some suppliers. Additionally, accurate demand planning information will enable manufacturers to accommodate their retailer customers as much as possible without overpromising incoming goods.

Master Scheduling

In the master scheduling phase, the production and purchasing plans are taken from the family level into a specific product level. This process involves a computer repeatedly simulating production and purchasing as planned during the S & OP step until optimal bills of materials are created. This process includes testing of the plans against constraints of critical resources (rough-cut capacity planning) until a master production schedule is derived.

Fortunately for the retailers, manufacturers who have done accurate demand planning and have taken their production plans through the master scheduling stage will know the maximum number of goods they can ensure without overreaching.

Conclusion

The current COVID-19 pandemic required many business closures to help contain the spread of the virus. As a result, many consumer goods are in limited supply. When the crisis ends, the demand may very well overtake the supply. Businesses will need to practice patience while supplies build back up. Thinking outside the box, using accurate demand forecasting, preventing waste, and executing good demand planning will be crucial steps in reinstating a synergistic supply chain model.

Angela Fernandez, GS1

COVID-19 Puts More Emphasis on Supply Chain Visibility and Data Quality: A Conversation with Angela Fernandez of GS1 US

By Maria Fontanazza
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Angela Fernandez, GS1

The food industry is adapting in completely new ways as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Retailers are scrambling to keep certain items on store shelves and manufacturers are adjusting their production strategies based on realistic and ever-shifting needs. In a recent discussion with Food Safety Tech, Angela Fernandez, VP of community engagement at GS1 US and FST editorial advisory board member, talks about how companies can improve relationships with trading partners in the face of COVID-19.

Food Safety Tech: What issues do you see happening in the supply chain right now?

Angela Fernandez: Our food supply chain is experiencing overwhelming demand. As an organization that collaborates with both the retail grocery and foodservice sectors to solve supply chain challenges, we’re working with industry on how we can make our supply chain more efficient in the short term, and make it more resilient in the long term.

Consumers are frustrated by empty shelves and the demand created by the pandemic is changing the movement of products. Right now, products are not always accounted for in transit, there are production issues depending on category, and food produced for foodservice outlets like restaurants, schools, and hotels can’t always be easily diverted to a supermarket. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is lifting restrictions on the sale of food so that it is possible for items that may have been produced for foodservice “sale” to be sold in a supermarket.

FST: In what particular areas are you seeing inventory shortages that are impacting retailers and suppliers?

Fernandez: We’re seeing a couple of different dynamics. For suppliers that produce products for both retail and foodservice channels, we see a shift in reducing production on foodservice items and an increasing manufacturing on their retail product lines. We’re also seeing foodservice suppliers that have not serviced the retail channel previously are now looking to establish new relationships with retailers and recession-proof their businesses. This is not happening as fast as consumer demand for perimeter products like dairy and produce, so we see shortages and products expiring before they can be sold to these new retail customers.

Additionally, food product variation and customization is decreasing. If you think about your own experience going to the grocery store today, or arranging for a delivery, you’re seeing fewer flavors of a product available and fewer brand names you’re familiar with. Suppliers are continuing to shift back to mainstream production of their core product lines just to keep store shelves stocked. I think that’s what we’re going to continue to see—the reduction of customized and specialty items.

For retailers, they have a prioritized the focus on ramping up their e-commerce strategy to relieve the pressure on their stores and service more consumers online. This poses a particular challenge when retailers have limited IT resources and a need to set up a new item supplied from a new foodservice manufacturer that is trying to divert their products to the retail channel to support the demand. And in some cases unfortunately, foodservice suppliers maybe unable to redirect some of their products due to the fact they are not marked for individual sale with the traditional U.P.C. and other retailer requirements.

FST: Is there a better way that food companies, retailers and suppliers can work together during this pandemic?

Fernandez: Food companies can improve the way they work together if they focus on supply chain visibility and data quality. Visibility is key as suppliers are ramping up production on those mainstream products and trying to get them to the proper locations when retailers need them. That’s where I would look at GS1 Standards such as the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) for product identification and the advance ship notice (ASN) transaction, which lets a partner know when something is ready and being shipped. Global data standards enable the visibility to what delivery a retailer can expect and when, and being able to account for that inventory once it’s inside the DC [distribution center] location so that they can update an online platform. This can help ensure that a retailer has accurate information for the consumer and ability minimize the substitutions that can occur.

The second piece is the data quality aspect—making sure we have the right information around those core items that we are trying to keep stocked on the shelves for consumers who are purchasing those items today. The retail grocery and foodservice industries have been working on making product data more complete and accurate for a number of years, but we’ve seen a heightened focus on it now, knowing that consumers are relying on digital information to be correct since they cannot see the product in person right now. Expanding the data set for the consumer is critical.

FST: What is GS1 US doing right now to help customers better navigate today’s environment?

