Ask the Expert: Post-pandemic Disruptors in the Food Supply Chain

Ask the expert, Food & beverage

Ask the Expert: Utilizing the Supply Chain as a Preventive Control Through Real-Time Monitoring

How has the pandemic transformed your supply chain?

2020 will be remembered as the year of disruption due to the pandemic, and the supply chain took the brunt of those impacts. However, with disruption came the awareness of areas to improve, a spotlight on vulnerabilities, and a significant amount of innovation. From shipping and receiving outages and delays to the inability to organize pickups and deliveries, companies were required to find innovative solutions to meet consumers’ needs. What became apparent during the crisis was the lack of transparency throughout the supply chain. Ultimately, the need for enhanced visibility is driving significant supply chain transformation, and technology is playing a critical role in this process.

Companies also had other hurdles to overcome beyond the pandemic. The FDA kicked off the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, spurring the need for real-time insights to improve the food industry and protect consumers. Because of this, the food industry is actively implementing new and innovative technological solutions to solve their most significant challenges. Companies also realized the need for enhanced crisis management responses coming out of the pandemic. While they had contingency plans to handle typical issues like power outages or storms, COVID-19 demonstrated that longer-term crisis management plans must be addressed. As we all remember, scarcity on grocery store shelves became typical in the early days of the pandemic. What was learned during this time was that protecting shipments and minimizing food loss due to temperature abuse meant more food would make it to consumers.

New Era of Smarter Food Safety

While the pandemic has become a significant agent of change for our industry, the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative is driving technology adoption at a pace rarely seen in this industry. Organizations, including food manufacturers, distributors, and retail establishments, are implementing tech-enabled solutions out of the need to reduce the burden of foodborne illness and protect consumers. With the release of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint—the FDA’s overview of the initiative’s direction—companies now have a detailed outline of the initial steps to take from a regulatory perspective to improve food safety programs.

The Blueprint outlines four core elements of focus, including:

  • Tech-enabled Traceability
  • Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
  • New Business Models and Retail Modernization
  • Food Safety Culture

As identified during the challenges of the pandemic, Tech-enabled Traceability is an area where significant improvement is needed. If we intend to reduce the burden of foodborne illness as an industry, we need to utilize new and innovative technologies to identify, track and remove risks from the cold supply chain. But traceability and visibility go beyond food safety requirements, as critical tracking information including conditional attributes brings value to logistics and supply chain teams in ways that traditional telematics systems were not intended.

Managing future crises

Crisis management has taken on a whole new meaning since the outbreak of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, most organizations had previously implemented contingency plans to mitigate the risk posed by commonly experienced issues, such as natural disasters or utility loss. However, many of those same companies failed to consider or implement pandemic-based plans or any other programs to the scale of what was experienced. Although, this is understandable as it has been over a century since the world has gone through something of this magnitude before. The outbreak and shutdowns have taught us to think differently about future contingency planning and crisis management.

During the early phases of the pandemic, many organizations were required to shut down or limit production to minimize the exposure and spread of the virus. The requirements to socially distance employees required manufacturers to limit production capacity to that which could be produced based on space constraints. We learned that as an essential industry, organizations had to create innovative ways to continue production while keeping employees safe and healthy. What lessons did your organization learn from these restrictions that could bring value to other types of crises your company may face?

What we learned during this situation was that almost anything can happen. This means that the industry needs to be prepared for even the most unlikely situations, such as prolonged shutdowns, the requirement for social distancing, and the inability to move goods. Companies now know that pandemic contingency plans are vital for future planning. Although we can never prepare for every scenario that could possibly occur, now that we have experienced an issue with a global, widespread impact, we have a playbook of approaches to implement when the next pandemic or crisis occurs.

Sustainability requirements mean continued innovation

While food safety is business-critical, the importance of sustainability as a change agent within the industry never lost traction during the pandemic. In fact, sustainability became more crucial than ever. Losing a perishable shipment due to temperature abuse has never been acceptable and is a leading cause of food waste. However, losing a shipment during this turbulent time meant outages and shortages at retail locations, and the ability to replace the load was nearly impossible.

An additional trend that continued through the pandemic, especially as families eat more meals at home, is the increasing demand for fresh, cleaner-label, and less processed foods. This trend has placed significant pressure on refrigerated shippers, on top of the continuing tight freight capacity. While refrigerated shipping is always in demand, during these times of tight supply, ensuring appropriate temperatures are maintained is more important than ever, as aligning replacement shipping can be difficult, if not impossible.

Often, when we discuss sustainability, we focus our attention on food waste or carbon footprint. It’s important to remember that sustainability for your business often means saving money to keep your doors open and lights on. Organizations that partner with Controlant often save millions of dollars annually by showing return on investment across their organization, including:

  • Purchasing & Procurement departments value knowing with certainty when, where, and in what condition their temperature-sensitive foods are at any time. In addition, by reducing waste and claims, they can keep consumer prices low.
  • Quality Assurance & Food Safety professionals can actively manage their perishable shipments and reduce the time resources needed for delivery review. They can actively intervene to minimize temperature abuse and focus their time on higher-value tasks.
  • Finance & Insurance can tangibly measure reduced insurance premium costs by taking an active approach to supply chain management. Reduced incidents of temperature abuse often translate to reduced premiums.
  • Supply Chain & Logistics staff can optimize freight lanes saving fuel and time. During this current freight capacity shortage, organizations can become preferred shippers since the carriers know that their risk of claims is reduced through truly real-time monitoring.
  • Sustainability & Environmental Impact teams can measure their efforts by measuring their food waste and carbon footprint reductions. The insights gained from our cloud-based platform can be used to identify areas of future improvement.

Controlant would like to help you minimize risks and understand how technology can solve future crises. Please reach out to Jeremy Schneider for additional ways of improving your current programs, processes, and procedures.

About Jeremy Schneider, Business Development Director, Food Safety and Quality Assurance

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. 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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