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A UK Government-backed consortium of leading food manufacturers, technology specialists and academics have today announced the launch of the Digital Sandwich following a two-year development project.

The platform, which received a multi-million pound investment from Innovate UK, has been developed to connect primary production and supply chains to retail to provide traceability and provenance of ingredients whilst increasing manufacturing productivity, improving processes and reducing waste across the supply chain.

The project serves as a national demonstrator of a digital agri-food supply chain, using sandwich manufacturing as the use case, and represents a transformative step forward for consumer safety and trust.

According to the Cold Chain Federation, the UK alone has nearly 41 million cubic metres of cold storage, equivalent to 35 Wembley Stadiums. In addition, it reports that there was a 183% increase in wholesale energy costs for the cold chain sector during 2022, whilst it is estimated the UK generated over 9.5 million tons of food waste in 2021. With the UK sandwich industry alone worth an estimated £5.6bn, employing over 300,000 people across the country and growing at over 4% each year, digitalised cold chain processes that can significantly decrease food waste and improve shelf life, whilst also reducing overall energy consumption and cost of asset ownership, have the potential to transform this large and critical industry.

The Digital Sandwich offers a uniquely collaborative solution to a complex and highly fragmented SME-led industry. Designed to be an open platform, the project has established a best-in-class digital supply chain that paves the way for a wider ecosystem network and offers a low barrier approach so that supply chain organisations of all sizes and technological maturity can participate. The project extends the use of advanced IoT, Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to the ready-made food supply to ensure the traceability of every component ingredient in the supply chain – from primary production to retail. The new platform is both scalable to the entire food industry, and adaptable to other industries with similar resource and supply patterns.

“The ability to use advanced technologies to irrefutably track ingredients in food, from primary production to retail, is going to be integral to maintaining public trust in the food system, reducing waste, and bringing one of the world’s most sophisticated supply chains into the digital age,” explained Edward Porter, Director of IoT Solutions at retail technology experts, and consortium leaders, IMS Evolve. “We are delighted to have been involved in the Digital Sandwich project as the lead partners in a consortium that has the potential to completely digitally-transform almost any complex supply chain system. This technology is designed to be open to organisations of all sizes across the supply chain meaning that anyone can benefit from the increased connectivity, productivity, food quality and safety and reduction in waste that the platform promises to deliver.”

The consortium of organisations behind the platform includes IMS Evolve, a leading UK IoT company; Raynor Foods, one of the UK’s leading sandwich suppliers; University of Lincoln, University of Exeter, Digital Catapult, Sweetbridge, Inc., Crosspay, NetFoundry, INDUSTRIA Technology and R3 as well as supporting partners Kinesis Telematics Limited NESIS and Anser Coding Inc. The consortium was backed by the UK government through its Innovate UK program.

“The Digital Sandwich demonstrates an impressive use case of this technology in the food retail supply chain, but the potential application of this solution spans across a wide range of different supply chain-dependent sectors in the UK and beyond, and that makes it really exciting.” said Lord Wei, a member of the House of Lords involved in the Digital Sandwich consortium via one of its members, Sweetbridge. “We look forward to welcoming new partners into the fold as buyers and suppliers to benefit from lower costs, better financing, and less paperwork. Thanks to the grant funding and the tireless work of the consortium, this project is ready not just to step up and transform the food retail and cold chain sectors, but to bring the benefits of digital transformation to a whole host of industries.”

Following the project’s completion, the consortium will look to introduce and expand the solution across the food supply chain, whilst establishing new use cases that leverage the technology’s flexibility to allow it to be used across other chains, with new possible sectors including the NHS or pharmaceuticals.

“The Digital Sandwich is the fusing of multiple innovative technologies to drive efficiencies and ultimately improve a critical sector in both the UK and worldwide economies,” said Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology at Lincoln University. “This platform will combine and optimise the product chain and the value chain, leveraging the use of data to make smarter decisions both economically and for the environment. We are delighted that years of hard work from the consortium have cumulated in the development of this transformative new technology that has so much promise for the food industry and beyond.”

“As one of the leading wholesale sandwich providers in the UK, we are delighted to be able to utilise this cutting edge technology to further improve the way that we procure and monitor ingredients, manufacture sandwiches and deliver excellence for consumers and customers,” said Tom Æ Hollands, Innovation and Technical Director at Raynor Food. “This is a ground-breaking and highly disruptive innovation that has created the foundations for a whole new virtual industry with the potential to transform not only the food industry but any manufacturing sector. We are excited to be able to use this technology within our own business, and to see how it will transform other businesses and industries in the future.”

“For a supply chain to work optimally, it needs to ensure every actor is empowered to a similar standard of data and digital capabilities,” said Alan Chute, Senior Vice President, Sweetbridge. “The Digital Sandwich is an exciting project which has the potential to transform supply chains thanks to a combination of innovative technologies. The cold chain, and all supply chains, stand to benefit massively from improving visibility and collaboration across the chain through the Digital Sandwich platform.”