The good news is that we are already seeing more evidence of processors trying to gain a deeper understanding of their supply chain and how data and AI can be used to provide actionable insight for more informed decisions.
As an industry, the quantity of product data individual companies generate is staggering. The challenge is how data from both internal and external sources can be combined in an efficient manner to create a true picture of the most significant risks to product integrity. This is where the application of AI – underpinned by a sound risk taxonomy – comes to the fore, helping to identify the focus of risk mitigation efforts and intervention.
Whilst use of AI for greater insight into shopper habits and new product development is fairly common, it is still relatively new for most food companies when establishing transparency to mitigate product risk. It is becoming more common that companies utilise data from product recalls, as well as their own product failure and supply network audits, to give them an edge when it comes to preventing risk.
However, transparency of critical supply risks using a company’s own data has its limits. A collaborative approach among industry stakeholders is a necessity, yet, there is some hesitance to open trusted networks with the supply chain. Some companies are reluctant to share data and information between businesses, but complete transparency cannot be obtained without trust being built.
With manufacturers looking towards a digitally-enabled future, it does leave the door open to potential data theft across the supply chain. Ultimately, this puts product integrity at risk, elevating chances of fraud and product recalls. It is therefore essential that organisations ask themselves how they can build confidence that they are protected from basic attacks; what recovery plans are in place in case of an attack; and how prepared third-party suppliers are, if transparency of risk is to be achieved.
More digital and blockchain initiatives are also under development. SecQuAL (Secure Quality Assured Logistics for Digital Food Ecosystems), for example, is a consortium that combines technology providers with assurance, initially focused on the application of smart labels in pork production to reduce food waste and increase consumer confidence.
SecQuAL will enable a new breed of high growth UK based innovators to develop critical and integrated technologies, which support the increasing digitalisation and provenance transparency of food supply chains through the benefits of blockchain technologies.
Smart labels, which are under development, are unique digital IDs which can be attached to food, allowing it to be traced, tracked and monitored in real-time. The technology can be applied to provide information on food provenance, monitor cold chain conditions, more accurately predict shelf-life, and even enable direct feedback from consumers to producers. Smart labelling can also identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in supply chains, as well as allowing for remote regulatory oversight and compliance.
The magnitude of online retail, and handling the volume of transactions and supply required, will mean that the power of technology is going to grow in importance. Digitalising processes, and moving away from paper-based analysis, will make manufacturers more efficient, allowing them to better understand their processes, make necessary improvements and foresee risks.
Data management and sharing amongst all stakeholders through both blockchain and AI will become fundamental for a deeper understanding of the supply chain and provide transparency for consumers. This will allow both consumers and manufacturers to form more informed decisions.
Ultimately, for the opportunity of a digital future to be realised, there needs to be recognition of the importance of shared data. No one business can do this alone, and there needs to be shared responsibility to create a transparent, end-to-end food supply network.
Originally published in Food Manufacture, August 2021.
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