Tag Archives: visibility

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

Using Artificial Intelligence May Add More Transparency to the Food Supply Chain

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Food industry professionals know how supply chain transparency plays a major role in keeping everything running smoothly. Brand representatives want confirmation that their agricultural partners can fill upcoming orders. If things go wrong and people get sick from what they eat, better visibility is vital in addressing and curbing such issues.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a critical part of better food supply chain awareness among all applicable parties. This article briefly discusses some interesting examples.

Applying AI to Crop Management

Even the most experienced agricultural professionals know farming is far from an exact science. Everything from pests to droughts can negatively impact a growing season, even if a farmer does anything they can to influence production in their favor.

However, AI can help predict yields, enabling farmers to maintain transparency and set accurate expectations for parties further down the supply chain. That’s especially important in the increasingly popular farm-to-table movement, which shortens how far produce travels and may entail using it on the same day someone picks it.

One newly developed machine-learning tool relies on computer vision and ultra-scale images taken from the air to categorize lettuce crops. More specifically, it captures details about the size, quality, and quantity of the heads. Combining that with GPS allows more efficient harvesting.

Tracing Foodborne Illness

CDC Statistics indicate foodborne illnesses sicken one in six people every year in the United States. FSMA contains rules and actions for food processing facilities to prevent such instances, but outbreaks still happen. AI could be yet another useful mitigation measure.

Researchers at the University of Georgia determined that, since the 1960s, approximately a quarter of Salmonella outbreaks have been from the Typhimurium variation. They trained a machine-learning algorithm on more than 1,300 Typhimurium genomes with known origins. The model eventually achieved 83% accuracy in predicting certain animal sources that would have the Typhimurium genome. It showed the most accuracy with poultry and swine.

Reducing Food Waste

Waste is a tremendous problem for the food supply chain. In the United States, data shows that upwards of 40% of packaged consumables get discarded once they reach the use-by date. That happens whether or not the products are actually unsafe to eat.

However, better visibility into this issue has a positive impact on food distribution. For example, some restaurants give people discounted meals rather than throwing them away. In other cases, grocery stores partner with charities, helping people in need have enough to eat.

Scientists in Singapore have also created an electronic “nose” that uses AI to sniff out meat freshness. More specifically, it reacts to the gases produced during decay. When the team tested the system on chicken, fish and beef, it showed 98.5% accuracy in its task. Using AI in this manner could bring transparency that cuts food waste while assuring someone that a food product is still safe to eat despite the appearance of it being expired based on Best Before’ labeling.

Removing Guesswork From Dynamic Processes

People are particularly interested in how AI often detects signs that humans miss. Thus, it can often solve problems that previously proved challenging. For example, even the most conscientious farmers can’t watch all their animals every moment of the day and night, but AI could provide greater visibility. That’s valuable since animal health can directly impact the success of entire farming operations.

One European Union-funded AI project took into account how animal health is a primary factor in milk production. The tool compared cows’ behaviors to baseline levels and characteristics of the animals at the most successful farms. It then provided users with practical insights for improvement. Europe has at least 274 million dairy cows, and their milk makes up 11%-14% of Europeans’ dietary fat requirements. Those statistics show why keeping herds producing as expected is critical.

AI is also increasingly used in aquaculture. Until recently, fish farming professionals largely used intuition and experience to determine feeding amounts. However, that can lead to waste. One company uses artificial intelligence to sense fish and shrimp hunger levels and sends that information to smart dispensers that release food. The manufacturers say this approach causes up to a 21% reduction in feed costs. Other solutions track how much fish eat over time, helping farmers adjust their care protocols.

Fascinating Advancements in Supply Chain Transparency

These instances are only a sampling of what AI can do to support the food supply chain. Although most of them are most relevant to producers, consumers will likely reap the benefits, too. For example, some food labels already show the precise field associated with the potatoes used for a bag of chips. Once technology reaches a point where most consumers could have advanced AI apps on their phones, it could be a matter of aiming a smartphone’s camera at any food product and instantly seeing the path it took before reaching the consumer. It’s too early to know when that might happen. Nevertheless, what’s already possible with innovative technology is compelling in its own right and makes people rightfully eager to see what’s on the horizon.

Sanjay Sharma, Roambee
FST Soapbox

The Need for Improved Visibility in the Fresh Produce Supply Chain

By Sanjay Sharma
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Sanjay Sharma, Roambee

The Ever Given eventually broke free, but the Suez Canal blockage was just one dramatic incident in a year full of “black swan” events exposing weaknesses in the global supply chain, including daily mini disruptions. Among the lessons to be learned is the need for verifiably better supply chain visibility that goes beyond crowdsourced carrier or telematics data. This article hones in on the significant challenges faced in the fresh produce supply chain, and strategies suppliers can implement in situations to help improve supply chain visibility and prepare for an unpredictable future.

The Reality of Today’s Food Supply Chains

As the global supply chain continues to expand, the distance fresh produce travels to reach the consumer is extended. According to the International Institute of Refrigeration, the lack of a functioning cold chain causes significant food loss; the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) reports that “one-third of food produced globally is lost or wasted between farm and fork.”

Multimodal shipping, as well as the change in hands before the harvested produce reaches the consumer, makes it hard for food to retain its freshness. Moreover, multiple parties involved in the supply chain create plenty of room for coordination issues, contributing to delays, damaged products, and increased costs. Potential challenges faced while transporting fresh produce include the following.

