Linda Cudjoe, Head of Food Safety and Technical, Harrods
The impact of artificial intelligence and big data on the food and beverage industry cannot be underestimated as product availability globally has grown and developed significantly over the years due to customers’ ever-changing demands and preferences. As the world gets smaller through travel, world trade, and diversity, product offering in supermarkets and restaurants have had to evolve in line with lifestyle changes. The evolvement of food trends developing from previously seasonally focused trends to now being driven by customer demand for all-year-round availability, novel foods, healthy eating, and also sustainable and ethical sourcing has meant new challenges in food supply management.
To maintain a strong competitive advantage, food producers and retailers are having to find innovative ways of providing these specialist products as well as maintaining focus on traditional manufacturing methods.
Using rare and exclusive ingredients with unique associated stories and full visibility and traceability to field from the consumer is critical in staying ahead of the increased demand.
It goes without saying that managing intricate supply chains and process controls in factories becomes increasingly complicated and expensive as risks rise with the complexity of modern manufacturing. The added challenge of driving down production costs while maintaining product quality means that traditional ways of monitoring the supply chain and manufacturing processes are no longer financially sustainable. This, coupled with the expectations of return on investment, has meant that there is pressure on the industry to keep ahead of competitors' USPs and pricing targets.
In addition, food safety and food labeling regulations require brand owners to not only show a clear demonstration of origin of products and ingredients but also the integrity of their products, ensuring full visibility and control of food products from field to fork. This can be a very costly affair if manufacturers and brand owners must travel the world, auditing their suppliers, and confirming chains of custody.
Artificial intelligence and big data offer the industry the opportunity to minimize their costs while guaranteeing quality and safety maintenance and continued variety of products.
Both mediums are very welcome interventions in the food industry because if used effectively, they are incredibly useful tools that can enhance our efforts to control the world’s complicated food supply network.
Also, artificial intelligence helps in maintaining product safety and integrity through several supply chain and process control systems. Benefits of this include reduced time to market by using modeling to predict shelf life, electronic sorting of product to remove blemish and detection systems to detect the integrity of packaging materials.
Big Data has been invaluable in the availability of horizon scanning, which provides the industry with up to date information regarding world food safety, integrity incidents, and shelf-life prediction. Isotope testing is an example of how big data can be used for source identification to monitor claims. This is where data relating to climate conditions, chemical or physical conditions that contribute to making up of different foods is used to identify geographic origin to confirm provenance claims of food.
Maintaining confidence in the global supply chain is crucial as food trends continue to expand to the usage of increasingly exotic ingredients and novel foods. The accessibility of artificial intelligence and big data is vital to staying ahead of the industry's continuously evolving trends.