Ask the Expert: How to Meet Customer Demand for Fresh Foods and a Just-In-Time Supply Chain Through Real-Time Insights

Ask the expert, Food & beverage

Over the last several years, customers have increasingly demanded fresher, less processed foods, which has placed increased stress on the food supply chain. When layering on the challenges posed by COVID-19 on top of more predictable disruptions, including weather events like snowstorms and hurricanes, the perishable supply chain is stressed in unprecedented ways. Real-time supply chain monitoring provides manufacturers, third-party logistics carriers, and retail establishments with the ability to meet the customer demand and ensure product supply confidently through enhanced visibility and control.

Why should Quality Managers consider real-time temperature monitoring?

The FDA recently introduced the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, which outlines many critical topics that all food production, retail, and distribution organizations will be challenged to implement over the next several years. The four core tenants of the New Era Blueprint are:

  1. Technology-enabled traceability
  2. Smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response
  3. New business models and retail modernization
  4. Food safety culture

Simply put, food safety and quality professionals will need to become leaders within their organization and will be required to take an active approach to implement smart technologies within their food supply chain. They will depend on the support of all departments and stakeholders to meet these momentous objectives.

As we enter the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, quality managers should consider new and innovative ways to solve the perennial issues within their cold supply chain—especially through the use of state-of-the-art technology. Real-time temperature monitoring provides organizations with the insights needed to transform their business processes, improve food safety, and meet the regulatory requirements outlined in the Sanitary Transport Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act. When organizations seek to meet the regulatory requirements, they are often only fulfilling the minimum business requirements. Implementing cutting-edge and industry-leading technology provides companies with competitive advantages in the marketplace and prepares organizations for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

Companies are also actively implementing Preventative Controls within their food safety program, which requires quality teams to reconsider how they manage every part of their business. Many companies can agree that their supply chains are a black hole for their organization, and the compounding effect of COVID-19 has recently illustrated that now is the time to gain more transparency and insights into shipments’ location and quality conditions through real-time monitoring technology.

Just-In-Time risks

Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing has transformed the way that we manage businesses—for the better. Improved quality, reduced inventories, and waste have all been key drivers for the implementation of JIT programs throughout the food industry and have generally led to exceptional results. It is critical to consider that JIT manufacturing and distribution processes often require supply chains to run lean, leading to situations where outages and shortages can become risk factors. The JIT strategy must be evaluated and adjusted to minimize these risks.

For example, an organization recently transitioned from a bread product that contained preservatives and maintained a shelf life of over one month to a preservative-free product that utilized temperature control to prevent the growth of mold. The preservative-free product retained a shelf life of less than two weeks. Although product quality of the new item was greatly improved, the company’s supply chain required reworking to ensure the retail locations would maintain the products and minimize out-of-stock situations.

Knowing that the supply chain would be tight, the organization implemented temperature monitoring to ensure that shipments are consistently maintained to meet their specifications. Controlant’s real-time supply chain temperature monitoring program now provides the company’s purchasing, logistics, and quality teams with the insights and piece-of-mind needed to assure product supply and consistent quality to their retail locations.

Supply chain stressors

Brands are continuously rolling out or reformulating their items to meet the ever-changing preferences of their customers. While it is beneficial for brands to provide their customers with the freshest foods possible, resilient supply chains are critical in delivering on this promise.

Two critical challenges faced by brands that are reformulating to clean-label foods are the shelf life impact and related food safety concerns associated with these types of items. When it comes to shelf life, organizations must complete a mapping study of their supply chain to fully understand how to deliver the freshest foods possible to end consumers in the quickest way possible. For minimally processed foods, temperature is often the primary risk to quality and food safety, so product temperature should be maintained. Controlant’s monitoring and response services provide around the clock support for food brands, proactively managing temperature alerts as they occur and facilitating corrective response to ensure that food integrity is not compromised.

Fresh foods in the COVID-19 era

Supply chains in the food and pharmaceutical segments have been challenged by closing ports, cancellations of air-freight routes, and discontinuation of services into many of the world’s hardest-hit regions.

Companies have worked diligently to implement contingency plans for predictable issues that might impact their supply chains, like weather-related disruptions, but have found that sustained global shutdowns due to COVID-19 have caught them by surprise and ill-prepared to respond. During this era and beyond, supply chains must become more efficient and flexible for whatever may come next.

Organizations have found success in building resilient supply chains by taking a control-tower approach to cold-chain management. What this looks like for each organization may differ slightly. Generally, it includes centralized access to actionable analytics insights by all parties who share responsibility in ensuring safe and consistent quality conditions within the cold supply chain. Real-time data is even more actionable when coupled with our monitoring and response services (MARS) team. Our 24/7/365 dedicated services team is available to answer alerts and proactively work with your designated stakeholders to facilitate corrective and preventative action. For example:

  • Logistics finds benefits in seeing live shipments on demand and being able to re-route deliveries in real-time as needed.
  • Quality Assurance & Food Safety teams find value in assuring that products are held at the proper temperatures and that transportation security requirements are followed.
  • Purchasing knows with certainty that shipments are on their way and will be delivered when expected; alternatively, they are apprised if an unexpected delay occurs and can plan accordingly.
  • Sustainability leverages insights to benchmark carbon emissions and works to find efficiencies to minimize environmental impact.

Simply stated, cross-functional teams gain insights by looking at the same information from their unique perspectives.

Why next-generation insights are critical for business

These days, companies are looking for competitive advantage in the marketplace — from cost reductions to built-in efficiencies —each of which allows modern enterprises to save money, move more quickly, and maintain resiliency. Maintaining “business as usual” will no longer suffice to ensure that companies meet consumer demands. When we consider how we have previously managed cold chains, these processes are not equipped to meet our future requirements.

Organizations have often considered their supply chains a black hole with limited visibility. Their products are loaded on a truck, and days or weeks later, they show up at their intended locations—hopefully within the required parameters that are expected.If this sounds familiar, you are not alone on the journey to strengthen visibility across the supply chain. Organizations around the world are actively implementing technology solutions to solve these common challenges. Using real-time Internet-of-Things (IoT) data loggers, state-of-the-art and integratable software, and a proactive partnership services model to make sense of the information, businesses are preparing for the future in ways they only dreamed possible.

Jeremy Schneider, Food Safety and Quality Assurance Expert at Controlant

Jeremy has more than 15 years of experience in the food quality, safety, and regulatory sector. His experience spans managing food safety and quality systems within several fast-casual restaurant chains as well as food manufacturing, including Boston Market, Chipotle, and Rocky Mountain Foods. During his career, he has addressed some of the most challenging and critical risks faced today by major consumer food brands.

Got a question? Email Jeremy at Jeremy@controlant.com.

Learn more or try a pilot

Interested in learning more about real-time temperature monitoring or getting started with a pilot? Get in touch. We would be happy to help you solve your cold chain challenges.

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