Reusability and Circular Economy of Plastic Containers

The best way to preserve quality and freshness from source to consumer, retail-ready transport packaging solutions are needed to optimize space, improve temperature control and protect quality into the retail distribution center. While it is an environmentally sustainable choice, renting returnable plastic containers (RPC) instead of corrugated boxes comes with its own challenges. These RPCs get lost or misplaced from the time they are rented, during use to ship products from consumer locations and during the return of the empty RPCs back to the renter.

Temperature Excursions During Transport & Transshipment

Transport losses in a fresh food cold chain are primarily related to temperature and humidity excursions, caused by delayed/improper cooling or refrigeration equipment failure. The biggest problem is not always the lack of data, but rather the lack of timely data that can be used to correct anomalies in time to prevent spoilage.Temperature excursions can occur both while in transit and at transshipment points. During the former, it can happen due to failure of cooling equipment, while for the latter, it can occur if active cooling containers or reefers are not plugged into power sockets for extended periods of time during handling or when on a ship. In air transport, the goods can face temperature excursions during loading, unloading and storage, such as on the tarmac on a hot day.

Damaged Packages

Early spoilage in fresh produce can be attributed to both handling as well as changes in external environment. An example is the impact of atmospheric pressure on bags of potato chips traveling through a mountainous region or by air. The financial impact of damaged packages—one of the leading reasons for increased cost of food logistics management—goes beyond the visible replacement and re-shipping costs; in the case of fresh food spoilage, not only can your brand be impacted, legal issues could result if consumer health is affected.

Safety/Security Issues

Fresh produce is easily contaminable and thus requires extra care in the chain of custody. Today, customers are not just demanding visibility into the authenticity of how their food was farmed, but also how safely it was transported. The right temperature and humidity play a vital role in maintain the quality of the fresh produce reaching the grocery store. Whether it is a Black Swan event like a widespread E. coli contamination of tomatoes that can endanger human lives, or just a daily product freshness issue, there’s considerable impact on the food brand and retail store.

High Maintenance Costs

Maintaining the right conditions, ensuring quality packaging, and facilitating quick transportation increases the cost of a fresh produce supply chain significantly compared to other products.

Lack of Information Accuracy in Data Sharing

Every actor in the supply chain is working toward maintaining the freshness of a product, such as avocadoes imported from Mexico. But tying this data into a common thread is difficult due to disparate systems and processes in monitoring condition, handling and chain of custody. For example, the warehousing company may only measure temperature in a few corners of the warehouse where the fresh product wasn’t technically stored and the trucking company will only have the reefer’s temperature, but the product may have never traveled on that reefer owing to a missed connection. This makes data aggregation inaccurate and unactionable.

The Need for Improved Visibility

Whether it be food losses, increased costs, or food safety regulations, improving the verifiability of supply chain visibility from end to end can ultimately help eliminate these challenges. The following are some measures that can help contribute to food supply chain success.

Enhancing Information Transparency

A clear string of communication from end-to-end is critical to manage the supply chain. Increased information transparency and a clear chain of data can reduce food damages and losses.

Optimizing Maintenance

Maintenance costs can arise out of substandard packaging, lack of adherence to quality standards, and mishandling during transportation. Additional measures can be taken in order to reduce the overall maintenance costs, as well as time and effort spent tackling late or damaged product delivery. Such measures include adding more service locations, improving on time delivery, monitoring in real time, improving reusable packaging (if applicable), and performing thorough quality checks.

Building Faster, Flexible and Precise Supply Chains

Running a lean supply chain is vital to successfully delivering fresh food products. Many items such as yogurts or fresh produce have a short shelf life. Hence, the slightest reduction in transit time has significant benefits. Predictive analytics, image recognition and process automation offer timely alerts to improve actionability.

Where to Begin

You need to take a top-down, end-to-end approach to visibility because a supply chain involves several stakeholders and modes of transport from farm to fork.

Sensor-driven visibility helps implement a top-down, end-to-end approach because it is firsthand and not reliant for data from the actors in the chain of custody. Sensor-driven location and condition in real time offers transparency, collaboration and ultimately, reliable logistics automation.

End-to-end real-time data on inventory location and package conditions can result more transparency and control across the supply chain. The best, and often the only way to wade through both the visible and hidden business costs of in-transit damage is to keep track of your shipments from door to door with the help of an on-demand food and beverage monitoring solution.

When working with low shelf life products like food, reliable supply chain visibility is vital to prevent incidents that can contribute to financial loss. The loss of customer relationships, dealer loyalty, and cascading delays can have a ripple effect and result in further monetary losses as well as long-term business impacts that might take very long to resolve. Implementing the above recommendations can help supply chains recover from accidents and prepare for the inevitable future of “black swan” events and daily mini disruptions alike.

Niels Andersen, ThinkIQ
FST Soapbox

Supply Chain Visibility and Transparency a Key Element of Change in 2021

By Niels Andersen
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Niels Andersen, ThinkIQ

It is safe to say that 2020 was a year unlike any other. The COVID-19 pandemic brought on significant changes to everyday life across the world. It also brought some significant challenges to businesses from retail, to restaurants and manufacturing. The supply chain industry faced a challenge like no other when shutdowns began and manufacturers were left scrambling to come up with a backup plan. Although these challenges were tough to handle, it gave the industry a much-needed eye opening to make the changes needed in order to avoid this from happening again.

