By Fabio Tiviti, Senior Vice President & General Manager, ASEAN-India, Infor
A new study by the UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index has found that over 1.3 billion tonnes of food — nearly one-third of all food produced — is thrown away every year, with household food waste accounting for 60% of that total. More shockingly, over half of global food waste occurs here in Asia.
The figures are staggering. Food waste is the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions today, making the global food system one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and the scale of food wastage an even more difficult truth to digest.
Fortunately, this pressing problem hasn’t gone unrecognized. Over the years, multi-agency efforts to drastically reduce food waste have sprung up across the region, with many of these efforts centred around best-before and use-by dates. However, to effect long-lasting change with ripple effects throughout the industry, F&B manufacturers need to take the lead by leveraging smart software-driven innovations and solutions, to stem the problem at its source.
It’s all in a label
One of the key areas to be addressed is consumer confusion over dates on products. In Korea, a survey conducted by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute found that a 56.4% majority of consumers would throw their food away prematurely — by their “sell-by” dates, instead of “use-by” dates. This is problematic because the former is often misleading, and typically only represents 60 – 70% of a product’s shelf life. As a result, Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety is set to overhaul its regulations on food labelling, to replace “sell-by” dates entirely with “use-by” dates, which are longer and have no safety implications if products are stored safely.
Wherein there is widespread confusion and misunderstanding of product date labels, greater consumer awareness and education can play a critical role in mitigating food wastage. Specifically, the F&B industry can take proactive steps to build consumer awareness around how best-before or sell-by dates are not the same as use-by dates, and implement consistent labelling standards — like in the case of Korea.
Smart shelves and dynamic dates
Some supermarkets have also begun experimenting with smart shelves, which help reduce the price of items in line with decreasing use-by and best-before dates. This technology has the potential to make it all the way into the home, with smart fridges able to alert consumers of impending use-by dates, reminding them to consume a product before it expires.
In fact, the introduction of a dynamic shelf life for products, where a shelf life is adjusted according to the actual quality of the product, can be an incredibly attractive proposition for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers alike. It’s an area of expertise where F&B manufacturers, who sit at the very heart of the food industry, can take the lead and make the most of the data and technology available to them.
Revamping the way products are labelled and stored provides them with an opportunity to blaze the trail — especially in optimizing the shelf life of products, to significantly reduce the staggering amount of food that’s wasted on a daily basis.
Throwing data-driven solutions into the mix
When it comes to shelf life, one size really does not fit all. This rings particularly true with perishable products — and even non-perishables can vary dramatically from batch to batch. By folding Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities into the mix, manufacturers can better equip themselves to take stock of the many variables involved in the process, across all stages of the farm-to-fork supply chain, and formulate a dynamic shelf life for each product.
In practice, this involves the condition monitoring of ingredients and finished products, both upstream and downstream, looking at storage and transportation times and conditions pre-, during and post-production, as well as profiling the quality of raw ingredients and examining what happens to the product once it reaches the retailer. Internet of Things (IoT) devices are ideal for this as they can measure vital variables and feed this crucial information back into intelligent systems for analysis. This will help determine optimum use-by dates, which are aligned to the specific quality attributes of an individual batch of products.
A triple win for manufacturers
The granularity and visibility of information across the supply chain brings added benefits for manufacturers too, because the right systems can deliver the depths of foresight needed to better inform planning and sourcing decisions. For example, manufacturers can be informed of what ingredients they can expect and when they can expect it, enabling them to change the recipe to compensate for any potential delays or shortcomings in ingredient quality. Similarly, these insights also enable manufacturers to investigate alternative sources of ingredients if a particular supplier is found lacking, or to pivot to alternative forms of transportation if current methods are contributing to a reduced product shelf life.
Employing intelligent, data-driven tactics can positively impact the business bottom-line too. While higher quality ingredients typically offer a longer shelf life, one must question the value in paying extra for an ingredient because it is stable for longer, if the end product itself will ultimately still have a limited shelf life. This is particularly important in a time where many businesses are trying to minimize stock holding wherever possible.
Ultimately, leveraging smart software is key and can result in a triple win for manufacturers — with reduced food wastage, business costs, and optimized operations. Many forward-thinking businesses in the region are already recognizing this and applying these insights across the entire breadth of their wider supply chain, leading the way in food waste reduction across the globe.
Food wastage is an issue that impacts F&B players at every level of the ecosystem, with repercussions that reverberate and impact the environment. It is thus in the interest of players across the industry to find an intelligent and responsible solution to one of the most pressing challenges facing us all today.