Challenges of Food Tracking
Today’s food supply chains can be best described as a system of systems – a multilayered, opaque and dynamic system that lacks complete visibility from farm-to-fork. That is why food risks have increased. And this increasing risk means consumer demand for transparency around where food has come from, what has gone into it and its ethical and sustainable impacts are growing factors in buying decisions.
The challenge for agriculture markets is while most have track & trace systems in place they are often inadequate, and they can’t trace their food all the way back to the originating source. Most companies can trace one-step up or one-step down their supply chain. For example, they know who they bought food ingredients from, but they may be in the dark about the quality and testing systems in place at those companies and really unclear on those supplying their suppliers. Further down the supply chain, traceability and supply chain mapping may mean investigating the practices of hundreds of foods and agriculture companies around the world – a complex and expensive process.
Think back to the most recent product recall you’ve read about in the news. Improper traceability systems tend to wreak havoc on these companies costing them thousands to even millions of dollars. Previously, we mentioned the ever-growing factors in consumer buying decisions. Trust is also a key component to consumer thinking and that valuable reputation can become tarnished during a product recall, costing not only revenue, but customer loyalty as well. Complete end-to-end track & trace systems allow you to hone in on the exact farm, crop, and even seed to which a contamination occurred. Enabling real-time information of your produce from any point, at any given time within the supply chain process is crucial.
Inconsistencies in terminology, numbering systems, formatting, types of data collected, and the accuracy and completeness of data increase the difficulty in building a consistent system that works across suppliers or even internal ERP systems. It’s not uncommon for companies to have numerous internal systems, which match with many more external systems, to create a many-to-many relationship that multiplies as you move up the chain. The tracking chain itself crosses numerous business models, growers, packers, processors, distributors, retailers, restaurants, ingredient suppliers and importers.
Evolving Technology for the Modern Farmer
With the right combination of emerging technologies and innovative traceability practices it will make a big difference to improving the quality of your food and gathering information about its journey to the consumer. There are initiatives underway to standardize information being transferred at various transfer points in the value chain. Providers of corporate software and IT infrastructure are integrating modules for traceability into their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Digital solutions, such as barcodes, QR codes, and thermal imaging which link to internal systems, are opening new possibilities for customer communication and feedback at a much quicker rate.
The latest track-and-trace technologies offer great potential for optimizing the warehousing and ordering process, while providing regulators and consumers with critical information and optimizing recall management processes. The trend is clearly heading towards real-time recording and in-line analysis of entire product batches. Systems that can optimize your processes while providing automated data driven analytics will no doubt become the wave of the future of food supply chains.