The food manufacturing industry was hit particularly hard and required some intervention from the U.S. government. In order to protect food plant workers, the FDA and OSHA jointly issued a 16-page checklist for use by owners and operators of food production companies in mid-August. While it did not list any new regulations, it pulled existing guidance from the FDA, CDC, and OSHA. The main focus was on employee health and food safety. The main concern was offering guidance on how to deal with resuming operations, protecting healthy workers, as well as for dealing with sick employees and those exposed to them. One of the struggles we have is that the guidelines relate to how workers behave inside a plant.

These guidelines were just the tip of the iceberg as it forced the industry to take a deeper look into two main areas: Supply chain robustness, visibility and transparency, and traceability. Highly optimized modern supply chains depend on a high degree of predictability from all actors in the chain; they are lean in order to minimize costs and working capital.

Unfortunately, this optimization has made supply chains brittle—the models did not anticipate COVID-19 and the unexpected complexity that followed. Moving forward, manufacturers need to take a closer look at how this happened.

The traditional way to increase robustness in a supply chain is to increase inventory buffers so that any breakdowns can be smoothed out over time. Inventory buffers are expensive, tie up working capital, and increase risks, because a manufacturer may not be able to sell what they have in inventory. A more modern approach is to make supply chains more agile, so changes can be implemented quickly in case the unexpected happens. Agility requires visibility and transparency in order to understand what’s happening. The struggle in manufacturing is that agility must be combined with repeatability so that quality products can be created in a cost-effective way on a large scale. Repeatability also requires visibility and transparency. A famous quote from Lord Kelvin says, “you cannot improve what you cannot measure”. This rings as true today as it did more than 100 years ago. Another key element is repeatability to ensure that the manufacturing resources produce the requested production orders. This is why it is so important to provide transparency in what is going on in your supply chain to ensure processes are stable and repeatable.

The pandemic has brought a renewed focus for manufacturers in making sure they are becoming more transparent and agile within their supply chain processes. They are realizing thanks to this disruption that suppliers can’t always deliver and a backup plan is crucial to keep things moving. One option is to implement technology that helps track visibility and transparency to better assess what is needed and to offer alternative suppliers. Having supply chain transparency requires companies to know what is happening upstream in the supply chain and communicate this knowledge both internally and externally.

Automation Can Help with Supply Chain Visibility

Automation has wrongly been perceived as just a way to kill jobs. At the same time, the idea of “bringing manufacturing back to the United States” is less about bringing jobs back and more about adding value creation. For manufacturers to be effective today, they must automate. It’s not just about being efficient, it’s about enabling manufacturers to scale up with precision. Most importantly, it’s about survival. In order for manufacturers to survive, they need to automate. This is driving a much higher demand in sensors which play an essential role in automation.

Automation systems are unbiased, and don’t have bad day. This means manufacturers can operate with high levels of repeatability and precision. Without this level of automated precision, we would not be able to enjoy many of modern life’s necessities like the car you drive or the cell phone in your pocket.

Additionally, automation reduces errors, increases the efficiency of the labor, and results in higher output with lower labor costs. This helps manufacturers reduce waste, increase sustainability, lower their carbon footprint, and reduce their energy dependency.

2020 prompted many necessary changes to the food manufacturing industry and their interaction with suppliers. It is true that a crisis spurs innovation. The pandemic has forced manufacturers to think differently about how they are conducting business. One thing will be critical to move forward: The ability to have better visibility of your supply chain. Adding visibility, transparency and collaboration tools are going to bring on lasting changes that are to manage a disruption such as a future pandemic.

Are Traasdahl, Crisp
Retail Food Safety Forum

Is Programmatic Commerce the Next Wave in Supply Chain Tech?

By Are Traasdahl
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Are Traasdahl, Crisp

While COVID-19 exposed disconnects in the food supply chain, it also served as an overdue catalyst for rapid technology adoption. Food manufacturers, distributors and retailers were forced to grapple with consumer behaviors that—previously expected to occur over five years— changed within about five weeks. Faced with unprecedented demand, channel shifts and rapidly changing consumer purchasing behaviors, forward-looking brands and retailers have started to transform their business models to become highly responsive and agile.

A new approach called “programmatic commerce” may be the key to faster market insights and pivots. Taking cues from past attempts to digitize the supply chain from end-to-end, programmatic commerce uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to connect and unify critical business data across food manufacturers, distributors and retailers using common retail portals, BI and CRM tools as well as other data resources and platforms.

With a real-time unified view of channels and activity, programmatic commerce has the potential to create fully automated trade processes to optimize production, inventory management, logistics, promotions and more for both upstream and downstream supply chain activities.

To achieve the potential of programmatic commerce, real-time or near real-time data sources must be easily integrated, unified and displayed. This is in stark contrast to previous attempts to create end-to-end supply chain visibility, which often required custom or manual integrations, had costly and lengthy implementation requirements and necessitated custom reporting.

The programmatic approach is already gaining traction, enabling retailers to leverage AI and ML technology to optimize supply chains. But the real value is in taking it one step further—to tap into rich customer data, understand rapidly changing consumer behaviors and ultimately—to predict and personalize shopping experiences at scale.

Tracking and Adapting to Evolving Consumer Journeys

Consumers increasingly demand greater choice, control, personalization and transparency and companies must continuously create, track and manage a 360º view of customers’ shopping journeys to stay ahead of these trends. Fortunately, real-time data and analytical capabilities are available to supply the critical information they need to implement a programmatic commerce approach.

