With the COVID-19 vaccine rolling out, many in the food industry and the wider world are finally seeing a light at the end of what has become a long, long tunnel. However, despite the fact that a “return to normal” is around the corner, COVID has caused massive changes in both the way we consume food, and the way we manufacture it. It’s also spotlighted many problems that the food industry has long been able to ignore, pushing them front and center. To respond to these changes, food and beverage processors will need to adopt better ways of doing what they’ve always done, and the best first step could be adopting digital traceability practices.
Digital tracebility and inventory tracking is a relatively easy change that can yield immediate benefits for processors. Here are a few ways it can help processors better maneuver in a post-COVID world.
Quickly Adjusting to Changes in Demand
In 2019, more than 50% of consumer spending on food happened at restaurants or bars. But with many restaurants closing down business or operating at a severely reduced capacity, 2020 has seen a huge shift back towards in-home consumption. The latest numbers show that Americans are now spending roughly 70% of their money at the grocery store with much of the remainder going to delivery and takeout options.
This shift in consumer habits was a big change for many processors, especially those who produced for food service. Those who managed it most successfully were those who were able to adapt quickly, changing the way they were producing to mirror the new landscape.
When navigating a changing market, it’s important to have flexibility within the processes you rely on every day. Even the most basic things, such as tracing product and inventory, should be able to be adjusted on the fly. This is almost impossible to do with a paper or Excel-based system, but digital traceability systems make it possible.
Managing an Uncertain Supply Chain
2020 has also proven that the supply chains that our industry relies on are fragile at best. With consumer demands changing, some manufacturers were forced to deal with surpluses of certain goods and shortages of others. Without a solid knowledge of what materials are on hand it can be difficult, if not impossible, to know how to adjust ordering and production to respond to new challenges. The paper and Excel-based systems that many businesses rely on to track their inventory can only be refreshed so often, and the data within frequently lags behind the reality of what’s in the facility.
It’s not feasible to truly mitigate all risks when dealing with the supply chain beyond your own operation. Therefore, remaining adaptable to changing situations is the only way to handle supply chain issues when they arise, and that begins with knowing exactly what’s in your facility and where it is. This kind of always-on view of inventory can only be achieved with digital traceability.
Increasing Safety through Digitization
According to a recent study by Zebra Technologies, Americans are becoming increasingly conscious of the safety and sourcing of their food. In a recent survey, only 18% of people believe that major food companies and government organizations are doing enough to ensure the safety of products in stores.
Despite no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food, the pandemic has nevertheless increased concerns regarding the handling and safety of the products we buy. And if recent legal trends are any indicator, such as recent expansions to the Food Safety and Modernization Act, these concerns aren’t going to simply go away once the pandemic is over. Therefore, it is up to suppliers to go the extra mile to instill confidence in their consumers.
Implementing a digital traceability platform can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to assure consumers that the products they’re purchasing are safe. Verifying that product is well documented and tracked throughout the production process can allow a brand to catch problems before they leave the facility. A robust tracing platform can also allow processors to respond quickly in a recall situation, minimizing the threat not only to public health, but also company reputation. All of these factors can work together to not only make it easier for consumers to trust a product, but also ensure continued growth.