The COVID-19 pandemic has been life-changing as it continues to disrupt livelihoods around the globe. 2020 may very well be ‘a year to be forgotten’ for corporations but it has given rise to a ‘new normal’ by drawing attention to the ambiguities of the traditional supply chain. It has given us a chance to perfect the supply chain and make significant changes that make the supply chain efficient and productive.
The food retail business has its own set of challenges to address. Working remotely is out of the question as the job demands physical labor. The very first reaction of food retailers has been to protect employees so that there is no hindrance to the business. The cashiers, stockers, managers, warehouse workers, to name a few are the heartbeat of the food retail business and that it is imperious to ensure employee hygiene and safety.
Small and medium agri-business or traders have implemented tech into their business by encouraging customers to use self-checkout, digital payments, all while maintaining a safe social distance.
Other mega agri-business has gone one step ahead and installed a protection shield at the checkout counters to make sure COVID-19 is kept at bay. Brands have even initiated home deliveries to diminish the crowd at the store and hinder the spread of COVID-19.
When it comes to the very root, farmers too, have been very active and responsible in following COVID-19 protocols. Their ‘new normal’ now includes ordering seeds online and maintaining a social distance while working on the farms. Farmers have resorted to eCommerce platforms to procure essential items, to evade physical interaction that could lead to the much-talked-about virus infection.
From any slant, the pandemic has been unfortunate, even when it comes to the market. Global commodities took a plummet as lockdowns were imposed and business came to a cessation. The COVID-19 has ravaged demands, allowing prices to go on a free fall; this has boosted the price volatility which is now adding to the slowdown in almost all of the major markets.
Quality control has been a two-way street as the food companies are trying to unload the unsold stock to hasty consumers while some companies, during the few months of lockdown, have worked on their product to bring the best quality to their customers. An effective Quality control system not only reduces wastage, avoids brand devaluation but also improves operational process controls, meets consumers’ expectations, and helps brand increase market share, especially during times when businesses have been closed and suffering losses in the lockdown.
credits FTI Consulting, Inc.
A few food retailers have adopted response action plans including establishing an interdisciplinary crisis response team of personnel from all aspects of the business to identify, assess, and manage the risk presented. Manufacturers of food are also looking to comply with rigorous food safety benchmarks both private and government; for example, Safe Quality Food, Global Red Meat Standards, Canadagap, Global Aquaculture Alliance Seafood and others under the popular California based GFSI standards. Firms like these conduct independent third-party and consumer audits to ensure complete compliance, quality programs and transparency in the value chain.
Scientists have so far confirmed that food safety supply chains are following compliance and strict protocol with food processing, packaging, and shipping, yet, as per the recent health guidelines, the emphasis is clearly on staying home, limiting social contact, and eating in as opposed to eating out. People have moved back to retail aisles looking for frozen and shelf-stable foods, and hence an increased demand for foods such as canned goods is rising again, owing to both affordability and convenience to cooking at home.
Consumers, after the pandemic, have grown conscious and eager to know what they are buying and eating. They want to know as much as possible about the product before buying it. And with the help of smart labeling, companies have quenched consumers’ thirst for product knowledge.
A smart label can be a barcode or any other scannable data that, upon being scanned, reveal additional data about the product it is attached to. A smart label enables consumers to know additional details about the product such as its location, constituents, practices used in manufacturing, brand reputation, and much more. Consumers can trace their product right to its root, to the farm where it came from.
The North American agrarian sector has had many rendezvous with tech in the past. Refrigeration was not always a part of the American agriculture industry. Food storage has come a long way since the advent of refrigerators. This too can be termed as technological advancement in the agriculture industry.
The newly implemented machinery also triggered a new trend where there was very little need for labor on farms. The demand for labor decreased as the machinery went on replacing humans with almost 50% more efficiency and uniformly in the finished products.
Moreover, in the early ‘20s, productivity also got a massive boost after the adoption of technology. Over the past few decades, due to the implementation of technology, productivity increased while the input has been constant.
There has been a technological shift observed in various F&B companies around the world. For instance, Heineken, a beer brand, turned to virtual tech and launched a cardboard topper for multipack beer to eliminate the use of plastic. The company, recently, also leveraged virtual technology to install new machinery at its factory in Manchester. Similarly, the famous beverage brand, Coca-Cola rolled out a touchless fountain experience that requires a smartphone for contactless pouring.
AI-based technologies have helped better management of businesses during these difficult times of COVID-19. From manufacturing to distribution to monitoring and testing the health and safety of the workforce in ag-tech companies, solutions like these have added a layer of security to the food that is procured from various sources. Retailers and end-consumers have been demanding more data to trace the origin of the food.
According to a recent study by FTI consulting, there has been a steep fall in the fresh produce of meat and poultry and the consumption of frozen foods with extended shelf-life has seen an increase. This has been majorly due to the growing insecurities of the consumers around where their food is coming from. Owing to this confusion and insecurity, the retailers have ramped up their supply chain and encouraged traceability along the entire food chain by introducing IoT and blockchain-based traceability software for all foods that are either distributed locally or are imported from and exported to other countries.
The US agriculture and food industry have been one of the most productive sectors despite many adversities.
In the future, growth is expected in sustainable agriculture, organic farming, niche farming, digital marketing, and smart labeling improved product quality and eco-friendly farming methods will be seen in this ‘new normal,’ post COVID-19.
With technological advancements, the county will rise to added scrutiny of food parameters, tighter norms would be a new normal, where efficient producing, managing data-based supply chain and time monitored delivery will be the driving force. People will not have to wait for their products and will get exactly what they are looking for. The ‘new normal’ renders more power to the people and the freedom to choose what they want with 100% transparency.
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'Traceability in 2020: Global Scenario with a focus on India'