Among the shifts companies must track as a result of COVID-19 is the explosion in online grocery shopping. In November 2020, U.S. grocery delivery and pickup sales totaled $5.9 billion and a record high 83% of consumers intend to purchase groceries online again, signaling this trend continues as the pandemic lingers on.1 By 2025, online grocery sales are predicted to account for 21.5% of total grocery sales, representing more than a 60% increase over pre-pandemic estimates.2 A permanent shift toward online grocery shopping can be expected as consumers’ shopping and fulfillment experience continues to improve.

For consumers still shopping in stores, the pandemic also drove switches in primary physical store locations. In the United States, an estimated 17% of consumers shifted away from their primary store since the start of the pandemic.3 This was driven by increased work-from-home, which eliminated commuting routes and made different store locations more convenient, including ones closer to home.

Given the multitude of changes impacting consumer journeys during the pandemic, it is imperative that companies track relevant purchase drivers and considerations of each purchase occasion, while also taking into account their recent shopping experience. This creates the need for consistent, seamless and relevant experiences across both digital and physical channels that aligns all touchpoints with the consumer as part of their “total commerce experience.”

Multiple retailers are already pursuing this approach in the hope of retaining their “primary store” status across the totality of their consumers’ shopping experiences. Walmart recently launched a new store format to help achieve “seamless omni-shopping experiences” for its customers through a digitally enabled shopping environment. Customers can use the Walmart app to efficiently find what they’re looking for, discover new products, check pricing, and complete contactless checkout.4 Data tracked on these customers can eventually be used to create personalized recommendations and in-store activations and assistance based on their purchase history and in-store experience.

Conversely, the “digital store” is also being reimagined to align with consumers’ in-store experience to create a seamless shopping experience. For example, personalized meal planning service The Dinner Daily now offers the ability for its members to order recipe ingredients directly from Kroger and other Kroger-owned stores through The Dinner Daily app.5 Integrated data from multiple shopping platforms and consumer touchpoints can provide food manufacturers and retailers with shopper profiles, consumer experiences, and purchase history along with inventory status and other inputs to ultimately build personalized customer experiences and enhance shopper loyalty.

Applying Programmatic Commerce to Deliver Personalization to Consumers

Once armed with real-time data in a uniform format from sources ranging from consumer search analytics to retailer promotional pricing, a programmatic commerce approach can provide companies with predictive understanding of demand and supply to optimize decision making from raw materials through production through retail or direct-to-consumer.

Using online grocery shopping as an example, consumer personalization can be delivered through the accurate prediction and display of items relevant to each shopper based on shopping history, preferences, current cart selections, and other inputs such as real-time availability, marketing promotions and more.

Innovations are already in the market, including Halla, a data science company that developed a grocery-specific personalization algorithm that works with grocery retailer e-commerce platforms to create smart recommendations based on understanding of individual shoppers’ product usage and preferences.6 Another example is the Locai Solutions digital grocery platform, which applies AI to personalize recipe recommendations based on consumer preferences and purchase history and determines ingredients and quantities needed for easy incorporation into their shopping cart.7

The Path Ahead: Accelerating Technology Adoption in the Food Industry

AI and ML are already reducing waste across supply chains and enabling consumer personalization. However, currently only about 12% of retail decision-makers feel they are very effective at providing these experiences to customers and only 10% have access to the real-time data needed to achieve this goal.8

Modern programmatic commerce platforms (see Figure 1) can effectively bridge information gaps, improve inventory and distribution to prevent shortages or overages and help companies be data-ready to meet actual demand. Beyond this, a programmatic approach unlocks the next stage of customer satisfaction and loyalty, personalizing the experience during and after the pandemic.

Programmatic Commerce Platform visualization
Figure 1. Programmatic Commerce Platform visualization. (Courtesy of Crisp)

References

  1. Bishop, D. (2020). Tracking Online Grocery’s Growth. Brick Meets Click.
  2. Mercatus. (2020). The Evolution of the Grocery Customer.
  3.  Briedis, H., et al. (2020). Adapting to the next normal in retail: The customer experience imperative. McKinsey & Company.
  4. Whiteside, J. (2020). Reimagining Store Design to Help Customers Better Navigate the Omni-Shopping Experience. Walmart.
  5.  Corke, R. (2020). Our Online Ordering Connection for Kroger is Here. The Dinner Daily.
  6.  Halla. (2016). Halla Grocery Solutions.
  7. Locai. (2018). Locai Meal Planning.
  8. Bluecore. (2019). Align Technology, Data, And Your Organization to Deliver Customer Value.

 

Mikael Bengtsson, Infor

As COVID-19 Stresses Food Suppliers, Technology Steps In

By Maria Fontanazza
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Mikael Bengtsson, Infor

The theme of better traceability and more transparency is a theme that will only grow stronger in the food industry. Just last week we heard FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas talk about the agency’s recently proposed FSMA rule on food traceability during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Mikael Bengtsson, industry & solution strategy director for food & beverage at Infor, explains yet another role that technology can play in helping companies maintain agility during changes that affect the supply chain such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Food Safety Tech: How can food suppliers mitigate the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and with limited resources?

Mikael Bengtsson: Food safety must always be a top priority for any food and beverage company. The risks associated with contamination can have a severe impact for public health, brand and company reputation. Safety routines are therefore always of the highest priority. In today’s situation with COVID-19, the stress on safety is further increased. Now, it’s not only about keeping products safe but also keeping employees healthy. One progression and resource that all food suppliers must follow is the FDA [FSMA rules], which require suppliers to be diligent and document their compliance. Especially now, while suppliers are faced with limited resources and additional stress during the pandemic, they must rely on the basics—ensuring masks are worn in and out of the workplace, washing hands for at least 20 seconds prior to touching any food, and remaining six feet apart from co-workers. When it comes to a crisis like COVID, take solace in knowing suppliers can rely on the basics—even when conditions are strained.

