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COVID-19: Industry Updates

Leveraging technology to improve food safety standards – podcast

Mounting pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, including limited resources, questionably unsafe working conditions and soaring demand at grocery stores are straining food safety protocols, with countless examples like the 640-plus cases of Salmonella across 43 states linked to onions, and the forced recall of 38,000-plus pounds of boneless beef products shaking consumer trust. To restore and improve consumer faith in the safety of food products, suppliers can look to technologies that provide them with full visibility into how protocols are upheld and let them pass on this transparency to consumers. During this Food & Beverage Insider Podcast, Judie Bizzozero, editor in chief, and Mikael Bengtsson, Industry and Solution Strategy Director at Infor’s food and beverage sector in North America, discuss how ingredient suppliers and CPG brands can use technology to improve traceability and food safety standards.

Key insights include:

  • How food suppliers can tackle foodborne illnesses under the stress of the pandemic and with scarce resources.
  • Increased calls for transparency and trust in the supply chain.
  • How technology can help suppliers meet the growing consumer desire for transparency in an end-to-end supply chain and improve consumer trust.
  • How suppliers can leverage technology to better collaborate with trading partners and ensure consistent food safety procedures.

Links and resources:

Got feedback? Email Judie at judie.bizzozero@informa.com, or tweet to @FoodBevINSIDER

Podcast transcript

Judie Bizzozero: Hi, I'm Judie and welcome to another edition of the Food & Beverage Insider podcast. I'm here with Mikael Bengtsson. He is the Food & Beverage Industry Director at Infor. Mikael is an expert in refining food safety processes and protocols and is going to share his insights on how ingredient suppliers can leverage technology to improve food safety standards, especially during this time of COVID-19. Mikael, thank you for joining us on our podcast today.

Mikael Bengtsson: Thank you too. It's a pleasure to be here and I'm excited to talk about how to use technology in the best way and how it can improve food safety.

Bizzozero: Perfect, well, let's set the stage for this conversation. Can you give our listeners a brief overview of your company as well as your background in the Food & Beverage industry, which I know I think spans about 22 years, something to that effect?

Bengtsson: Yeah, sure. Infor is a global leader in business cloud software, and we have industry specific solutions, for example for food and beverage. We have complete industry suites and we're focusing on user experience, leverage data science and also integrate to other existing systems. Worldwide we’re close to 70,000 organizations that use the Infor platform for their digital transformation. I'm currently the Industry and Solution Strategy Director for Infor’s food and beverage sector here in North America and I have 20-plus years of experience of business and technology consulting with a special focus on food and beverage industry. My job really is to see how Infor can bring thought leadership to food and beverage and how technology can address challenges and provide business benefits for Infor’s customers.

Bizzozero: Great. What a great background and such an important topic. So, let's dive right into the importance of food safety, which is such a critical topic especially to health-conscious consumers as well as food and beverage manufacturers making those products. You know, it's even more important today, especially for brands that are making clean label products, and those are products produced with natural ingredients. They are minimally processed, and they really appeal to those consumers who look for products that align with their eco-consciousness and sustainability ethics. So, you know there are mounting pressures of this COVID pandemic, including limited resources, sometimes unsafe working conditions and a soaring demand at grocery stores that are really straining these food safety protocols. Can you give us some recent examples of supply chain disruptions that have resulted in perhaps some recalls or foodborne illnesses? Or even bigger headaches for some of these CPG brands?

Bengtsson: Sure. There are actually two recent ones, very recent. I don't know if the root cause, was really the pandemic, but regardless, there was one in August, an outbreak of salmonella in link to red, white, yellow and sweet onions. Salsa products were recalled in 43 states. FDA warned about red and yellow onions sold by Progressive Produce. They distributed to Trader Joe's and Ralphs grocery stores, mostly on the west coast. There were hundreds, I think 600 plus cases of salmonella poisoning, and the onions were connected to Thompson's International, which supplies the audience to Progressive Produce. So, what you see here is really it's through the supply chain, its many parties involved when something like that happened. So that was one recent case now in August and then there was also another one and that was JBS Food Canada and they recalled, close to 40,000 pounds of boneless beef head meat and the reason here was that the meat wasn't presented for import re-inspection into the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service discovered in a routine surveillance that the product had bypassed the import re-inspection. So that's two very recent cases.

Bizzozero: Okay, thank you, great examples. You know, we never want to see a recall, but you know now more than ever brands have to work even harder to restore and improve consumer faith. Can you explain how technology can help suppliers meet the growing consumer desire for transparency, especially in an end to end supply chain, and improve consumer trust? These are huge issues and obviously we didn't have this type of technology 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Bengtsson: Well first, it's important to have a foundation, having a technology platform that really can support a digital transformation because that is required for a transparent end to end supply chain. I like to promote their agility, and cloud technology provides that, so that's an important component because it's about keeping up with the pace of the industry trends, evolving regulations and protocols and more specifically, technology can help with managing demand, scheduling, production planning, inventory and also, in all that, considering production capacity constraints. So, that’s as a foundation.

