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Internet of Things
in the food industry:
Benefits in the
food supply chain

Author: Heidi Vella

Internet of Things (IoT) technology is transforming the food processing industry in myriad ways. From reducing losses, ensuring quality and staying connected with consumers, the Internet of Things in the food industry holds a lot of promise when it comes to helping your organization meet your goals and improve the end-user experience.

Yet not all in the sector understand the practical benefits the technology can provide. Let's take a closer look at how IoT in the food processing industry can affect the food industry, the customer experience and, ultimately, your business goals.

The Internet of Things in the food industry: Benefits of IoT in the food supply chain

'The Internet of Things' is a broad term that describes interconnected devices that can collect and transmit data. This ability to harness various information points and track products at scale is game-changing for many sectors, and the IoT in the food processing industry is no exception.

Sensors connected to a 5G or 4G LTE network enable the use of IoT in the food supply chain to help improve food safety and quality, reduce losses and inefficiencies, and create better accountability from the farm to the plate.

Near-real time monitoring of product shipments is a leading example. GPS location trackers and live temperature monitoring sensors packed into crates can use the 5G or 4G LTE network and mobile edge computing (MEC), or cloud-based blockchain systems, to provide real-time updates to food producers about location and temperature status. This helps them understand where their goods are from a logistics point of view. They can also track the cold chain so that if an anomaly occurs, such as an increase or drop in temperature, or a shipment that has been stationary for an unusually long time, actors in the supply chain can be notified. This safeguards the quality of the final product, while also providing information on the most efficient and cost-effective shipping routes, which can support stock management. It also helps suppliers prove they're meeting food compliance requirements.

While tracking goods isn't new, it's currently done at intervals through scan points. Tracking in near real-time provides a deeper level of data granularity and allows producers to have much more control over their products and take preventative measures when needed. Beyond 4G LTE, 5G networking will enable tracking of goods on an unprecedented scale.

Customer experience and IoT in the food processing industry

The Internet of Things in the food industry is helping to improve the customer experience. The global supply chain is a complex network comprising many different actors and locations. Therefore, providing supply chain transparency from farm to consumer is difficult to achieve but of increasing value to consumers.

For end users, IoT technologies can provide another level of transparency and traceability that can boost their confidence in the quality and origin of a product. For example, QR codes placed on packaging can provide customers with detailed information collected through IoT technologies about manufacturing, transportation and product origin. This can be particularly important for products, such as coffee and chocolate, whose raw ingredients are produced in developing countries.

Granular traceability of food products can also guard against food fraud. Past revelations, such as when a third of fish sold globally was mislabeled and the Polish 'sick cow' scandal in 2019, where sick cows were illegally slaughtered and exported, have created more focus on supply chain transparency. Deploying the Internet of Things in the food industry to prove the authenticity of a product can win consumer trust and guard against reputational risk. Using IoT in the food supply chain can also help producers monitor and prove the environmental and social impact of their products, which customers can measure against their own sustainability commitments.

Cold-chain temperature tracking can also prove to end users that food safety requirements have been met. Similarly, restaurants can deploy IoT sensors in their refrigeration units so they can be quickly alerted to malfunctions, mitigating against reputational risks from food-borne illnesses.

For premium goods, active tamper-proof IDs can track and monitor products during their journey to provide assurances they haven't been tampered with along the way.

The IoT and business goals

The Internet of Things in the food industry is providing the tools businesses need to meet their goals and ambitions, whether it be improving efficiency, reducing waste, lowering their carbon footprint, connecting with customers or creating new business opportunities.

For example, wireless mobile edge connected sensors and trackers that trace and monitor goods from production through to last-mile delivery allow manufacturers and brands to gain granular, near real-time data. This data can be used to implement improvements to systems and processes, such as optimizing production and distribution schedules. Therefore, businesses can make more informed decisions and have more control over their assets. This also helps enable companies to make more accurate delivery and demand forecasting, potentially improving cash flows and risk management.

Regulators now require detailed monitoring and record-keeping, and smart sensors leveraging IoT in the food supply chain are the best way to automatically generate much of this data. In this regard, smart sensors and digital systems are fast replacing manual logs.

Having more control over every step of a product's production and journey to the consumer enables brands to help ensure consistently higher quality goods, resulting in better customer retention and sales growth.

Furthermore, using the Internet of Things in the food supply chain can generate significant opportunities for data automation, leading to greater profitability and ROI.

Use of the IoT in the food processing industry is growing. A report by ReportLinker notes that the IoT and traceability for the food and beverage manufacturing market are expected to reach $8.43 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5%.

While most IoT devices today use the 4G LTE network to enable MEC, 5G can offer companies opportunities to scale and provide new valuable use cases not even thought of yet.

Overall, the goal of using IoT in the food processing industry, like in many other manufacturing processing chains, is reducing costs, improving production efficiency and guaranteeing consumer satisfaction.

Discover how the internet of things in the food industry can help improve quality control.