This year we have seen many companies having to adapt and change quickly. Demand has shifted between products, ingredients have been in shortage and many employees have had to work from home. Some were better prepared than others in adapting to the new situation. Technology plays a big role when it comes to agility. Regarding food safety, there are many proactive measures to be taken. The industry leaders establish transparency in their supply chain both upstream and downstream, use big data analysis to identify inefficiencies, as well as couple IoT with asset management systems to foresee issues before they happen.

FST: How can technology help suppliers meet the growing consumer demand for transparency in an end-to-end supply chain and improve consumer trust?

Mikael Bengtsson, Infor
Mikael Bengtsson, industry & solution strategy director for food & beverage at Infor

Bengtsson: Communication with consumers is changing. It is not only about marketing products, but also to educate and interact with consumers. This requires a different approach. Of course, consumers are loyal to brands, but are also tempted to try something new when grocery shopping. After a new study is published or a new story is written, consumers are likely to shift their shopping preferences.

It is therefore important to build a closer connection with consumers. Companies who have full supply chain visibility, transparency and traceability have detailed stories to tell their consumers. One way they can build these stories is by including QR codes on their packages. The consumer can then easily scan the code and be brought to a website that shows more product details—e.g. who was the farmer, how were the animals cared for and what sustainability efforts were involved. These are all important aspects to build consumer trust. According to researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management, investing in supply chain visibility is the optimal way to gain consumer trust, and can lead to increased sales.

FST: What technologies should suppliers leverage to better collaborate with trading partners and ensure consistent food safety procedures?

Bengtsson: When a food safety problem arises, batches, lots, and shipments need to be identified within minutes. Manufacturers must be able to trace all aspects of products throughout the entire supply chain—with complete visibility at the ingredient level—from farm to table, and everything in-between. An efficient and transparent food supply chain requires extensive collaboration and coordination between stakeholders. New technologies can extend both amount of collaboration possibilities and the impact of those collaborations. In order to maintain a transparent, efficient food supply chain, companies need to invest in modern cloud-based ERP and supply chain systems that incorporate the increased visibility of the Internet of Things (IoT) with data sharing, supplier and customer portals, and direct links between systems—all aimed at facilitating joint awareness and coordinated decision-making. Modern technologies that enable transparency will also have the added benefits of meeting consumer demand for product information, identifying and responding to food safety issues, reducing food waste, and supporting sustainability claims.

Sudip Saha, Future Market Insights
FST Soapbox

Five Trends Defining the Food Industry Post-COVID

By Sudip Saha
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Sudip Saha, Future Market Insights

Food retailers and the entire food and beverage (F&B) industry are now operating very differently than they did some six months ago. The pandemic has brought immense shifts in supply chains, imposed new hazard controls, and—perhaps most importantly—turned consumer preferences upside down.

To accommodate these changes, food manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and others stepped up to innovate and secure the continuity of their services. But now, as many industries begin to drop the notion of ever going back to what once was, it’s time we started thinking about how many of the newly introduced processes will stick around for the long-term.

What will be the main trends defining the food industry as a whole post-COVID?

Adopted Habits Aren’t Going Anywhere

The pandemic brought radical changes to our everyday lives, and it’s clear that many of the newly adopted behaviors won’t disappear overnight. Consumers will continue to rely on grocery retailers to keep them both fed and healthy while expecting minimum disruptions and a high respect for safety regulations—both in terms of handling and the state of delivered products.

Take-home grocery sales grew by 17% between April and July, breaking the record for the fastest period of growth since 1994. Online grocery shopping also gained popularity while managing to engage entirely new demographics. Some 10% of baby boomers now say they would buy more groceries online once the pandemic is over—compared to 34% of Gen Xs and 40% of millennials.

Due to consumer hyper-awareness of safety and sanitation, the whole food industry will continue to be defined by safety practices. Sanitizing common surfaces like keyboards, door handles, tables and chairs regularly will remain the norm. Beyond “manual” rules such as the mandatory use of facemasks, requirements such as regular health checks could boost the adoption of technology across the industry—transforming not only customer-facing interactions but also the processes behind the curtain.

Technology as an Enabler

Every crisis sparks innovation, and the food industry has certainly proved this thesis. Technology has become the ultimate aide, enabling interactions that would otherwise be impossible. These include contactless ordering, payments and pickup—processes that are likely to stick around even beyond COVID-19.

At the same time, the pandemic accelerated the usage of innovations that previously struggled to become mainstream. This includes virtual tipping jars or mobile order-and-pay, such as the options introduced by fast-food giants including McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, and Burger King.

There’s an obvious appetite for F&B companies to further incorporate technology. For example, the Coca-Cola Company is rolling out a touchless fountain experience that can be used with a smartphone for contactless pouring. Heineken, on the other hand, turned to virtual tech to launch a new product—a cardboard topper for multipack beer that will eliminate plastic from millions of cans. With travel restrictions hindering the mobility of engineers, the company leveraged virtual technology to install the new machinery needed at its Manchester-based factory.