To answer your question about transparency and how that plays a role in building consumer trust, there are two components in that. One, is what to be transparent with. I like to talk about the story so are there any sustainability efforts, traceability, farming practices, organic, all of that. That's the story, what to be transparent with. And then two, how is that communicated? I really like the example of putting a QR code, can be done in different ways, but putting a QR code on the consumer package and then the consumer can scan that QR code and a webpage is opened and then they can see information. For example, traceability. What form or lot did the product come from and any other information, sustainability efforts, ingredients obviously, and things like that. In that case their benefits go beyond just improving the consumer trust, and that by the way, leads to more revenue, the manufacturers taking charge more basically. But there are also other benefits, and that is it's a way to connect with consumers and that is a great way to gather data that can be analyzed and used. In addition, the use of technology can also help the manufacturers to maintain quality and compliance and also provide the traceability, and the traceability can be proactive. Meaning being, in this case, with the consumer transparency or sometimes it's needed reactively. If there is a contamination issue, then the traceability is extremely helpful in identifying the issue and then also quickly understanding what the impact is, what to pull and what is still good and can stay.

Bizzozero: Absolutely. In fact, I was listening to a discussion with FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis and he was talking about how traceability has changed over the past few years. It used to be that it could take six weeks to find out where an ingredient came from, and now with technology, it can take two seconds to find out where that ingredient came from. So, this is a huge issue that will continue to grow. Another thing I like that you pointed out was about the QR codes. We are in the midst of judging our NEXTY Awards for SupplySide West and a lot of the new entries for food and beverage products across all categories actually had the QR codes where we can actually scan it, see what their mission story was, see what their brand story was, and it had all of the ingredient information as well. So, we're seeing more investment, which I totally agree with you that the more investment, the more consumer trust you have, the more these brands can charge for the products. So, we all know that ingredients come from all over the world. How can suppliers leverage technology to better collaborate with their trading partners and ensure consistent food safety procedures?

Bengtsson: One they can, or the suppliers and the trading partners, they can leverage the technology in the product, new product introductions that can meet the consumer demand. They can manage recipes, continually optimizing the formula and the cost but still staying within spend. Also, with a fully transparent supply chain, the communication will be faster, and the supply chain overall can be more agile. Producers and suppliers can share information and plan together. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can be applied to identify inefficiencies and potential sources of contamination. Internet of Things, also known as IOT, can be leveraged to collect the data, sometimes that can be simple, data like the temperature or the humidity level. But if this is collected and analyzed, then the result can be a longer shelf life and at the same time increase food safety. Another way to increase both the food safety and the shelf life is to collect data through the supply chain and do tests along the way and then use that data to provide a dynamic shelf life. So, it’s not always the same, it’s based on the data throughout the supply chain, going outside of the manufacturer. So, collecting and analyzing data is a big piece in this. Historically, though, we've seen there has been a resistance to share too much data throughout the supply chain from all parties, but I think that is changing and everybody within the supply chain can win on this, so I think that's what we will see in the future.

Bizzozero: I agree, and we've seen more sharing of data from companies at our SupplySide West shows as well as our Natural Products Expo's. So, looking into your crystal ball, we really don't know what the residual effects of COVID will have. What hurdles do food and beverage brands, as well as ingredient suppliers, face in terms of supply chain integrity in the coming year or even years? And then, what is the rationale for taking that leap of faith and using this type of technology and making that investment in the product/service to these companies?

Bengtsson: First, with this supply chain, there is a struggle to keep up with the consumer demand always, more so now than ever with all the changes going on. So, maintaining supply chain integrity and following all the food safety protocols will continue to be a priority for any food and beverage company. I think adding to that is also, and perhaps growing especially in these times, identifying food fraud throughout the supply chain, and that's very costly and resource intensive to do. However, if not done, the risks are very similar to food contamination issue, meaning that the company reputation is at stake, different brands are at stake and obviously also the consumer health can be at stake. So, I think that is something that is a challenge going forward and something that needs focus. The fraud can be in different shapes. It can be substitution, delusion, falsification, deception in the product method or its region, or intentional mislabeling. So, there are different ways that that can happen, and being on top of that is extremely important. Then also suppliers must ensure the consumers health, while also keeping up with the pace of consumer demand. Especially now during these times with a global health crisis.

Bizzozero: Absolutely, and I think that your point about adulteration and food fraud is super important and probably worthy of another podcast. But for right now, I want to thank you for your time today. Do you have anything else you want to add?

Bengtsson: No, nothing more from my side. Thank you very much for inviting me. It was a pleasure to be here.

Bizzozero: Great, well I appreciate you taking the time and for our listeners, we will catch you again on our next podcast airing soon.

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