The Internet of Things (IoT) and other cutting-edge digital technologies are transforming how suppliers, retailers and everyone else along the food supply chain monitor product to make sure it arrives safely at its ultimate destination.  

New York-based Infor makes products that utilize IoT technology to help ensure the food safety of products in perimeter departments and other areas of the supermarket, says Monica Truelsch, director of solution strategy.

The company’s Infor Nexus multi-enterprise supply chain network, for instance, connects businesses to their entire global supply chains, guaranteeing that food safety is front and center all along the supply chain, Truelsch says.

“Global sourcing and shipping for both processed and fresh foods is a major component of the modern grocery supply chain, and we count food and beverage producers as well as grocery firms among our customers,” she says. “As part of our shipment visibility  and tracking solutions, our Infor Nexus network supports both event-based shipment status visibility and real-time GPS tracking (based on IoT) for marine vessels, over-the-road trucking and pallet or cargo sensors and, soon, air freight location tracking, as well.”

While pallet-level sensors are not widely employed in food shipping today, due to cost, the monitoring of reefer containers or tracking of trucks on the road is heavily reliant on IoT technologies, Truelsch adds.

Infor’s technology supports and integrates with virtually any cargo sensor or carrier telematics/tracking to provide end-to-end visibility to foodstuffs in transit.

“Smart” packaging and consumer loyalty

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Sealed Air offers smart packaging to help customers provide proof of authenticity and enhance consumer brand loyalty, says Patty Britton, the company’s vice president of digital business development.

“Through the use of digital print technologies, Sealed Air makes packaging IoT ready with a unique code, which is readable by custom and native mobile apps,” she says. “Referencing its NASDAQ symbol, SEE, Sealed Air created a new brand mark incorporating those three letters that visually prompt consumers to ‘see inside’ a package to learn more.”

Consumers can scan the brand mark on the package and receive information about the product’s history, even down to the farm where the meat was sourced, Britton says.

The technology may also give them the capability to do things like obtain recipes and promotional offers or engage with other kinds of brand experiences.

“We see a future where smart packaging can help automate stocking and food expiration management, ultimately reducing the amount of food wasted each year,” Britton says.

In addition to Sealed Air’s smart packaging offerings, the company uses IoT machine data on its packaging equipment to check for proper sealing on customers’ products.

A proper seal, Britton says, ensures package integrity through storage and distribution to the retail location.  This in turn ensures product protection from external contaminants.

“IoT in packaging enables true farm-to-fork traceability, which helps consumers find authentic products. Using a smart phone to scan a package, the consumer can get expanded ingredient lists and proof of product claims such as organic, natural, farm raised, and hormone free.”

In some cases, she adds, these claims are consumer preferences. In others, a wrong ingredient could create an allergic reaction in those with food allergies.

“When each package has its own identity — unique, serial ID — the data can be tied to temperature-sensing information which gives additional assurance to consumers that the food was safely handled throughout the supply chain.”

Prices fall on cutting-edge technology

Many more options exist to monitor temperature and cargo environment and cargo condition than ever before, and prices are coming down to make carton or pallet-level tracking a viable option for some high-value or high-risk foods, such as fresh seafood, exotic produce and fresh meats, Truelsch says.

“While trailer or container-level temperature and tamper-detection predominate in food supply chain tracking data today, more data and package granularity is emerging across ever more transportation modes and handling nodes to capture a more detailed picture of the journey our food took to reach the local grocery store,” she says.

What helps separate Infor from its competitors, Truelsch says, is that the company’s Infor Nexus solutions provide more visibility and monitoring options for globally sourced food stuffs than other solutions typically designed for domestic carrier and transport monitoring.

Some of Infor’s customers have been asked to take part in Walmart’s blockchain initiative with IBM around food safety, Truelsch says. But it’s apparent, she adds, that broad supply chain partner participation in food safety tracking and assurance is much more critical than underlying data management technologies.

“Network-building in critical food supply chains that extends across national borders and all transportation modes is the big challenge in food safety,” she says. “This means getting all participants – from farmer, wholesaler, packager, ocean and air carrier to 3PL to warehouse to private or dedicated delivery fleet – to connect to a single network that can capture an unbroken chain of custody record for food, from origin to consumption.”

Two more ways in which IoT is changing the food industry:

1. Increased Operational Efficiency

With 90% of companies investing in big data solutions, keeping up with industry is key. Utilizing digital analysis platform technology can help ensure sustainable, profitable growth for the entire supply chain. This kind of technology can provide insight into equipment performance, predictive maintenance needs and real-time inventory tracking.

With global food loss at a staggering 1.3 billion tons per year, the food supply chain is beginning to utilize sensor technology to track temperature readings throughout the supply chain, increasing food safety and reducing retail shrink. Similar IoT technology can also be used to store product data and automate food quality reporting.

2. Transparency Along the Supply Chain

Consumers expect transparency from the companies that they buy from — especially in the food industry. Implementing transparency and traceability along the global supply chain will help food companies win business by driving consumer trust and loyalty. Although domestic and international regulations can increase the complexity of the global food supply chain, IoT technologies can make it easy for both consumers and companies to track products.

Transparency also has added benefits that can create advantages for companies such as cost savings, improved inventory management and faster lead times. IoT is powerful and can connect the supply chain to real-time product data, creating endless opportunities for the food industry. Companies can reap the benefits by finding and solving inefficiencies in the supply chain, meeting and exceeding food safety regulations, and providing transparency to consumers.

Source: Sealed Air