But it’s not just solitary innovations; the market has already seen new AI-based technologies that help food businesses better manage risk in their workforce. Food manufacturing, distribution and provision require many different touchpoints; by predicting, monitoring and testing the health and safety of the workers involved in these processes, companies can ensure they keep their operations running, even if another wave of COVID-19 hits. Solutions like these will be crucial when looking to add another layer of safety that goes beyond mandatory governmental regulations.

Food Safety Revamped

Even though COVID-19 is transmitted through airborne respiratory droplets, and the risk of contracting the virus through food is low, people around the world are concerned about the possibility. After all, 40% of people are more careful about washing unpackaged fruit and vegetables than before the pandemic.

The pandemic has already made societies rethink various established concepts, such as wet markets or the consumption of wild animals. The pandemic could, therefore, lead to changed behaviors, and newly imposed rules such as formalizing small and micro food enterprises, provisions for direct sales by farmers, leveraging technology to ensure safety, and investments in a more robust food infrastructure altogether.

Such changes could also irreversibly affect street food—a sector that is bound to feel the hit of COVID-19. Particularly in countries with diverse street food culture, one of the emerging trends will be the rise of gourmet street food brands that can provide both great taste and high hygiene standards.

Food Sustainability to the Forefront

2020 will be a year of reckoning for the world’s food systems. The pandemic exposed the flaws of the global food supply chain that continues to be highly centralized and operating on a just-in-time basis. This is why we have seen panic food runs, urgent supply shortages and high amounts of food waste as many businesses were shut down overnight. In developing countries, several agencies expect that a “hunger pandemic” and a doubling of people starving could happen unless serious action is taken.

As we rethink the underlying principles of the food industry such as safety and supply, other concepts such as transparency and visibility into product sourcing and manufacturing also come into the spotlight. Consumers across the globe are more likely to prioritize offerings that are healthy and locally sourced than they were before COVID-19.

Food produced with the overuse of chemicals in monoculture cropping systems and large-scale animal farming significantly impact the availability of natural resources and cause substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Added to that, practices like industrial animal farming that operate with large numbers of livestock in confined spaces are a breeding ground for viruses, and have been linked to prior outbreaks such as the outbreak of swine flu in 2009. They also enable the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms due to the common overuse of antibiotics administered to prevent infections caused by cramped living conditions.

Consumers are increasingly aware of this: Nearly 25% of Americans are now eating more plant-based food. As we move forward, diverse food companies are likely to tap into this trend, resulting in great opportunities for plant-based, nutritious, local, and even healthy DIY meals and products. For example, an Australian food producer has recently announced the launch of a new proprietary product range that will offer the first vegan ready-to-drink protein shakes on the Australian market.

A New Way of Dining

The restaurant market has been one of the direct victims of the pandemic but has shown impressive elasticity in adapting to the new realities. Many businesses have introduced service extensions such as deliveries and take-outs, as well as pop-up grocery stores. Enjoying great popularity, some of these options will stick around far beyond the pandemic.

However, there’s a counterforce hindering significant expansion: The simple fact that many consumers discovered a new joy in cooking. A recent study notes that 54% of Americans are now cooking more than they were before the pandemic, with 35% saying that they “enjoy cooking more now than ever.” But at the same time, 33% of consumers say they’re getting more takeout than before the pandemic. This implies that the post-pandemic normal will likely see a shift toward eating at home more often, whether that means cooking or takeout and delivery.

Therefore, restaurants are likely to continue diversifying their services, experiment with food bundles and DIY meal kits, or even luxurious in-home chef visit experiences as an alternative to high-end restaurant dining.

The past crises have shown that economic uncertainty is directly linked to changes in demand for private-label and value brands. After the 2008 financial crisis, 60% of U.S. consumers were more interested in reasonably priced products with core features than in higher-priced, cutting-edge products. So while luxury dining is not completely disappearing, it could take on other aspects.

In Denmark, for example, a two-Michelin star restaurant is moving to serve burgers. In China, a country that many look to as the model for the post-COVID world, there has also been a clear push toward more affordable dining as well. Hot pot and barbecue venues have been thriving, particularly among customers in their 20s and 30s. Many fine dining restaurants, on the other hand, have started offering affordable lunch menus or have cut prices to correspond to the current value-conscious behaviors.

It’s clear that the future of food retail and the F&B industry will be significantly marked by the pandemic. Its prolonged nature will also cause the newly adopted habits to become further solidified—and many processes will adapt to match them. For example, while contactless deliveries were accelerated in the past months, businesses are working hard to make them as efficient as convenient as possible, making it unlikely that such investments would be erased overnight, once COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

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.
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.

GREG BALESTRIER, Green Rabbit
Retail Food Safety Forum

Solving Food Safety Challenges in Today’s eCommerce Driven World

By Greg Balestrieri
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GREG BALESTRIER, Green Rabbit

Think about this number for a second: Consumers spent more than $19 billion on online grocery in 2019. While this is still a small segment of the overall $800 billion U.S. grocery market, more consumers than ever before are turning to eCommerce for the fulfillment and delivery of perishable goods, positioning the grocery delivery market to grow dramatically, especially as companies like Amazon continue to innovate in this area.

Adding to this, a recent survey found that 68% of consumers feel the freshness of perishable items is the number one quality they look for in online grocery retail. This is where things become complicated, as shipping perishables introduces an entirely new set of quality challenges for eCommerce brands. This is hindering the market from reaching its full potential until the biggest problem is solved: Ensuring food safety and freshness in every order.

