Digitalisation unlocks the innovation to eliminate waste
By Jason Kay, chief commercial officer – IMS Evolve – an expert in the digitalisation of the supply chain – from agriculture all the way through to the home.
We grow enough food to feed almost double the current population of earth. Despite that, more than one billion people experience food poverty. It’s a staggering disparity, and one that we do have the ability to rectify.
Distribution issues are a major cause of food inequality and insecurity, but food waste is also a big contributing factor to so many going hungry. Food waste is also the area in which the food retail industry can really make a difference to those most in need as last year alone, UK retailers produced around 260,000 tonnes of food and drink waste, the weight of which is roughly equivalent to 150,000 passenger vehicles.
Efforts are already being made to tackle this issue, with many leading retailers signing a pledge in 2019 to drive down food waste following a government call to action. However, there are further significant opportunities to reduce waste both in store and across the supply chain, that aren’t currently as widely publicised.
The food supply chain, as it currently stands, is sadly predicated on waste. Consumers expect their apples to be blemish free and their avocados to be the perfect pear shape. The food retail sector is consolidated around a few major players, which essentially allows them to dictate terms further up the supply chain.
The biggest crime a food manufacturer can commit is the non-fulfilment of an order, and with an oversupply of manufacturers and a market dominated by a handful of supermarket names, contracts can be terminated at very short notice.
Practically speaking, this means that manufacturers ensure over-supply to make sure orders can always be fulfilled, with the excess stock going to waste.
With such a thin line between success and failure, innovation is seen as too high a risk. If the ‘oversupply’ model keeps customers from going elsewhere, why change? But what if, instead of being a high-risk solution, technology was able to act as a low-risk enabler of change?
Digitalisation offers the food retail sector a number of solutions to reducing waste. We already see how the Internet of Things is helping to improve shelf life of food products once inside stores, but its effect on the wider supply chain could be even more transformational in the battle against waste. With one in three freight journey’s in the UK involving food, real time data could be used to improve route planning and optimise resource utilisation.
The in-store use of IoT for refrigeration and HVAC monitoring could also be applied to distribution warehouses, with sensors raising alarms when problems occur to enable immediate stock relocation to a safe environment. The removal of barriers to innovation such as these would put manufacturer’s minds at ease and ensure there is less need to overproduce.
Digitalisation also helps with verification and governance of the cold chain. Effective monitoring solutions enable retailers to confirm that products have been produced using the correct processes at every stage of the supply chain through a digital audit trail of trusted information.
Giving retailers the peace of mind that food stock is safe and reputable without the need for expensive checks and certification will enable newer supply chain players to compete without the need for lengthy and archaic processes.
Ultimately, digitalisation offers a way to unlock the innovation that the food retail sector needs in order to cut waste. By minimising the potential for food waste whilst democratising the checks and balances that ensure quality in the supply chain, the sector will be able to move away from processes predicated on waste and take its first steps towards an innovative, socially conscious and low-waste future.
IMS Evolve focuses on waste reduction across the food supply chain (or cold chain). For the past twenty years the company has been responsible for connecting a large proportion of commercial cooling network with an IoT platform that allows food retailers to automate and maintain fridges/freezers by analysing huge volumes of data in order to ensure optimum stock levels and food quality. By doing so, this significantly extends shelf-life/ reduces waste and increases the supply of perishable foods for consumption.