Fernandez: GS1 US is helping trading partners work with the capabilities they have to implement greater supply chain visibility, improve data quality and ramp up e-commerce operations. Depending on what was already implemented by the manufacturer or retailer, we’re looking at how we can leverage existing capabilities to help partners work together more efficiently to meet demand. How we can help connect the physical product and the digital data, knowing how important that is online right now, not only for trading partners but also for consumers?

One example of how GS1 Standards can be extended is if a retailer is looking to shorten their supply chain and purchase from a local farm. Standards provide a blueprint for supply chain partners to work together in a consistent way. We want to help these companies leverage and extend the standards instead of proprietary systems and abandoning useful processes for item setup, data exchange and point of sale checkout. Those are the types of discussions that we’re having—how GS1 US members can extend the standards that lead to operational efficiency and more easily bring in new partners to help fulfill demand.

Are Traasdahl, Crisp
FST Soapbox

Creating a Disruption Database in Response to COVID-19

By Are Traasdahl
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Are Traasdahl, Crisp

The spread and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been fast and furious across the globe.1 The toll on human life and the economy is being felt by everyone, everywhere. Closures of schools and restaurants, restrictions on social gatherings, the shift to working from home, and other social distancing practices have created sudden, unusually high demand spikes across a number of categories, particularly related to food.

COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Mitigating and Preparing for Supply Chain Disruptions | Attend  this complimentary webinar on-demandRepercussions from these dramatic demand surges are being felt across entire supply chains. Growers, producers, processors, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of all sizes are scrambling to fill immediate shortages.2,3 At the same time, foodservice operators are reassessing their needs in response to government mandated take-out/delivery-only service. Schools are consolidating preparation and pick-up points for breakfast and lunch programs, while on-campus foodservice venues have closed at colleges and universities. Food companies are scrambling to redeploy and redirect existing inventories, as well as forecast short and mid-term demand and production requirements in the face of an unprecedented situation.

In the first several days of disruption, the immediate response is all-hands-on-deck damage control. Rightfully so. But in the flurry of activity, it is critical that those responsible for demand forecasting document the disruption as it is happening. Why? Because sales history is the foundational input of sales forecasting algorithms. Outlier events, such as COVID-19, natural disasters, extreme weather, short-term international trade restrictions, etc., have the potential to distort demand trends if they aren’t recognized and weighted appropriately in forward-looking projections. Formally documenting extraordinary events allows organizations to:

  1. Explain unusual variances to history and/or forecast
  2. Create evergreen institutional knowledge (vs. relying on individuals, scattered notes, and memory)
  3. Build a “disruption database” that can be used to make fact-based overrides to algorithm-generated statistical forecasts when a similar disruption is predicted or occurs in the future.

These “disruption databases” could ultimately serve as the foundation for even more sophisticated disruption forecasting models. As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, these models could potentially be customized based on the type of event. Importantly, this annotation of events needs to occur within your forecasting platform so that it is permanent and visible to inform insights for all forecast users.

So, what information should you capture?

  1. Timing of the event
    • This includes specific days or weeks as well as information across the event lifecycle, including pre, during, and post event completion.
  2. Geography impacted
    • The scale of the event should also be noted. Some events are market-specific (i.e., the 2020 Nashville tornado), while others are state or region-specific (i.e. California wildfires, Hurricane Katrina) or result in national or global level impacts (COVID-19).
    • The ship-to locations of your customers relative to the disruption will influence the demand impact of the event.
  3. Customer gains & losses
    • During shortages, changes to current customer strategies should also be accounted for, such as potential volume reallocations. This could mean realignment of current customer distribution centers, temporarily not shipping to or losing specific customers, and/or even securing new customers based on your ability to supply when competitors cannot.
    • Customers may also shut down temporarily and/or delay previously scheduled new store openings. They may also reduce their hours of service and/or increase frequency of deliveries.4
  4. Channel shifts
    • The use of different channels in response to the event should also be captured. For example, in response to COVID-19, grocery retailers are seeing a significant increase in home delivery and click-and-collect orders.
    • Collaborate with your customers to quantify this shift. It may explain your volume trends (if your products are or aren’t typically purchased online) and/or suggest alternative product forms, packaging, etc. to meet both immediate needs and longer-term demand.
  5. Products impacted
    • This includes both items with demand spikes as well as those realizing unexpected demand declines. Shifts may also occur between product forms. For example, some consumer concern about bulk produce has been expressed with COVID-19 since the produce is manually stocked and shopped.5 While efforts are underway to dispel this misconception, it has impacted short-term demand for both the bulk items and their pre-packed counterparts.6,7
    • Adjacent, complementary and/or substitutable items should also be considered.8 Focusing short-term production on core varieties, cuts, forms, etc. vs. a complete assortment may allow a faster return to category (if not item-specific) in-stock levels.
  6. Ordered vs. filled quantities
    • Typically, sales reporting systems only capture what was shipped/invoiced, not what was ordered. Capturing and comparing both enables quantification of the demand “opportunity loss,” which could be factored into future “event” forecast models.
  7. Consumer sentiment and behavioral shifts
    • Specific to COVID-19, Nielsen IRI and Crisp DemandWatch have identified “phases” of consumer behavior and anticipated category purchase impacts. Noting when these phases occur in your forecasting system can provide insight into performance analysis and inform future projections. These consumer patterns may also have application to other extreme events, such as natural disasters.9,10
    • In the face of significant disruptions, look for, leverage, and annotate relevant consumer insights to inform the forecast. Link the annotation to a central archive of relevant research and data to expand access and understanding across your organization.
  8. Raw material, ingredient, packaging, labor or other sourcing issues
    • Note any shortages that impacted your ability to meet demand. Your ability to satisfy demand may be impacted by your own suppliers’ ability to get you the necessary inputs and/or your ability to staff production runs.
  9. Distribution & logistics issues
    • Access to truck, rail, and/or air transportation of products may also be disrupted by the event. Note any logistics constraints to delivering finished goods to customers.
  10.  Competitor activity/disruptions
    • New product launches, delivery systems, ownership, facility fires, labor shortages or disputes, weather patterns, and more that impact your competitors can also influence demand for your products, both in the short and long term.