This is a double-edged sword for retailers, grocers and CPGs: Interest in their service is taking off, but it takes just one package of spoiled meat or wilted vegetables to potentially lose a customer to a competitor—or even worse, get someone sick.

Today, spoilage and food safety issues are primarily driven by breakdowns in the cold chain, and it only takes one mishap to affect the quality of food throughout the rest of the delivery lifecycle. To achieve optimal freshness and keep customers happy, grocers, retailers and their trusted partners need to focus on three primary food freshness factors: Temperature, storage and packaging.

Controlling each of these issues starts at the warehouse.

Freshness Starts at the Warehouse

For most parcels, such as clothing, books and other commonly ordered goods, temperature control is rarely an issue. However, facilities that store perishable foods have a constant component to manage—temperature fluctuation.

According to the NRDC, cooling and refrigeration inconsistency is one of the biggest contributors to food spoilage and waste. This is because every food item has a definable maximum shelf life, and storing them at less than optimal or constantly changing temperatures can exacerbate and drastically shorten its timeline.

Mistakes with heightened temperatures on items like meat and poultry can also lead to bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses. In fact, the CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States, putting a spotlight on how seriously food safety issues need to be taken.

The Need for Proper Rotation Processes

First expiration, first out (FEFO) is a motto all organizations should live by when stocking inventory. In addition, it is a critical process when working to avoid the food spoilage crisis. It may come as a surprise, but not all distribution centers have this type of rotation system in place. This means organizations could send spoiled food to consumers because an item was pushed to the back of a refrigerator during the re-stocking process and unknowingly shipped passed its expiration date. Not only does this create massive amounts of food waste, tarnish a brand and eat into a company’s profits by replacing low margin products, but consuming a spoiled food item can also be detrimental to one’s health.

While it helps to keep these types of costly errors in mind, as warehouse operations grow, there’s no possible way to manually scale this system.

Luckily, breakthroughs in cold chain technology have produced automated solutions that help organizations track everything from expiration dates to potential recalls. These types of technology support the entire cold chain lifecycle and ensure that warehouses and their grocery partners have the visibility they need to ensure freshness from fulfillment to the customer’s doorstep.

However, when the product is ready to leave the warehouse, it’s arguably about to enter the hardest portion of the cold chain lifecycle: Delivery.

Key Considerations for Packaging

For fragile items, packaging is all about keeping the item protected from drops and damage, but for food the focus should be on keeping the item fresh and at optimum temperatures throughout the duration of transit.

Given many grocers outsource delivery, they have little interest in whether food spoils, mainly because they are unaware of the package contents and are more focused on getting the item to the right location fast and effectively.

Yet there are many obstacles that need to be addressed during the last leg of delivery. What is the temperature in the delivery vehicle? If no one is home or at the office, will the package spoil outside in the heat?

For perishables, it is imperative that spoilage rates, delays in shipping schedules and unattended delivery scenarios are important factors in determining the amount of cold pack and protective stuffing that goes into the package. If these factors are not considered, customers could return to spoiled, melted or even crushed perishables.

Getting Food Fast and Fresh

Today, grocers and retailers are bullish on building out omnichannel food initiatives. However, balancing brick and mortar locations while developing profitable and efficient online delivery systems is often more than one organization can take on. While there are trusted partners designed to support eCommerce fulfillment and delivery, few are purpose-built to handle perishable foods.

Either way, in order to see wide-scale adoption of online grocery initiatives, grocers, retailers and ecosystem partners need to start prioritizing the key temperature, storage and packaging considerations and challenges associated shipping perishable foods. Acknowledging these challenges and implementing solutions for them will not only keep your products and deliveries fresh, but they will also keep customers coming back for more.

John McPherson, rfxcel
FST Soapbox

End-to-End Supply Chain Traceability Starts with High-Quality Data

By John McPherson
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John McPherson, rfxcel

End-to-end traceability technology across the food and beverage (F&B) supply chain has many benefits for companies at all nodes of the chain, not least of which is the ability to act to prevent problems such as irreversible damage, loss, and theft. For these technologies to best deliver on their promise, however, they need standardized and quality-assured data. F&B supply chain stakeholders need to take steps to achieve effective data management to truly take advantage of the benefits of traceability and real-time monitoring technologies.

Since FSMA was introduced in 2011, actors across the F&B supply chain have had to change their behavior. Prior to FSMA, companies tended to react to events; today, proactive and preemptive measures are the norm. This is in line with what the legislation was designed to do: Encourage the prevention of foodborne illness instead of responding after their occurrance.

F&B manufacturers and distributors rely on technology to help predict potential obstacles and mitigate issues along their supply chains. But expressing a desire to embrace technologies such as real-time monitoring solutions and predictive analytics isn’t enough to achieve ultimate supply chain efficiency. Only by taking the necessary steps can companies get on track to ensure results.

Any company that is thinking about deploying a traceability solution has a lot to consider. Foremost, data must be digitized and standardized. This might seem challenging, especially if you’re starting from scratch, but it can be done with appropriate planning.

Let’s examine what F&B companies stand to gain by adopting new, innovative technologies and how they can successfully maximize data to achieve end-to-end supply chain traceability.

New Technologies Hold Huge Potential for F&B Supply Chains

The advantages of adopting new technologies far outweigh the time and effort it takes to get up and running. To smooth the process, F&B companies should work with solution providers that offer advisory services and full-service implementation. The right provider will help define your user requirements and create a template for the solution that will help ensure product safety and compliance. Furthermore, the right provider will help you consider the immediate and long-term implications of implementation; they’ll show you how new technologies “future-proof” your operations because they can be designed to perform and adapt for decades to come.

