Today’s produce scene is an amazing array of global choices brought to us by high-performance supply chain technology — from 365 days a year greenhouses; to the perfect logistics refrigerated trailer (barreling down the NAFTA corridor or flown by refrigerated containers to their destinations); to an array of sensors and devices to monitor and assure the perfect temperature; to the software that plans, grows, stores, manufactures, monitors, packages, and assures quality at every step.
That’s the Cold Chain.
The global fruit salad and the perfect bouquets of flowers that decorate our homes are also brought to us by the height of supply chain performance. Our global bouquets begin with the genetics genius of the Dutch seed and bulb producers that are shipped to flower growers in South America and then off to retailers around the globe — again via a managed and monitored Cold Chain. Whether for food, flowers, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics or an array of products you would never think about, we all rely on the precision of the global Cold Chain.
But there are problems.
Cold Chains Are Hot . . . and Getting Hotter!
We have a long way to go to attain that precision cold chain, but the technology can take us a long way to achieving it, as we learned at a panel that ChainLink hosted in Philadelphia. We assembled an end-to-end Cold Chain technology panel of leading solutions providers, who were able to provide visibility along the chain. I will quickly walk you through the concept. The audience was treated to the strawberry supply chain, but of course, this process applies to any temperature-sensitive chain.
It all begins with creating and understanding the global supply chain — how it operates and the risks involved:
Risk Management — Globalization has brought huge economic opportunities to many — the small family farm in Guatemala or Kenya that grows coffee, the community of flower growers in Columbia, the small cheese maker in France, and small fruit and vegetable growers in the US. That’s all great, but it is not without risk. The occurrence of outbreaks — E. coli, Listeria; and tainted-product recalls do have consumers concerned and have economic implications.1 So legislators in the EU and the US have responded with legislation to create better traceability. We heard about how to develop a risk-aware supply chain from ImpactFactor, a risk performance management services and technology company.
Produce Buying and Selling — FoodLink, a major produce platform provider that connects buyers like Giant Eagle with produce growers and their distributors, talked about the process from grower to consumer. In this type of scenario, the buyers, distributors and end-retailers are known. And by going online, the grower can see the type of compliance required by the grocer. Conversely, the carrier can see the handling and shipping requirements — for example, temperature, light, and vibration, required by the grower and included in the packaging.
Monitoring and Assurance — Now that products are sold and ready to ship, we need sensors and tracking technology for data visibility and product monitoring along the route. Intelleflex, an on-demand cold chain monitoring solution provider, talked about effective and cost affordable methods for applying sensors and RFID — not just for obtaining conditional data after the fact, but to provide product assurance. Why send a product through the process if it has already been spoiled? There is a huge ROI in this!2
Manufacturing — often produce, of course, does wind up in the manufacturing process. We heard from SYSPRO, a leading global ERP player, about the process control required to manage, make, monitor, label and finally ship products to the market.
In the example above, you can see that our strawberries have gone into a lot of delicious chocolate truffles and are headed to grocers and gift stores, or were FedEx’d to online customers. The required information, which is stored in the SYSPRO database, is profound: the chocolate, strawberry, and sugar growers, batch and lot numbers, packaging and destination, whether in the consumer’s home or in a large shipment to the retailers.
Monitor and Integrate — often companies already have ERP and a portfolio of bar-coding, EDI, or MES (manufacturing execution systems). But often these systems are not architected to identify, label, or track — in other words, to end-to-end their products. At each stage, mobile, manufacturing, shipping, and the subsequent shelf management data are often in too many systems. So, companies then need to leverage in-house solutions such as ProducTrak, which will manage the mobile, MES, and logistics interactions needed to track product through the enterprise and the supply chain. Products like this act as an integration layer between and across ERP, or logistics systems (WMS and TMS), EDI, and device bar-coding or RFID/sensor type devices.
Data Management — all the trading partners through the chain can now share this data. They have quality assurance, and if they must, they can manage a recall, enabled by adherence to data standards. We heard from GS1 about the work they are doing in the cold categories — Pharmaceuticals, Food and Beverage — to assure consistent data standards though the whole chain. Their initiatives are global, working towards the goal of standards and quality, worldwide.
Each enterprise needs technology that helps them manage their activities — their contribution to the process — from farm to fork. By adhering to data standards, these solutions can work together to enable cross-enterprises sharing of the required information. Solving the Cold Chain challenge will take integration — within the enterprise and across the chain.
Today these solutions are more cost affordable. But cost is more than the cost of the technology. Reducing risk, improving assurance is the way forward. Enterprises can expect to reduce operating costs, the cost of risk and, most importantly, impact on consumers. Better technology is on track to help reduce waste, save money and save lives.
1 Listeria Outbreak Tied To Colorado Devastates All Cantaloupe Growers.
The AP (10/17) reports that hundreds of California farm workers have been laid off “as the cantaloupe Listeria outbreak traced to Colorado rippled across the nation,” even though California-grown cantaloupes posed no safety hazard. Growers in the state have put stickers on each piece of fruit, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board has written to customers informing them that California cantaloupes are safe, and stores have posted signs noting that California produce is not covered by the recall. Arizona growers have taken similar steps, and both states use growing and processing methods that minimize potential contamination, but experts “say it may now take industries longer to recover from outbreaks because of a consumer focus on food safety and more attention from both traditional and social media.” Return to article text above.
2 If the produce has been left in the field too long, maybe it should be headed to local grocer or farm stand to be used quickly, rather than being shipped across the continent, which can take up to a week. Growers can keep customers happy by routing the right fresh products. Or possibly, produce arrives at the grocer’s warehouse to be shipped again soon. Maybe it is already spoiled or needs to be consumed now. So why spend money on shipping? Customers can save money by avoiding these types of costly errors. And cold carriers can avoid spoilage and improve their processes, thus maintaining and possibly growing their customer base due to monitoring and assurance. Return to article text above.
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