Start with food quality, not waste

   

by Luke Wood

by Luke Wood

Too many attempts at improving supply chain efficiency are leading to loss and waste for the simple fact we’re not focusing on the food’s quality of journey.

‘Logistics management 101’ tells us waste is the by-product of supply chain inefficiency.

In our business, moving food from its point of origin to point of sale in the best shape possible, without losing any volumes along the way, should be at the heart of an ideal supply chain operation.

Yet, time and again, I see many food suppliers focusing their attention on seemingly everything but the food’s experience on that supply chain journey.

If you listen to your food you’ll get to the source of your challenges and, therefore, your solutions to resolve these challenges, much quicker.

For example, tracking one leg of the chain does not solve the entirety of your supply chain problem.

Erosion of food quality is cumulative. Once a problem is incurred you cannot undo it. You can only respond to it as the journey continues, and it can start as early as the point of harvest.

If we measure the impact the chain has on the product, not the chain itself, we will get a better outcome.

Focus on your food and adjust according to what the data is telling you and you should see your waste volumes, ergo lost value, decrease as a result.

A REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE

Let me give you another example from a different food category. The lessons equally apply to the fresh produce industry.

A recent pilot trial was conducted with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), where shipments of chilled beef and lamb were monitored along the length of the supply chain from Australian ports – both airfreight and seafreight – into export markets.

The objective of this trial was to gather real-world information on how far chilled beef and lamb could travel and be retailed before natural senescence rendered the product unsaleable.

Previously, that kind of data had only been available via computer modelling developed by MLA researchers and University of Tasmania food scientists.

The researchers wanted to listen to what the food was experiencing in chain to align this to what their predictive models, or algorithms were anticipating.

In effect, these objectives articulate what should be the imperatives of the fresh produce business when it comes to improving our supply chain.

And here is the kicker: each exporter in the trial saved on average A$1,500 in disputed claims per container when using supply chain tracking technology.

Now, I know we are talking meat here, not fresh produce, but the principles and lessons are the same whether you are growing blueberries, avocados, mangoes or broccoli.

Escavox was glad to provide the technology and the expertise for this trial. We are glad we did because it gave us real-world, tangible evidence about the power of data in improving food quality and freshness and driving down waste.

WHAT DID WE FIND?

By simplifying the data to show days lost versus days incurred, we took a very complicated formula and process and made it very real and understandable to the operators.

Every link of the supply chain had a verifiable record of where that product had travelled and how comfortably it had travelled while on its journey, providing concrete proof of the food’s quality and safety.

The products monitored made it to their final retail destination and into the hands of consumers in far greater volumes than those products not monitored.

Therefore, I regularly advise not to chase waste reduction as the primary goal of your supply chain operation.

Focus on maintaining and quantifying those measures that lead to improvements in food quality and the reduction in loss will follow.

It’s not difficult; in fact, the fresh produce industry already has a head start via the results of trials and laboratory tests that have shown the direct correlation Celsius minutes or Fahrenheit hours have on food integrity while in transit. We can score these ‘time temperature units’ and verify the results.

WHY AREN’T WE DOING THIS MORE OFTEN?

Supply chains are inherently complicated. Disentangling their many threads to identify the source of a wider problem can appear daunting and filed with other priorities in the ‘too hard basket’.

But this need not be so if the investigation starts with what our food is experiencing.

Reducing waste is a good goal for your business’ bottom line and a noble cause for our planet. It should be pursued.

But it’s on the other side of the coin to optimising food quality. Start there first and you’ll soon find more coin coming back to you, along with a corresponding reduction in waste.