Burgeoning technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are driving end-to-end traceability solutions, bridging the gap between different systems and allowing information to move seamlessly through them.

For example, real-time tracking performed by IoT-enabled, item-level sensors allows companies to detect potential damage or negative events such as theft. These devices monitor and send updates about a product’s condition (e.g., temperature, humidity, pressure, motion and location) while it is in transit. They alert you as soon as something has gone wrong and give you the power to take action to mitigate further damage.

This is just one example of how data from a fully implemented real-time, end-to-end traceability platform can yield returns almost immediately by eliminating blind spots, identifying bottlenecks and threats, and validating sourcing requirements. Such rich data can also change outcomes by, for example, empowering you to respond to alerts, intercept suspect products, extend shelf life, and drive continuous improvement.

As for AI technologies, they use data to learn and predict outcomes without human intervention. Global supply chains are packed with diverse types of data (e.g., from shippers and suppliers, information about regulatory requirements and outcomes, and public data); when combined with a company’s internal data, the results can be very powerful. AI is able to identify patterns through self-learning and natural language, and contextualize a single incident to determine if a larger threat can be anticipated or to make decisions that increase potential. For example, AI can help automate common supply chain processes such as demand forecasting, determine optimal delivery routes, or eliminate unforeseeable threats.

Blockchain has garnered a lot of buzz this year. As a decentralized and distributed data network, it’s a technology that might help with “unknowns” in your supply chain. For example, raw materials and products pass through multiple trading partners, including suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, carriers and retailers, before they reach consumers, so it can be difficult to truly know—and trust—every partner involved in your supply chain. The immutable nature of blockchain data can build trust and secure your operations.

To date, many F&B companies have been hesitant to start a blockchain initiative because of the capital risks, complexity and time-to-value cost. However, you don’t have to dive in head-first. You can start with small pilot programs, working with just a few stakeholders and clearly defining pilot processes. If you choose the right solution provider, you can develop the right cultural shift, defining governance and business models to meet future demands.

To summarize, new technologies are not disruptive to the F&B industry. If you work with an experienced solution provider, they will be constructive for the future. Ultimately, it’s worth the investment.

So how can the F&B industry start acting now?

How to Achieve End-to-End Traceability

Digitize Your Supply Chain. We live in a digital world. The modern supply chain is a digitized supply chain. To achieve end-to-end traceability, every stakeholder’s data must be digitized. It doesn’t matter how big your company is—a small operation or a global processor—if your data isn’t digitized, your supply chain will never reach peak performance.

If you haven’t begun transitioning to a digitalized supply chain, you should start now. Even though transforming processes can be a long journey, it’s worth the effort. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your data is timely and accurate, and that you can utilize it to remain compliant with regulations, meet your customer’s demands, interact seamlessly with your trading partners, and be proactive about every aspect of your operations. And, of course, you’ll achieve true end-to-end supply chain traceability.

Standardize Your Data. As the needs of global F&B supply chains continue to expand and become more complex, the operations involved in managing relevant logistics also become more complicated. Companies are dealing with huge amounts of non-standardized data that must be standardized to yield transparency and security across all nodes of the supply chain.

Many things can cause inconsistencies with data. Data are often siloed or limited. Internal teams have their own initiatives and unique data needs; without a holistic approach, data can be missing, incomplete or exist in different systems. For example, a quality team may use one software solution to customize quality inspections and manage and monitor remediation or investigations, while a food safety team may look to a vendor management platform and a supply chain or operations team may pull reports from an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to try and drive continuous improvement. Such conflict between data sources is problematic—even more so when it’s in a paper-based system.

Insights into your supply chain are only as good as the data that have informed them. If data (e.g., critical tracking events) aren’t standardized and quality-assured, companies cannot achieve the level and quality of information they need. Data standards coming from actors such as GS1 US, an organization that standardizes frameworks for easy adoption within food supply chains, can help with this.

There are many solutions to ensure data are standardized and can be shared among different supply chain stakeholders. With recent increases in recalls and contamination issues in the United States, the need for this level of supply chain visibility and information is even more critical.

Data Security. Data security is crucial for a successful digital supply chain with end-to-end traceability, so you must plan accordingly—and strategically. You must ensure that your data is safe 24/7. You must be certain you share your data with only people/organizations who you know and trust. You must be protected against hacks and disruptions. Working with the right solution provider is the best way to achieve data security.

Incentive Structures. Incentives to digitize and standardize data are still lacking across some parts of the F&B supply chain, increasing the chances for problems because all stakeholders are not on the same page.

Companies that continue to regard adopting traceability as a cost, not an investment in operations and brand security, will most likely do the minimum from both fiscal and regulatory standpoints. This is a strategic mistake, because the benefits of traceability are almost immediate and will only get bigger as consumers continue to demand more transparency and accuracy. Indeed, we should recognize that consumers are the driving force behind these needs.

Being able to gather rich, actionable data is the key to the future. Industry leaders that recognize this and act decisively will gain a competitive advantage; those that wait will find themselves playing catch-up, and they may never regain the positions they’ve lost. We can’t overstate the value of high-quality digitized and standardized data and the end-to-end traceability it fuels. If companies want to achieve full visibility and maximize their access to information across all nodes of their supply chains, they must embrace the available technologies and modernize their data capabilities. By doing so, they will reap the benefits of a proactive and predictive approach to the F&B supply chain.