The Future of Food Tech: Innovating the Supply Chain

, Sep 29, 2020

CATEGORIES: Artificial Intelligence, Consumer Innovation Group
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3 Resilient Takeaways from Future Food-Tech

From robots roving the aisles, to cashierless checkout, to the home delivery demand revolution – the grocery industry is transforming right before our eyes. But it’s not simply about the consumers’ in-store experience; there is significant, industry-changing innovation behind the scenes. This is true now more than ever before, as food retailers continue to realize the pressures of the pandemic.

While every retailer has an emergency plan in place, the coronavirus was unprecedented in its tax on existing systems and contingencies. Retailers were forced to pivot and reevaluate operations – and do it quickly and without room for missteps. This included looking intently at the whole supply chain and new digital technologies to improve productivity from the ground up.

This topic was one of many explored as part of Future Food-Tech held this fall. The Supply Chain Resilience – AI, Automation & Robotics panel featured March client Retail Business Services alongside other industry leaders including Fabric, Afresh Technologies and the Crop Science Division of Bayer. Panelists discussed some of the biggest learnings from the pandemic, and how we can leverage technology to improve operations.

Here are our team’s top three takeaways from the discussion:

1. AI will enable a more efficient supply chain

For many retailers and grocers the bullwhip effect is always top of mind, and the pandemic saw it play out in a way that was exceptionally tested. Simply put, the bullwhip effect occurs when demand forecasts yield supply chain inefficiencies. Here’s where technology steps up: AI and automation have tremendous potential to solve this problem. For example, AI can be implemented to help with forecasting replenishment and inventory management. This would help create more flow with the demand signal up through the supply chain to diminish the bullwhip effect.

2. Don’t automate everything – we need a balance between humans and technology

While AI will play a vital role in improving the supply chain, it’s also important to recognize that there is still a really human-centered element to everything. “It’s reaching out, connecting with new suppliers, and standing up new processes that typically would’ve taken us months or years to stand up, we needed to stand up in weeks. So finding and forming new partnerships – it’s a combination,” Andre Shaw, SVP, Demand Management, Retail Business Services, explained. There is a need to form partnerships with a human connection, to help implement the technology in navigating our new landscape.

3. Food production and distribution will (and have) adapted to the world reopening

As the world saw some industries and businesses shutdown, grocers remained open. While some shoppers shifted to on-demand delivery services, there is still a need for physical stores. To keep up with the increased grocery demand, there is a big opportunity for technology to enable better collaboration and synchronization with manufacturers. Going forward, grocers also will need to continue to invest in large scale automation for fulfillment, as the consumption of products saw double what it was before.

While grocery and other omnichannel retailers continue to tackle the obstacles and challenges brought on by the pandemic, it’s safe to say that we as consumers are thankful for their efforts to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. And while it has disrupted a traditionally measured industry, it is exciting to see the innovations – both in-store and behind the scenes – that are rapidly reimaging operations and our experiences.


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