In the heat of the crisis, this level of documentation may sound burdensome. Even if you start with notes on a scratch pad, email chains, and a collection of industry newsletters, set aside one morning or afternoon a week to annotate within your forecasting platform the factors that impacted demand that week. Continue to post notations in the week each specific disruption-driving factor begins and each week thereafter until its impact has dissipated. Keeping up with annotations as you go along will keep things fresher in your mind and can help inform immediate and near-term plans.

Disruption Database
Disruption databases can serve as the foundation for more sophisticated disruption forecasting models. As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, these models can be customized based on the type of event. (Figure courtesy of Crisp).

Don’t forget that pantry loading shelf-stable items early in a disruption may significantly impact post-disruption sales, as consumers work through inventory they have at home. Track this as well. Best-in-class forecasting platforms, such as the example shown in Figure 1, can effectively leverage advanced computing power and analytics to help visualize the impact of COVID-19 on supply and follow-on effects predicted to be felt in your markets. The disruption information you track can be gathered, organized, and analyzed along with trillions of data points from disparate sources to generate high-quality statistical demand forecasts and actionable insights with speed and precision.

When the dust settles on this current event, take the time to document other historical disruptions. Working in reverse chronological order, gather as much date-specific archived data and tribal knowledge as you can, and add it to the annotations in your forecasting platform. The next time a disruption occurs (and it will!), you will be equipped to draw on this “database of disruptions” to proactively predict and respond to future impacts on demand.

References

  1. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Fares, M, Baertlein, L. (2020). Factories shift operations in scramble to restock supermarket shelves. Yahoo! finance.
  3. Redman, R. (2020). Coronavirus: How leading grocery chains are responding to keep customers safe and shelves stocked. Supermarket News.
  4. Wells, Jeff. (2020). Grocers modify store hours to clean and restock amid panic buying. Grocery Drive.
  5. Naidu, R, Fares, M. (2020). Wary of coronavirus, U.S. shoppers skip the fresh produce aisle. Reuters.
  6. Ward, A. (2020). COVID 19 Coronavirus Prevention: A dozen things to know about leafy greens. California LGMA.
  7. Koger, C. (2020). No reason to avoid fresh produce during outbreak. The Packer.
  8. (2020) Nielsen Investigation: “Pandemic Pantries” pressure supply chain amid COVID-19 fears. Nielsen Insights.
  9. (2020) Key consumer behavior thresholds identified as the coronavirus outbreak evolves. Nielsen Insights
  10. (2020) IRI Brief – COVID-19: Impact on CPG and Retail. Retail Wire.
Allison Kopf, Artemis

How Technologies for Cultivation Management Help Growers Avoid Food Safety Issues

By Maria Fontanazza
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Allison Kopf, Artemis

Visibility, accountability and traceability are paramount in the agriculture industry, says Allison Kopf, founder and CEO of Artemis. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Kopf explains how growers can take advantage of cultivation management platforms to better arm them with the tools they need to help prevent food safety issues within their operations and maintain compliance.

Food Safety Tech: What are the key challenges and risks that growers face in managing their operations?

Allison Kopf: One of the easiest challenges for growers to overcome is how they collect and utilize data. I’ve spent my entire career in agriculture, and it’s been painful to watch operations track all of their farm data on clipboards and spreadsheets. By not digitizing processes, growers become bogged down by the process of logging information and sifting through old notebooks for usable insights—if they even choose to do that.

