How the Internet of Everything is Transforming the Food Supply Chain

From ground to grocer and every step in between, the Internet of Everything is driving a Connected Food movement that is transforming the way food is grown, produced, sold and purchased.

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From the ground to the grocer and every step in between, the agri-food supply chain is becoming more digitized and connected. The Internet of Everything is transforming the way farmers, food manufacturers, consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, and distributors produce, process and sell food. It’s even changing the way consumers make their purchasing decisions and buy their food.

You may have heard of the “Internet of Things” but it’s important to understand that more than just “things” are connected to the Internet today and are being transformed by this Connected Food movement. A more accurate description is to think of it as the Internet of Everything (IoE). That’s because IoE includes the networked connectivity of people, processes, data and things.  In today’s business environment, it’s not enough to simply have access to more data -- context and data intelligence are key. For this reason, IoE also involves applying real-time, advanced analytics to those connected people, processes, data and things in order to gain intelligent insights that can be used to improve operations.

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In recent years, the Internet of Everything has truly moved from vision to reality and has transformed our food supply chain in ways that most people don’t even realize. Leading food brands, manufacturers, retailers and technology companies are working together and implementing IoE enabled technologies and processes as well as real-time data analytics to grow more food, better monitor food quality, prevent costly recalls due to spoilage, streamline food production, and even provide consumers complete transparency and traceability of every ingredient in their food.

For example, Barilla brand pastas recently worked with its suppliers to implement IoE technologies that allow consumers to trace the entire chain of production for the ingredients in their pastas and sauces. Using their smartphone, consumers can scan a QR code on the back of select packages of pasta and sauces to follow that specific batch through a detailed analysis of all major phases of the supply chain.  They can follow the dough, for example, starting from the durum wheat field to learn where and how it was sown, cultivated and harvested; then follow that specific batch of pasta through all the stages of production from the processing of the raw materials to the packaging and labeling of the finished product.

Barilla introduced the integrated tracking system as part of a broader Safety for Food initiative to help combat counterfeiting in the food supply chain and give consumers greater transparency and traceability of their food. The company worked together with technology providers, non-governmental organizations and experts in food supply chains to break through information silos across their supply chain, integrate data from multiple sources and apply analytics for compliance checking, tracking and tracing of all ingredients, essentially building a ‘digital passport’ for food products and ingredients that provides greater traceability throughout the supply chain. By simplifying the process of accessing real-time supply chain information, the Safety for Food initiative aims to create digital passports for a wide variety of food products and enable consumers, by reading a smart label, to know the full history of the products they purchase.

It’s not just CPG brands leveraging the Internet of Everything. IoE enabled technologies and processes are at work in every step of the agri-food supply chain. For example, oyster farmers in Australia have connected their oysters to the Internet, monitoring everything from the oysters’ heart rates to weather and water patterns and how they affect the oysters’ growth. Using data analytics, the farmers gain insights to help them grow more and larger oysters. In the U.S., large-scale farmers are using drones to gather real-time data and aerial views of thousands of acres of land, sending data on crop growth, water usage, weather conditions and more to the farmer in real-time. The data intelligence enables the farmers to make better decisions that help them produce more food, cheaper while at the same time better preserving the land and water resources.

On the manufacturing side, companies like SugarCreek – the largest independent processor of bacon, meatballs, sausage patties and chicken for food service and retail – have implemented IoE technologies throughout their facilities to optimize production processes and add new factory capabilities. SugarCreek recently refurbished a 418,000 square foot manufacturing facility to turn it into the “Factory of the Future.” The company sought to strengthen Quality Control by connecting an array of devices, sensors and systems throughout its production processes. Applying real-time analytics to all the data generated by these connected devices, Sugar Creek has been able to streamline production, improve inventory management and Quality Control, and increase security in operations.

Using sensors and predictive analytics throughout their facilities, manufacturers like SugarCreek can identify when maintenance will need to be performed on a machine before it breaks down, enabling them to reduce downtime. Sensors on tools and other assets help companies improve inventory management and tools tracking. Real-time video analytics can minimize loss and wastage in facilities, and even help optimize labor costs through time and motion studies of workers on the manufacturing line. Improved Wi-Fi connectivity and access to real-time data enable manufacturers to manage work-in-process and share information with their partners to streamline every step of the supply chain, from their suppliers to their customers.

Even after food leaves the production process IoE technologies continue to transform the food supply chain. Transportation companies connect their trucks and train cars with sensors and predictive analytics to monitor the freshness of produce in transport, the temperature and humidity levels of the cars, track where the cargo is in its journey, and even predict when maintenance will be needed on trucks or train cars before they break down. Grocers seeking to minimize waste and avoid spoilage are beginning to monitor the freshness of produce on display in their stores using video analytics (to judge the appearance of produce), gas sensors (to detect gases emitted from aging produce), and even pocket size spectrometers like the SCiO to determine food freshness from chemical composition. Using these IoE enabled technologies large grocery chains are able to not only minimize spoilage and waste, but also avoid safety issues such as costly food recalls.

On the consumer side, shoppers in stores are using smartphone applications to scan QR codes like on the Barilla packages to obtain detailed product information, get personalized coupons or recommendations for food pairings, and other information that influences their purchasing decisions. They are using scan-and-go applications on their smartphones to scan barcodes as they place food products in their shopping carts and have the final bill automatically charged to their credit cards as they walk out the door so they no longer have to wait in a checkout line. Those consumers that don’t want to travel to the grocery store are using IoE-enabled refrigerators and smart pantries to automatically order commonly used items when their supplies are running low.

The Internet of Everything has truly moved from vision to reality in the farming, food, manufacturing and retail industries to create a Connected Food movement that is transforming every step of the agri-food supply chain from how our food is grown to how it is purchased by consumers. Businesses benefit by streamlining operations, increasing production, reducing downtime and more. Consumer’s lives are also improved through improved safety and traceability of their food, access to the information they desire when making purchasing decisions and greater convenience.

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