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Future of Manufacturing Q4 2022

Ways to create sustainable practices in the food supply chain

iStock / Getty Images Plus / dusanpetkovic

Simon McKeever

Chief Executive, Irish Exporters Association

As growing populations generate the need for increased food production, the food industry needs an expanded supply of quality raw materials.

In terms of supply, there is a concern about how the industry can respond to the growing demand in quality and yield gains, which are affected by factors such as the changing climate, water shortages, land usage and diminished returns for agricultural producers.

Increasing sustainability concerns

Food supply chains are complex as they include different levels of actors, from those who produce and aggregate to those who add value to the product through processing and those who sell into wholesale and retail. There are also different crops and food types, each with its own distinctive and often fragmented supply chain. Moreover, consumers are not just concerned about food safety standards but are increasingly conscious of their food’s provenance — paying particular attention to whether it is produced responsibly and sustainably from farm to fork.

Benefitting business and the planet

Sustainability in the food supply chain is about lowering the impact of food production on the natural environment as materials move through the supply chain from farm to processor to warehouse to table. It is also about reducing food waste throughout this process.

Sustainability is essential across the entire food supply chain. Inefficiencies in one area can increase costs in another. So, an industry-wide commitment to sustainability is the best approach. For both business and environmental reasons, more companies are looking for ways to improve sustainability throughout the food supply chain.

One of the critical components of sustainability is efficient food supply chain management.

How technology can help

Technology has always had an influence on food production. Some new technologies that can help make the food chain more sustainable include artificial intelligence and machine learning, embedded systems to control things like water usage and advanced processing equipment to reduce waste and the consumption of resources. Furthermore, using high-quality, modern equipment can lower energy consumption and production costs and reduce overall waste.

Long-term impact

Water is a scarce resource, and a focus on limiting water consumption should be a sustainability priority. Businesses can limit water use when washing equipment/ingredients and not letting taps run when not in use. 

Sustainability is of vital concern to consumers, businesses and governments. One of the critical components of sustainability is efficient food supply chain management. Putting the right practices and technology in place to minimise waste and streamline the supply chain can boost sustainability and save costs and improve overall business results.

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