The world seems to be becoming more and more volatile, and it’s getting harder for the food industry to keep up with the changing landscape. While some problems may seem to come out of nowhere, others are part of long-term trends that we can get ahead of. The key is to start thinking more in the long term, and prepare to adapt to new realities where we can. Here are three accelerating global challenges that the food industry can already start preparing for today:
#1 The climate emergency
One of the biggest problems with climate change always seems to be communicating the urgency of it. Make no mistake: climate change is already here. Weather patterns are shifting, and things that seemed to be eternally true, like rainy grey spring days in Belgium, can no longer be counted on. Instead we too often found that water is scarce and groundwater dangerously low. Food producers are finding their yields to be ever more precarious as growing conditions become more hit or miss. This has a big impact on food quality. We will need to adapt to a climate that is steadily becoming less predictable. Some patterns will emerge, giving us an indication of where we can expect to grow what types of crops. Some regions will need to adapt new techniques or create new contingencies for the water supply.
It's better to be ahead of this game and use climate predictions to our advantage to plan these changes ahead of time, instead of being caught unprepared. We also all have a duty to do everything we can to mitigate climate change. At Qcify we aim for energy efficiency by developing machines that use as little energy as possible. We’ve scaled back our travel to limit our carbon footprint, and we work with partners who have a sustainable vision. Food companies can look at reducing their carbon footprints by revisiting their logistics, switching to lights-out factories and reducing food waste by improving traceability.
#2 The spiraling supply chain
Speaking of traceability, we can’t talk about the future of the food industry without discussing the global shipping catastrophe. If you think the lines at the airports this summer are a disaster, try looking at one of the world’s major ports. The global shipping industry has hit its limit in terms of personnel, available containers and port capacity. That means more shipping snafus and rising shipping costs. The food industry is especially vulnerable to disruptions due to the perishable nature of the products. For our company, endless lead times made us more proactive about production planning. Bringing logistics closer to home can be another part of the solution. The advantage it provides in product quality, agility and delivery performance may overshadow the cost savings of lower labor or land costs.
Tech can play a huge role in making the supply chain more reliable. The key is transparency, where information about forecasts, shipments, ETAs and inventories is readily available. Access to data makes the food supply more agile, and smart machines plugged into the Internet of Things (IoT) can communicate a lot of the data we need on quality yield to inform sales and delivery. Blockchain technology can help us create an overview of what’s there and prevent food waste by pinpointing sources of contamination.
The planet and our population will also benefit from exploring new sources of nutrition. For example, by industrializing insect protein to reduce the environmental burden of food production and create a reliable new food source. 3D printing can be used to create foods from these proteins, as well as from other underused food sources such as nut scraps, misshapen vegetables and meat by-products.
#3 The labor issue
Between the employee absences caused by the pandemic and the painfully tight labor market, it has been hard for many industries to find enough quality staff or keep up with wage increases. It’s a worker’s market, which means employment costs are rising fast. This also means rising prices, which keeps us from getting inflation under control. All of this makes companies less resilient in the face of unpredictability caused by climate or shipping issues. Right when we need to ramp up our resilience more than ever!
The food and agriculture industry is behind when it comes to automation, and has been getting a big wake-up call. All types of jobs in the sector can be replaced by machines: harvesting vegetables, fruits and commodities in the field, driving forklifts, picking things out of the inspection line, and more. Machines can give us the gains in accuracy, efficiency and traceability that we need to navigate a more volatile world. They also provide reliability that is hard to get in a time of labor shortages.
The bottom line: control what you can control
Conventional wisdom tells us that in times of chaos, focus on what you can control. And we can control a heck of a lot more if we ramp up our use of tech. From helping us keep down our carbon footprint to making the supply chain more traceable and automating jobs, tech can help us prepare for the global challenges coming our way. And not a minute too soon, because with a world population this big and the climate issues sure to keep coming our way, things could get worse before they get better. So let’s get on this and start looking ahead!
How is your company preparing to meet global challenges? We’re stronger together, so reach out to us and let’s see how we can collaborate!