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11/02/2021

Technology is Key for Future of Agriculture, Beverage and Food Manufacturing

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Very few industries face more challenges than agriculture and food and beverage. They continually have to work around a wide variety of disruptions while managing traditionally low-margin businesses. Some of these disruptions arise without warning, others can be planned for, but are still tricky to navigate.

The realization has set in that to compete, the traditional practices of these industries need to change. Agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing have always been interested in technologies that will enable the production of finished goods faster. However, investments in advanced technologies outside of the factory floor have typically been put on the back burner. These businesses typically operate with low margins and investments in these types of technologies up until now have been considered non-essential. The influx of these funds will help manufacturers and producers to invest in software and technology focused on all aspects of the operations, supply chain and total business ecosystem.

One of the focuses of this plan by the new administration is to provide relief funds to businesses in the agriculture and food industry. If the administration follows through with funding these industries to expand them as intended, there could be some significant improvements in the use of technology, such as:

  • New processing facilities or re-constructing and repair of existing facilities
  • Purchasing modern production equipment
  • Investing in industry 4.0 and IoT to improve farm and ranch yields
  • Investing in research to develop better products
  • Investing in cloud computing systems, manufacturing, enterprise and demand and supply chain systems to improve operations and business performance
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Food Safety and Transparency

These are just a few of the improvements the food industry can make with this influx of funds from the government.

Another critical area that the Biden administration is focusing on is food safety, labeling and traceability. The way in which the Obama administration addressed these issues foreshadows how this administration will probably proceed. There have already been regulations put in place for stricter labeling of food allergens such as sesame. Food transparency is a big part of the Biden administration’s food safety policies. Every industry and organization involved in the production of food should be prepared to make changes quickly to accommodate fast-changing regulations.

[See also: Green For Green: How Tech Fuels the ROI of Sustainability in Consumer Goods]

F&B Manufacturers Can Improve Quality Systems to Prepare for Future Regulation and Safety Changes

Many manufacturers already have parts of a quality system in place, but it is surprising how many have not integrated it with their other systems. Some critical quality-related areas that manufacturers need to focus on are as follows.

Traceability. Track and traceability functionality built into the central manufacturing and/or quality system is an absolute must. Technology is available to visually track and trace every lot that goes out the door, whether from a company facility or a co-packer, and note where in the market it has been distributed. This is needed not just in the case of a recall but for government audits as well.

Document Control. Manufacturers need to ensure their document management systems include food safety precautions and that all process and product information is in place.

Product and Process Change Management. Integrating inspection processes with control plans ensures that inspection requirements stay connected. Processes and systems need to be in place to adapt to changing regulations.

Audit Processes. To comply with ever-changing regulations, effective internal audit programs must be implemented to drive compliance and continual improvement. A closed-loop system should address product, process and system audits to help manage any findings of non-conformance prior to external audits and to allow for corrective actions to be implemented before an issue arises.

Supplier Quality Management. Food safety issues can often be due to a material or food ingredient issue. Monitoring all activities with suppliers by requiring and instituting best practices can help ensure supplier conformance. This ensures that traceability starts at the beginning of the food supply chain.

Ensuring Ongoing Success and Profitability for the Agriculture and Food Industry

All businesses operate to make money. Food and beverage manufacturers are no exception. But, when the products being made are consumables, the top priorities have to be safety, quality and food integrity. The food and beverage market is changing and evolving.

Due to increasing customer demand, consumer preferences, sustainability initiatives and government regulations, manufacturers face more pressure to improve quality. These market changes have resulted in faster life cycles, shorter lead times, and the need for manufacturers to deliver more products faster than before, which puts pressure on the entire organization.

Manufacturers in the food and beverage industry are under intense scrutiny to consistently produce safe food. Occasionally, issues occur that are out of a manufacturer’s control, but the producers of food and beverage products still have a responsibility to ensure that all precautions are in place to meet the safety needs of the end consumer. Efficient processes and systems to manage food safety not only meet the required compliance requirements but are a huge step in ensuring ongoing success and profitability.

Stephen Dombroski is QAD’s Director for the Consumer Products and Food & Beverage vertical markets.