As COVID-19 continues to impact most parts of Asia Pacific, digitising the food system has never been more important. Food safety, hygiene and storage management had already been fundamental to the success of food supply chain systems prior to the pandemic.
With the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, consumers have become even more concerned with the source, quality, and safety of their food, leading to an increased need for food safety and accountability.
Consumers across the region have been rethinking their eating habits after the pandemic and shifting away from an ‘on-the-go lifestyle’ to more of a ‘safe in-home consumption’ trend.
The Zebra Technologies’ Food Safety Supply Chain Vision Study found that more than half of the consumers (51 per cent) cite the fear of food borne illness and disease as the reason to learn more about where their food comes from, especially with Singapore researchers recently reporting that the COVID-19 virus can survive in frozen meat for up to three weeks.
As a result, food manufacturers are confronted with the issues of food supply chain transparency. At the same time, they need to meet food safety standards, avoid recalls, maintain compliance, and earn customer trust and loyalty.
Food supply chains will need to bear increased pressure to deliver quality and safe food from the farm, to the factory and finally to the consumer’s table. Concurrently, countries like Singapore, an emerging food tech hub of Asia, must quickly address these issues.
Due to continually increasing consumer demands, food safety will need to be taken more seriously, with increased collaboration between the food industry, regulators, and tech companies to create a safer, more traceable food system.
In Singapore, the government recently launched the Food Manufacturing Industry Digital Plan to help food manufacturers use digital tools to ensure food safety and traceability, amongst other objectives.
Many of these changes will be led by technology-enabled solutions that can garner additional trust and ease business operations by tracing each food item throughout the supply chain.
Ultimately, this increased traceability will reduce recalls and food waste, protect consumers by preventing lapses in food safety, and speed up crackdowns on contaminated food. This will provide consumers with the peace of mind in knowing where their food was manufactured, prepared and handled, as a greater number turn toward preparing food at home.
Prioritising consumer care and trust
Only two in 10 consumers surveyed in the Zebra study place complete trust in the industry to ensure food and beverage safety. This severe trust gap stems from various factors, with restaurant kitchen staff hygiene and the fear of food borne illnesses or allergies listed as top food safety concerns for consumers.
Additionally, 60 per cent of surveyed consumers would never return to a restaurant if they contracted a food borne illness from eating its food.
Tracking and traceability also protect brands from damage to their reputations following a food safety incident. Preventing food borne illnesses and product spoilage is a constant challenge in the industry, as one mistake in supply chain management can lead to dangers on store shelves and in restaurants.
With COVID-19, heightened consumer concerns are likely to permanently increase the demand for information and transparency regarding food safety.
Therefore, industry decision-makers can look to technology solutions to ease the strain of curb side and e-commerce deliveries, and at every touchpoint, by improving traceability, safeguarding food items, and mitigating food supply disruptions.
Enhancing traceability in the supply chain
The Zebra’s study also found that 69 per cent of industry decision-makers trust food enterprises’ ability to manage traceability and transparency, with only 35 per cent of consumers stating their assurance.
To address this discrepancy, industry decision-makers can help collect comprehensive data and make that information available to consumers.
Moreover, the study indicates that nine out of 10 decision-makers believe safety and traceability-focused technology can give them a competitive advantage.
Areas that could benefit from devices and technologies include: compliance with food safety and quality guidelines; ensuring proper food handling, transportation and storage; tracking product perishability; intake of raw materials and ingredients; and faster and more efficient lot recall.
Technologies such as RFID tags, rugged handheld mobile computers with scanners, and thermal printers, can track items quickly throughout the supply chain and help increase food product traceability.
The implementation of these solutions is projected to rise, with 93 per cent of industry decision-makers surveyed stating that they are planning to increase investment in food monitoring tools within the next year. It is apparent that companies are recognising the benefits of including these technologies in their operations.
Predictive analytics powered by the visibility provided by these technologies will also allow decision-makers to improve their strategies, optimise transportation efficiency, and tighten loopholes in tracking and traceability.
Future-proof the supply chain with robust digital solutions
Improving food safety is now more challenging more than ever due to the increasing demand and rise of consumers’ expectations. Globalisation also brings new challenges to food supply chain optimisation.
As international trade grows, particularly in a post-pandemic world, so does the necessity for consistent data, reporting and transparency throughout the supply chain.
With traceability and transparency, the future of food safety and food supply seems bright. Comprehensive information and transparency will help eliminate supply chain blind spots.
Companies in Southeast Asia that can demonstrate robust and effective traceability and transparency capabilities will increase business efficiency, protect their consumers and businesses, and ultimately improve customer confidence and loyalty, giving them an edge over their competitors in this rapidly evolving market.
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