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As the global requirement for food continues to face significant pressure, the deployment of new technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing promise to solve a lot of the issues that organisations encounter across the supply chain.
The population base is forecast to expand by more than 1 billion people by 2035, with demands for higher quality and specialised foods from increasingly wealthy consumers adding more strain to the entire supply chain. Regional and global phenomena such as climate change (e.g. droughts, flash flooding, and desertification) and socio-economic shifts (e.g. urbanisation) will add even more pressure.
The requirement for transparency and compliance have become of critical importance to businesses to maintain quality of food and minimise food waste.
Advances in consumer technology and the rise in social media have added new dimensions with consumers capable of broadcasting their sentiments (like and dislikes, as well as facts or pseudo-facts on foodstuffs) to followers and hold food suppliers to account in public.
The aim of the Rentokil Initial commissioned research by Quocirca* is to explore current understanding, perceptions and usage of the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing across the food supply chain.
The research also aims to identify where food professionals feel they can benefit the most from this approach.
More awareness and understanding of the IoT is required to deal with the complexities of emerging value chains so that organisations can remain competitive in their markets.
Of highest concern to organisations are security and data privacy issues.
Dealing with cyclical problems and alerting on immediate issues are seen as the best applications for new technologies.
Having enough data to rapidly and effectively deal with an infestation or hygiene incident was ranked highest in importance, while being notified about a potential incident ranked lowest.
For investment into new technologies to manage food safety, the end-to-end tracking and traceability of goods was viewed as the most favourable.
The research identified some of the current and future applications of the IoT, and confirms that technology will play an increasingly bigger role throughout the farming process from planting through to harvest.
Sensing and monitoring technologies will guide farmers to the optimal deployment of their efforts, with additional support from the use of drones, especially for larger farms.
The sharing of data will allow foodstuffs to be handled much more efficiently from the start.
In logistics and warehousing, IoT methodologies are already applied to a greater extent but still viewed as a key component in going forward.
The deployment by warehousing facilities to maximise density and effectiveness, with spatial zoning by temperature or product type, using IoT devices will increase.
Food processing will remain concerned with all aspects of food safety. Innovative monitoring and sensing solutions will see an increased deployment, to support transparency and compliance. With a broader remit, the difficulty will lie in determining the financial priorities for future investments.
In retail, the picture around IoT becomes more complex, with customer facing considerations and operational requirements, which include compliance, to deal with hygiene and pest control issues.
The entire food supply chain needs to commit to share data in manageable formats to allow for end-to-end visibility.
The use of the cloud through a third party to manage large volumes of data, and provision accessibility and security, is the way forward.
By embracing both the IoT and the cloud, members of the food supply chain will gain the most benefit.
The report concludes that IoT and cloud computing are viewed as major enablers for the food supply chain.
Collaboration and sharing not only internally but with third parties will drive innovation.
The only constant challenge throughout will be risk — a factor that will change in complexity and appearance, but will never go away.
* Research details
The unique insight is based on interviews with 400 respondents who have responsibility for food safety and hygiene across the food supply chain in four countries.
One hundred interviews were each carried out in Australia, China, the UK and the US with an even spread across the four components of the food supply chain: farms, logistics/warehousing, food processing and food retail companies.
The interviews took place during September and October 2016.
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