Allison Kopf, Artemis
Allison Kopf is the founder and CEO of Artemis, a cultivation management platform serving the fruit, vegetable, floriculture, cannabis, and hemp industries. She is also is an investment partner at XFactor Ventures and serves on the boards of Cornell University’s Controlled Environment Agriculture program and Santa Clara University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

I was visiting a farm the other day and the grower pulled out a big binder. The binder contained all of his standard operating procedures and growing specifications for the varieties he’s grown over the past 20 years. Then he pulled out a pile of black notebooks. If you’ve ever worked on a farm, you’d recognize grower notebooks anywhere. They’re used to log data points such as yield, quality and notes on production. These notebooks sit in filing cabinets with the hopeful promise of becoming useful at some point in the future—to stop production from falling into the same pitfalls or to mirror successful outcomes. However, in reality, the notebooks never see the light of day again. The grower talked about the pain of this process—when he goes on vacation, no one can fill his shoes; when he retires, so does the information in his head; when auditors come in, they’ll have to duplicate work to create proper documentation; and worse, it’s impossible to determine what resources are needed proactively based on anything other than gut. Here’s the bigger issue: All of the solutions are there; they’re just filed away in notebooks sitting in the filing cabinet.

Labor is the number one expense for commercial growing operations. Unless you’re a data analyst and don’t have the full-time responsibilities of managing a complex growing operation, spreadsheets and notebooks won’t give you the details needed to figure out when and where you’re over- or under-staffing. Guessing labor needs day-to-day is horribly inefficient and expensive.

Another challenge is managing food safety and compliance. Food contamination remains a huge issue within the agriculture industry. E. coli, Listeria and other outbreaks (usually linked to leafy greens, berries and other specialty crops) happen regularly. If crops are not tracked, it can take months to follow the contamination up the chain to its source. Once identified, growers might have to destroy entire batches of crops rather than the specific culprit if they don’t have appropriate tracking methods in place. This is a time-consuming and expensive waste.

Existing solutions that growers use like ERPs are great for tracking payroll, billing, inventory, logistics, etc., but the downside is that they’re expensive, difficult to implement, and most importantly aren’t specific to the agriculture industry. The result is that growers can manage some data digitally, but not everything, and certainly not in one place. This is where a cultivation management platform (CMP) comes into play.

FST: How are technologies helping address these issues?

Kopf: More and more solutions are coming online to enable commercial growers to detect, prevent and trace food safety issues, and stay compliant with regulations. The key is making sure growers are not just tracking data but also ensuring the data becomes accessible and functional. A CMP can offer growers what ERPs and other farm management software can’t: Detailed and complete visibility of operations, labor accountability and crop traceability.

A CMP enables better product safety by keeping crop data easily traceable across the supply chain. Rather than having to destroy entire batches in the event of contamination, growers can simply trace it to the source and pinpoint the problem. A CMP greatly decreases the time it takes to log food safety data, which also helps growers’ bottom line.

CMPs also help growers manage regulatory compliance. This is true within the food industry as well as the cannabis industry. Regulations surrounding legal pesticides are changing all the time. It’s difficult keeping up with constantly shifting regulatory environment. In cannabis this is especially true. By keeping crops easily traceable, growers can seamlessly manage standard operating procedures across the operation (GAP, HACCP, SQF, FSMA, etc.) and streamline audits of all their permits, licenses, records and logs, which can be digitized and organized in one place.

FST: Where is the future headed regarding the use of technology that generates actionable data for growers? How is this changing the game in sustainability?

Kopf: Technology such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things are changing just about every industry. This is true of agriculture as well. Some of these changes are already happening: Farmers use autonomous tractors, drones to monitor crops, and AI to optimize water usage.

As the agriculture industry becomes more connected, the more growers will be able to access meaningful and actionable information. Plugging into this data will be the key for growers who want to stay profitable. These technologies will give them up-to-the-second information about the health of their crops, but will also drive their pest, labor, and risk & compliance management strategies, all of which affect food safety.

When growers optimize their operations and production for profitability, naturally they are able to optimize for sustainability as well. More gain from fewer resources. It costs its customers less money, time and hassle to run their farms and it costs the planet less of its resources.

Technology innovation, including CMPs, enable cultivation that will provide food for a growing population despite decreasing resources. Technology that works both with outdoor and greenhouse growing operations will help fight food scarcity by keeping crops growing in areas where they might not be able to grow naturally. It also keeps production efficient, driving productivity as higher yields will be necessary.

Beyond scarcity, traceability capabilities enforce food security which is arguable the largest public health concern across the agricultural supply chain. More than 3,000 people die every year due to foodborne illness. By making a safer, traceable supply chain, new technology that enables growers to leverage their data will protect human life.