Big data is a new reality in the fresh produce world, and you can take advantage of that by extracting value from the data in your organization, and effectively use the data available to inform and transform your business. Tejas Bhatt, director of Global Food Traceability Center at Institute of Food Technologists, and Mike Wilbur, vice president of data services and field technology at Wilbur-Ellis agribusiness division, in a recent webinar, explained how big data can be used to:
- Increase consumer trust with product transparency
- Identify opportunities for operational efficiencies
- Reduce labor and input costs
Increase consumer trust with product transparency
Consumers want to develop a relationship with the food they’re consuming, said Bhatt. Consumers expect traceability and food safety and are not willing to pay a premium based on those two things alone. However, they are willing to pay more for an enhanced trusting relationship, so they can make better decisions about what they’re eating. There is a big challenge for the industry to comply with that expectation.
Agriculture is responding to rising consumer demands, such as information about label claims, QR codes, location of farm, soil, water and chemicals, said Wilbur. There is a rising demand for complete supply chain transparency and traceability, such as date/time, GPS locations and measured application of chemicals.
Identify opportunities for operational efficiencies
A 2011 study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association found that companies estimated the financial impact to companies as a result of a recall to be between $9 million and $100 million.
“You have to consider the opportunity costs of not doing something, and impacting an entire sector rather than just your organization,” said Bhatt.
Traceability is about access to actionable big data, and is a collaborative process focused on continual improvement, said Bhatt. This data can be used to inform decisions about supply chain management, supply chain confidence, process improvements and decreased spoilage.
While many of these changes are more applicable to large and mid-size enterprises, Bhatt said he has seen a five-person packinghouse in Florida employ traceability to improve operational efficiencies to the point where they were getting better margins on their product. Businesses should consider which factors would be most relevant in their operations and focus on those individually, rather than trying to tackle many problems at once, he added.
Reduce labor and input costs
A lot of crop scouting is still done by people walking in the fields, and looking for insects and weeds, said Wilbur. Drone technology will likely change that, and information like historical weather data and soil conditions could improve how fields are planted with certain crops and how fertilizer is applied.
“Ultimately, what we’re moving toward and getting closer to having is maximizing yield and quality with minimal environmental impact,” Wilbur said.