Achieving end-to-end supply chain traceability for companies in the food and beverage industry is not going to happen overnight. In fact, it’s not going to happen at all without a proactive approach that prioritizes quality-assured and standardized data. However, the benefits of traceability for companies along the supply chain — being able to prevent irreversible damage, loss or theft — make it an essential undertaking.

Since the introduction of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, a proactive approach to supply chain efficiency among food and beverage companies has become more commonplace. While companies used to simply react to events, now the industry is witnessing an increased focus on preventing problems before they arise. Predictive capabilities along the supply chain are facilitated by real-time monitoring solutions that use technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain, all of which require standardized and quality-assured data to power them.

Here's the advantages of end-to-end traceability solutions for the food and beverage supply chain, and the steps companies need to take to start reaping their rewards.

Food and beverage companies can’t afford to miss out on new supply chain technologies

AgTech investments have been soaring over the last half-decade, and tech giants are making big bets on the future of the connected, data-driven farm. However, it’s important that supply chain technology doesn’t get left behind in this drive toward digital transformation.

Although food and beverage companies will need to devote time and energy to adopt supply chain technologies, there’s no doubt the investment will pay off in the long run. To ensure this process runs smoothly, supply chain actors can work with a solution provider that offers full-service implementation and advisory services. The right provider will help you achieve product safety and compliance and define user requirements. At the same time, they should be helping you understand the short- and long-term implications of implementation and how to maximize the “future-proofing” potential of technologies.

Building solutions with technologies such as AI, IoT and blockchain helps bridge the gaps between different systems, and helps information move seamlessly among them. Take, for example, real-time tracking capabilities of IoT-powered, item-level sensors. Supply chain stakeholders can see in real-time any changes that might affect products, including temperature, humidity, pressure, motion and location. Real-time monitoring solutions go beyond the traditional cold chain and further than tracking just product movement. They also give insights into the quality-related and environmental aspects of products as they go through the supply chain, such as inspection data recorded by humans or sensor data powered by connected devices.

Today’s environmental monitoring solutions have the power to capture temperature and GPS data in real time, from anywhere, and fill in gaps in the cold chain. This rich data picture informs AI algorithms to improve product safety and detect potential future threats. With the help of AI-driven insights, companies can increase shelf life, mitigate safety issues and learn about their business processes to improve quality and reduce waste.

The decentralized and distributed data network that makes up blockchain technologies makes it easier for supply chain actors to know and trust the other partners involved. As materials and products go between suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, carriers and retailers before they reach consumers, blockchain helps verify that operations remain secure.

Although blockchain has yet to be widely adopted throughout the food and beverage supply chain, it’s worth understanding the benefits. It’s also important to note that companies don’t have to jump straight into adopting a technology as complex as blockchain; they can start with small pilot programs and work with solution providers.

These technologies have the power to seriously enhance end-to-end supply chain traceability, efficiency and accuracy.

Achieving end-to-end traceability

Start with digitization. A surprising number of food and beverage companies, including producers, manufacturers and retailers, have not fully digitized all of their data. In order to enter the modern world and reach peak supply chain performance, digitization of data is crucial, no matter how big the company is.

The path to a digital supply chain can be a long one, especially if a company has not yet started. It’s worth the effort, however. Food and beverage companies will have peace of mind knowing that they have timely and accurate data, are compliant with regulations and are on course to true end-to-end supply chain traceability.

Data needs to be standardized and unified. Data insights are only as good as the data that fuels them. That’s why standardized data is so vital. Today, as companies continue to deal with huge amounts of non-standardized data, steps must be taken to turn it into insights that provide transparency and security across the supply chain.

Inconsistencies come from siloed, incomplete or missing data, as well as data that has simply come from different systems, and needs to be cleaned, standardized and quality-assured. Companies can tackle this problem with the help of data standards from organizations that provide easily adoptable frameworks for food supply chains.

It’s vital that data is unified on a single platform to power real-time monitoring solutions. Companies often find that their traceability, quality and temperature data are living in different places. This data needs to be combined to provide a complete picture. 

Data security. Companies also need to plan strategically to make sure their data is as secure as possible from hacks and disruptions. They should share data only with people they know and trust, and can work with a solution provider to achieve complete data security. 

Incentive structures. While incentives to digitize and standardize data at certain parts of the supply chain may not be compelling, companies must stop viewing traceability as a cost and understand it as an investment in their operations and security. As its benefits become even more apparent, customers will only demand more transparency and accuracy. Food and beverage companies should realize the advantages and adopt traceability with open arms.

Traceability solutions have much to offer actors at all the nodes of the food and beverage supply chain. To capitalize on their benefits, however, companies must commit to taking the crucial steps toward gathering the rich, actionable data needed to power real-time insights and predictive capabilities. The sooner industry leaders realize this, the sooner they will gain a competitive advantage in the space and reap the rewards of end-to-end supply chain traceability.