Food manufacturers have numerous and significant challenges to overcome to keep food from spoiling and comply with regulations. They also face tight profit margins, and need to be able to move ingredients and products quickly through the supply chain.
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Like all industries, food production has turned to information technology to help overcome these difficulties. In recent years, the latest trend in technology development – cloud computing – has been employed to help food producers to acquire and process huge data sets without needing their own servers.
Cloud Computing is On the Rise
A report by global accounting and consultancy firm KPMG, the Food and Beverage Industry Outlook Survey presented findings from interviews with 100 senior executives from US-based food producers with at least $1 billion in revenue.
That survey showed that – in the eyes of leadership at least – cloud computing was a key growth factor for the industry that had the potential to enable deep consumer interactions and increase business opportunities.
The executives nearly all commented, however, that the growth of cloud-based platforms in the food industry depended as much upon organizations’ ability and desire for effective change as it did on technology’s ability to deliver benefits.
Since this milestone report was published, cloud computing has continued to rise in prominence in the food industry. Now, food producers are adopting big data and analytics methods to track and optimize their huge production networks – represented by vast, dynamic data sets only processable with the results of advanced information theory.
This is why cloud computing is becoming so important in the food industry. The size of these datasets – and their dynamic nature – means storing them on dedicated physical servers, maintaining those servers and the IT network that provides access to them, and being confident that all the information is appropriately backed up and secure from bad actors are tasks big and complex enough to need their own specialist industry.
That industry is cloud computing.
Cloud-based platforms transmit data via wireless connections and the internet to large, reliable servers for processing, then they transmit processed data (instructions or outputs) back to the system or device on the ground. Cloud computing offers access to huge amounts of data processing capacity and storage space to organizations that cannot justify the large up front and maintenance costs for physical servers.
The introduction of cloud computing to the food industry has enabled it to analyze data to determine market sizes, consumer habits, optimized product strategies, consumer targeting, and marketing. Especially in conjunction with e-commerce technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), this innovation enables food companies to reach larger markets at a much lower cost.
As well as supporting business objectives for food companies, cloud-based platforms can also help companies prevent bad or unhealthy food from reaching consumers. Unsafe batches can trigger expensive recalls as well as severe reputational damage that hurts the business’s profits in the long run. But mechanisms to collect, trawl through, and analyze various data points in the entire global production system in real time could find contaminated or bad food before it reaches stores.
Responding to the need to increase food safety – especially as food networks become increasingly globalized – food producers now use cloud-based sensors to gather real time information on the location of food products and ingredients, their appearance through machine vision, and environmental factors like the ambient temperature. These sensors communicate wirelessly, and represent an expression of the so-called industrial internet of things (IIoT).
Such a network enables producers to identify exactly where and when any inconsistency has arisen in the network, and take necessary steps to investigate it and manage its consequences.
In the US, regulators are making use of cloud-based systems to determine food safety as well. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), launched a cloud-based OpenFDA platform to quickly search, query, and pull huge data sets instantaneously and directly from the FDA’s files.
In the future, with more sensors gathering more data points and better algorithms to process it, whole sectors of the food industry could become much more optimized, automated, and efficient. This would result in cutting away at the millions of tons of food waste generated in production every day, and with a connected ecosystem that links farm to fork, could significantly reduce the impact of human food consumption on the planet.
One key instance of cloud-based platforms having this kind of all-encompassing, global impact, is in cloud-based labeling. Cloud-based labeling has been advocated as a good solution to the challenge of achieving total visibility – the ability to track food from its source, through to production, distribution, and ultimately into the consumer’s grocery bag. Traceability and asset identification – enabled by bar codes – are important for visibility, but not the entire picture.
Barcodes on labels can make food traceable, but generating and processing all of those barcodes is also needed. This is also best achieved with cloud computing.
References and Further Reading
Ferkoun, M. (2015). Cloud computing helps the food industry grow. IBM. [Online] Available at: https://www.ibm.com/blogs/cloud-computing/2015/03/16/cloud-computing-helps-the-food-industry-grow/.
Parker, L. (2019). Exclusive interview: Cloud-based labeling is the key to fighting foodborne illness. Food Safety Magazine. [Online] Available at: https://www.food-safety.com/articles/658-exclusive-interview-cloud-based-labeling-is-the-key-to-fighting-foodborne-illness.
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