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Unsealing Food Technology to Feed the World

October 29, 2020

In 2004, Blockbuster had 60,000 employees, 9,000 stores worldwide, and $5.9 billion in revenue. But Blockbuster became too comfortable with their success and failed to adapt to the upcoming consumer demands of the video market.

Meanwhile, competitors were aggressively exploring new ways to bring video to consumers. The market shifted toward on-demand video streaming, leaving Blockbuster as a footnote in history.

Successful companies continually look for future opportunities and are adaptable enough to invest in technology that drives growth and transformation. Companies must innovate to stay competitive in today's economy — the food and beverage industry is a prime example.

The single greatest opportunity that food executives have to drive profits and address growing resource concerns is food waste. The United States alone spends $218 billion growing, processing, and transporting food that is never eaten. The financial impact is felt throughout the supply chain — farms lose $15 billion, manufacturers lose $2 billion, and retailers lose $57 billion every year. The other $144 billion is incurred by consumers. Reducing food waste by just 20% could create $100 billion in economic value over 10 years and reduce annual water use by 1.6 trillion gallons.

One of the challenges food companies face is how to maximize food quality and safety while also balancing the many costs associated with managing operations. Consumers demand high-quality food products at lower prices. Meanwhile, the costs related to production and resources needed are rising. As in the video delivery market, technology in the food industry is growing at a rapid pace and provides opportunities for transformative change in our food system.

What if we could capture and analyze data that predicts consumer demand and then adjust our food production for better yields? What if we could track the location and temperature of our products across the food supply chain to prevent food spoilage? What if we could monitor the health of our livestock to prevent a contagious disease from spreading in herds?

With the help of recent advancements in technology, “what if we could” has turned into “we can.” Sensor technology has become more sophisticated over the past decade, not only capturing data points but also communicating with other systems to automate solutions. New services now allow multiple users to monitor key performance indicators on production lines and the ability to compare data and benchmarks at different locations. The technology discovers inefficiencies that would otherwise be hidden among the tremendous amounts of data being collected. Once discovered, they can be managed and fixed in real time. SEE Advanced Maintenance Program, enabled by a proprietary data solution, is a great example of this work. The technology gives workers the ability to access real-time production data and pairs with a service that provides remote and in-person technical expertise. This type of data analytics allows food companies to prevent waste in ways that were unimaginable in the past. It enables them to pinpoint inefficiencies in supply chains and take action to improve resiliency and efficiency.

Now is the time to explore the opportunities afforded by data. It's time to think big.

We can’t stop food waste from impacting the food industry’s profits without investments in technology. Now is the time to explore the opportunities afforded by data. It's time to think big.

The potential benefits to our society and our economy are too great to ignore. For every $1 that companies invest in eliminating food waste, they collect an average of a whopping $14 in return, according to a report by the World Resource Institute.

Companies need to start implementing change if they want to drive innovation. Researchers and engineers may see opportunities for improvement from the ground level and need to be part of the conversation. Connecting with partners throughout the supply chain who have experience and understand the potential return on investment from new, efficient technologies can also help.

In the end, companies have a choice: become the Blockbuster of the food industry or decide to step out of their comfort zones and innovate for the betterment of us all.