Opinion Piece: Overcoming Food Supply Chains Disruption with Digital Food Fingerprint standards

Opinion Piece

Overcoming Food Supply Chains Disruption with Digital food fingerprint standards

By ALAN LAI

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented shock to the food industry. Many recent stories have noted that the global food supply chain has not been able to adjust to current reality brought about by the pandemic efficiently. Specifically, many food manufacturers and distributors are unable to rapidly find alternative sources of ingredients and materials when their existing suppliers are affected by the pandemic, or have to accede to significant price increases. Why is our supply chain today not able to respond effectively?

Efficient and lean, but unprepared for disruptions
Decades of push towards efficiency and vertical integration have made food systems more vulnerable. Our supply chain models today are consolidated in silos and highly specialised. With a good understanding of the “Bullwhip Effect” – a phenomenon describing how small fluctuations in retail demand can cause progressively larger fluctuation at the raw material supplier levels, businesses have gradually adopted just-in-time reordering models by working with a narrow list of suppliers to keep inventory levels to a minimum. Unfortunately, while these ultra-efficient systems work well routinely, they inadvertently impede the ability to respond and transform rapidly in the face of disruption.

Need for physical samples impedes sourcing responsiveness
In the food industry, buyers are assured of the quality of ingredients via physical samples. Sending samples is not only an effective way to showcase the real tangible features and quality, but also helps in building business relationships. However, the process can also be onerous and expensive. Multiple shipping of samples prior to order confirmation is time-consuming, especially during the early stages of business development. Moreover, we saw how these problems are further exacerbated during the pandemic with overloaded courier services, manpower shortages, and flight cancellations.

Continued heavy reliance on human judgement
Despite the proliferation of accessible technologies, the industry continues to be heavily reliant on human judgement: see, touch, and taste ingredients to ascertain suitability and quality. Acceptance checks of goods subjectively upon arrival causes potential disputes. Businesses work based on a trusted long-term partnership to minimise such situations, that however means that buyers are limited to the number of potential sellers that they source from. While laboratory sampling tests can be conducted, such testings are destructive, can be expensive and non-comprehensive. Sellers are also wary of buyers who deliberately fault the quality to waive remaining payment. 

Digitalisation for stronger resiliency to disruptions
To respond to challenges during a disruption, companies are now reassessing how digitalisation can improve responsiveness and resiliency of their supply chains, but digitalising a traditional supply chain in the food ingredient industry can be a herculean task that involves and affects people globally. The need for collaboration with partners in the industry makes the nature of leading digitalisation demanding. Digital collaborations in this multi-player dynamics will also require persistent effort and time to cultivate and establish relationships. However, its advantages far outweigh the effort required.

“If this COVID-19 pandemic has proved anything – it is that businesses must quickly move towards digitalisation to remain sustainable, and perhaps even thrive.”

Adopting Digital Food Fingerprint in digitalising supply chains
Amidst the various digitalisation solutions such as e-commerce to increase B2C reach and IoT to enhance manufacturing capabilities, we launched ProfilePrint, a Digital Food Fingerprint standard powered by a technology which digitalises the molecular signature of the ingredient or material. The ProfilePrint Xchange (ProfilePrintX) platform was developed to leverage on this digital fingerprint to increase speed and flexibility for B2B sourcing and selling with more trust. ProfilePrintX digitalises this process by allowing the matching of food fingerprints online so that buyers can make better purchasing decisions, and sellers can access a larger market whilst improving conversion by offering specifically what buyers are looking for.  

Imagine this – you are a food manufacturer, facing a persistent problem of ensuring quality and taste consistency of your ingredients. ProfilePrint can help in one of two ways –

1. Creating your own “Gold standard” models of your required quality standard

With the ProfilePrintX platform and the portable analyser, without prior machine-learning knowledge, users can easily establish DIY “Gold standard” A.I. models of the required taste or quality profiles by training it in-house. With a quick scan of the physical product, both seller and buyer can ascertain that it meets the target of the agreed product quality before shipping and upon receipt of goods. This minimises disputes on a scientific basis that validates the quality standard instead of a subjective assessment. Users can also use the “Gold standard” model to recommend blends of different batches of ingredients to achieve a target quality. 

2. Increasing sourcing speed via digital molecular fingerprint matching

By scanning a sample of the ideal ingredient, users can also conveniently source for the required product by matching its digital molecular fingerprint to what suppliers list on the ProfilePrintX platform. Users can compare taste profiles, quality, prices, MOQ, and proceed to RFQ with more assurance. Buyers are no longer limited to the existing suppliers or require a long lead time to conduct quality checks based on samples shipped and will be able to consider a significantly larger number of options with molecularly matched products online.

Moving Forward

A digital fingerprint is a key example of how the food supply chain can be digitally transformed to be more responsive, without compromising efficiency. To prepare for the next disruption, we need to look at long-term sustainable solutions. We should not just work our supply chain harder during pandemics, instead, adopt a digitalisation strategy to improve speed and flexibility. Otherwise, no amount of hard work will allow food businesses to adjust and respond to sudden shocks.

MATCH, SOURCE AND SELL BETTER

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