THE TECHNOLOGICAL TRANSFORMATION OF THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY: A REFLECTION14/02/2022
When innovative technologies are mentioned, chances are that the food and beverage industry does not come to mind. Yet our sector is one of the most affected by the ongoing digital transformation which is rapidly reshaping the way that many businesses are run. As a matter of fact, new technologies and the rise of Industry 4.0 are creating a vast range of brand-new opportunities for everybody, food and beverage companies included.
These technologies – such as, for example, advanced data analytics, clouds, Internet of Things (IoT) and smart sensors – are proving to have the potential to lead a sustainable transformation of the entire industry. Their benefits range from optimized processes to reduced energy consumption, therefore their implementation is crucial in order to stay competitive while meeting consumers’ ever changing preferences.
The consumers’ desire to better understand traceability, environmental footprint and nutritional values of the products they purchase was significantly reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic: although the digital transformation of the industry had already started a few years before 2020, there is no denying that the pandemic put the entire sector under pressure. Its resilient response translated into new packaging equipment that decreases the use of non-biodegradable plastic, predictive analytics solutions that cut emissions and an improved supply chain management that can overcome the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on over-extended supply chains.
Besides sustainability and traceability, the Modern Consumer Paradigm entails food safety too. In this scenario, help comes again from new technologies: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can improve quality control and prevent contamination, just as much as Cleaning in Place (CIP) technologies can monitor microbial levels and improve the reliability of cleaning protocols. As for logistics, improved supply chain visibility together with Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) temperature sensors increase can help keeping perishable food and raw materials in the most correct conditions.
Despite a significant 51% of F&B companies still do not know how to use and integrate technology and even if solid programs to support employees, managers and executives in shifting to an industry 4.0 mindset are scarce, what has happened so far is rather encouraging.