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April 19, 2023

How enhanced analytics is creating a more sustainable F&B sector

How can better data harnessing and analytics capabilities empower the F&B industry to drive sustainability standards?

No industry can close its eyes to the sustainability revolution – but by its very nature, sustainable F&B is more affected than most. The way we source, manufacture and consume food and drink is under scrutiny like never before. 

sustainable F&B
F&B manufacturers are increasingly bound by strict regulations, resulting in the need for reliable data. (Photo by Gligatron/Shutterstock)

2022 report by Cargill found that 55% of consumers were more likely to buy a packaged item if it included a sustainability claim, a figure compounded by the broader rise of healthy eating. Some 40% of manufacturers put sustainability as their main concern in a 2022 survey.

Yet if these aspirations are noble in theory, companies can only hope to achieve them with a rigorous appreciation of their data, ensuring supply chains can be tracked, inefficient processes cut and customers ultimately reassured. Central to this process is securing the services of an expert IT partner, guiding manufacturers and clients to a greener, healthier future.

A multifaceted idea

Listen to Marcel Koks and it soon becomes obvious that ‘sustainability’ needs to be seen as a multifaceted concept. “When you’re talking about sustainability, you want to minimise waste,” says the industry and solution strategy director of food and beverage at Infor. “It’s obvious that you need to minimise food waste, but you want to minimise the waste of water, energy, people’s time and other resources as well.” 

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Beyond the aftermath of the pandemic, in fact, Koks suggests that these overlapping considerations are the “next challenge that we have to work on as an industry”. 

In part, this urgency can be understood in terms of what customers themselves demand. A study co-authored by the Food Marketing Institute uncovered found that more than half of US consumers are eager to learn where and how their food is manufactured – with other research finding that 69% want to buy sustainable F&B products that will contribute to a better planet. 

Then there’s the question of health. Apart from the straightforward issue of public safety – sustainable foods are generally less harmful than their alternatives in the market – F&B manufacturers are increasingly bound by strict regulations around how they make their products. In the US, for example, the Food Safety Modernisation Act requires firms to carefully document how products are made.

Together with the broader challenge of goods insecurity – every drop of water saved, or ingredient recycled, can help a world where 800 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished – and it makes sense that Koks should argue that “pinpointing exactly where improvements can be made to achieve sustainability” must be an industry priority.

Data and technology in F&B

The truth, however, is that F&B has typically lacked the technology to make this happen. Relying on outdated analogue platforms, siloing information and preventing staff from analysing data comprehensively, these limitations can affect corporate efficiency everywhere from R&D to sustainability.

Yet by leaning on specialised ERP platforms, companies can rapidly promote change – especially in the complex field of sustainability. 

Because the best cloud-based solutions allow for farm-to-table visibility on suppliers, ingredient sourcing, nutritional facts and more, thoughtful manufacturers can more easily integrate features like SmartLabel – scannable QR codes that give customers detail on the provenance of their food and drink. 

In the same vein, Koks is keen to explain how ERPs can boost sustainability before products hit supermarket shelves. In particular, he describes precision farming: using data and technology to cut waste during a product’s manufacture. 

In practice, this work can drive ever higher levels of innovation. At its shrimp farms, for instance, Dutch F&B giant Nutreco uses audio sensors to understand exactly when the crustaceans need to be fed – insights that are then implemented via an ERP, and that prevent feed being wasted on shrimps that aren’t hungry.

Given precision farming in other areas can significantly cut fuel consumption, it’s clear that intelligent use of data can bolster a company’s profit margins while simultaneously greening operations. 

Something similar can plausibly be said of other links in the F&B supply chain too. “You can use Internet of Things (IoT) devices in logistics,” Koks explains, “to measure aspects such as temperatures in trucks,” adding that this helps F&B companies to better maintain the quality of ingredients and food products, which results in less food waste. More predictable and stable quality also helps to get longer shelf lives, which again reduces food waste.

Apart from weeding out dangerous samples – or simply ones that don’t abide by rigid regulatory frameworks – these innovations have the added benefit of reassuring sustainably minded customers. 

Yet if IoT and related technologies can bolster sustainable F&B from several directions, Koks reiterates that “data-driven improvements” can only be derived with the right tools. Instinctively, this point feels reasonable.

Without the platforms to make sense of the information sensors gather, ones that can then share insights up and down the corporate structure, any sustainability effort is sure to fail – especially when the biggest F&B operations must deal with millions of individual data points each month. Fortunately, comprehensive ERP platforms like Infor CloudSuite Food & Beverage offer a robust solution.

Offering intuitive, built-in reporting tools, as well as networked business intelligence systems, they ensure corporates have everything they need to genuinely transform their sustainability stance – for the good of people and the planet alike. 

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