Today, the world grows enough food to feed twelve billion people – far in excess of the seven billion population – yet more than one billion are underfed. The UN estimates that, on this current path of food consumption and waste, by 2050 we will reach a tipping point, and in order to avert it, food waste per capita must be halved in just 12 years.

A fresh approach is required to encourage systemic change to tackle this pending crisis. Altering consumer expectation and increasing biodiversity will be essential to achieving this, however, it is within the food supply chain where such changes can be made.

Unsustainable Model

By creating a consumer expectation for blemish-free goods of identical size and shape, food purveyors have built a market predicated on waste. Following significant consolidation, both retail and restaurant markets are dominated by a small number of organisations delivering a consistent customer experience that has cultured these unrealistic criteria, of which naturally, a sizeable proportion of fresh produce will never meet. 

The current food supply model is flawed economically as well as ethically; providing subsidised agriculture and incredibly low margins for producers and retailers alike. Food safety fears combined with the failure of cold chain equipment inevitably leads to even more food wastage. However basic process downfalls are just one aspect of the problem; the sheer cost of managing suppliers to ensure product consistency and safety leaves retailers with minimal opportunity to invest in innovation, explore opportunities for new, healthier food options or embrace automation to improve efficiency and ultimately reduce waste.

The fundamental change required to avoid a global crisis cannot happen overnight, but there are key digitisation advancements market players can implement now to initiate effective change. 

Achievable Change Today

Forward-thinking organisations are already adopting digitisation strategies to reduce avoidable loss of food, achieve a considerable reduction in reactive maintenance costs and improve food quality and safety. Add in the use of real-time data to support a comprehensive energy management strategy and organisations are radically reducing annual power consumption.

Critically, this is being achieved by layering digitisation over existing infrastructure, leveraging edge-based processing to ensure information from existing equipment throughout the supply chain is both actionable and actioned for immediate changes with no downtime. For example, real-time data collected from refrigeration units can be used to identify and pre-empt critical conditions that may threaten the quality and safety of the product, in context of specified priority and severity management rules. Using this data to inform predictive maintenance regimes and workflow automation can mitigate risk and identify opportunities for improvement, significantly impacting food wastage.

With this approach, organisations can achieve significant and rapid ROI– without the need for huge investment. This value release will be key to providing the investment to underpin the next level of digitisation – the use of traceability systems to manage the advocacy, source and safety of food.

Conclusion

The deployment of digitisation strategies throughout the food supply chain will establish a level playing field for suppliers and retailers alike, democratising an incredibly consolidated market to initiate the change required to allow key players to embrace innovation, reduce waste and change consumer mindsets. This approach will support an essential change in global food production and consumption and tackle the global food waste crisis from the ground up.