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Innovation in food and the supply chain

Published on by Jeff Haas

Highlights from Food Industry Asia’s AGM keynote panel discussion: The Future of Food.

Food manufacturers and industry participants must increasingly look to technology, data and analytics to drive greater efficiencies in food production. Enhanced data can help organizations deliver food when and where consumers want or need it instead of creating stockpiles with inherent waste. Ongoing innovation is needed to satisfy the growing demand for more sustainable, affordable, and available food resources and data plays a crucial part.

The importance of supply chain risk management

According to David Marx, founder and CEO of The Science Kitchen, food innovation could mean that the world’s anticipated 9 billion consumers in 2050 will actually eat better than we do today. But what role can supply chain risk management play in this innovation?

Supply chain risk management ensures that we produce safe food, manage food waste, reduce risk and develop a more sustainable and well-managed supply chain. Monitoring and managing price, supply, and supplier risk helps to achieve these objectives. Knowledge of how the global markets are interacting and the impact this has on supply disruptions — whether it’s production, logistics, or compliance and regulatory issues — can help drive efficiencies and enable organizations to adapt their supply chains to the changing conditions. Predictive analytics capabilities based on the outcome of historical events can allow for food industry professionals to adapt and shape demand planning to fulfill the consumers’ needs most efficiently. When organizations conduct thorough due diligence on suppliers, they enhance transparency, leading to greater awareness of food quality issues and enhancing their understanding of safe processes and operating controls that could prevent food crime.

Optimizing efficiency

We currently produce enough food to feed the world’s 7 billion inhabitants, yet over 800 million people go to bed hungry each night.

Feeding an anticipated global population of 9 billion in 2050 could mean increasing production by as much as 60%, but first we need to drastically reduce the estimated 30% of waste currently evident in the supply chain.

Some of this is as a result of spoilage or consumer waste, but some is due to ‘cushions’ of planned waste. We need to use data to drive sustainable production in the most efficient locations and monitor physical supply risk so organizations can plan for potential disruptions. Having actionable data that can be analyzed and used to provide predictive input for the supply chain will help to eliminate the need for planned waste to create a cushion for error.

Furthermore, with a growing percentage of the population residing in cities, we can produce more food locally through urban agriculture initiatives, such as vertical indoor farming where multiple crops can be grown annually using less water, land and pesticides.

Exploring alternative foods

According to Katharina Unger, founder and CEO of LIVIN Farms, technology has been developed for producing consumable insects in a safe and sustainable way.  She points to two hurdles: creating scale and consumer acceptance of the idea. Currently, the focus is not on poor and undeveloped economies where it is really needed to feed the malnourished. Unger’s explanation is that developed countries need to lead the way, demonstrating that eating insects is not only acceptable, but also culturally forward-thinking. Unger also believes that to create economies of scale, the idea must first be widely accepted in technologically advanced areas to help secure the necessary investment to drive a sustainable industry.

Another example of an alternative food is the progressive food brand Oumph, which is working to drive higher acceptance of vegan products in the mainstream food industry. Panelist Lennart Bjurstrom from Food for Progress, the organization behind Oumph, explained that the goal is to provide tasteful, nutritious and climate savvy food, based on the belief that the efficiency of turning plants into meat is extremely low and resource intensive when compared to producing plant-based protein.

Nutrition first

Dr. Iain Brownlee of Newcastle University also highlighted the importance of nutrition and developing a thorough understanding of the impact of shifting diets based on cultural and geographic demographics. Not all foods are good for all people and the physiological impacts can be quite different on different ethnicities. This needs to be a significant consideration when introducing different sources of nutrition into mainstream diets.

Looking ahead

Ramping up the world’s capability to feed the estimated 9 billion people by 2050 is a multi-faceted challenge for food manufacturers, industry participants and governments the world over. Better technology and data, and use of that information to understand consumption, find efficiencies in supply chains and drive innovation will be critical.


Learn more

Explore our multimedia report, 9 Billion Bowls, which tells the story of how Big Data and leading edge technologies are being used in entirely new ways to revolutionize the way we produce and deliver food.

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