The New Era of Smarter Food
Updated: May 26
How the food industry is utilizing Big Data to make major upgrades
Today, the demand for transparency in the food supply chain has increased exponentially as the industry has grown complex and consumers are becoming more conscious of what they are consuming. We rely on various suppliers to deliver food, we require foods to be fresh and nutritious and tasty. Improper food safety regulation at any stage of the food supply chain could have serious consequences, for example in 2015, an outbreak of E.Coli in Chipotle restaurants caused the company to shut down operations temporarily in multiple U.S. states.
Epidemiologists had to get onboard to work backwards to determine what food item contained the strain and trace it back to its source. As a consequence, the company established higher food safety training and implementations. However, with such intricacies and scale, the food industry today requires innovative interventions to not only keep preventable food-borne contagions at bay, but also to stay up-to-date with customer preferences and emerging trends, improve transportation, pricing strategies, etc.. How can food manufacturers and retailers collect meaningful data that will provide the necessary insights? The answer is big data.
Big data weaves data from new sources like social media with traditional data sources, enabling a larger scope into a company's environment and providing significant value. Big data works well in the food industry, as it enables companies to track the growth rate of competitors, monitor prices, track ingredients, determine proper storage methods, and so on.
The way we grow, produce, process, distribute, and consume can all be tracked with big data, and create links to areas such as diet and health and certain foods to health risks or diseases. Let's dive in to some exciting opportunities big data has to offer the food industry. We are looking at the following changes; agriculture, improved customer experience, smart labeling, improving food delivery and personalized nutrition.
Big Data Increasing Crop Yield
The farming industry can benefit from big data via sensors, irrigation data, historical data from soil and weather patterns, what types of pesticides are used and so on. Understanding patterns and correlations can increase crop yield, minimizing loss and costs and give farmers proper warnings for potential disruptions.
Agricultural analytics is expected to grow from $585M in 2018 to $1236M by 2023, at a CAGR of 16.2%. Companies like Israeli-based Sensilize, are creating a 'digital cloud' for crop management, providing farmers insights for smart crop health and management. An area big data can alleviate in regards to the supply chain of agriculture is having greater oversight when it comes to crop harvest seasons. Providing insight into what particular crop and in what quantity can really help farmers better understand what they can supply.
Improving Customer Experience at Restaurants
Restaurants will benefit from big data as it uses the information to provide tailored offers, improve recipes and reduce food waste, for instance. Building complex, predictive models allows businesses to offer perks such as a free parking space for a frequent guest or optimizing menu prices.
Cava is a Mediterranean-Style chain restaurant using customer-flow data via sensors along its queues that help decrease order processing times and in turn improve the customer experience.
Whether its enhancing a menu, creating a custom experience, having the right customer segmentation, or streamlining operations, big data has a bright future in the restaurant industry.
Smart Labels and RFID on Food
Some companies now use smart labels in which a consumer can scan a barcode and understand where the ingredients are coming from and what the nutritional content is of the foods they are consuming. Smart labels will bridge the communication between producers and consumers, creating trust and a direct form of communication.
In addition, RFID tags can create intelligent inventory management. Since food has to be monitored closely, an RFID system can cut shelf-life costs in half. RFID also provides 99% stock accuracy, so safety stock can be reduced, resulting in inventory shrinkage from expiration dates.
Potential inventory management system leading to less spoilage.
Improved Food Delivery
Food delivery services can utilize Big Data via analysis of traffic, route changes, weather, road blockages. FreshDirect is using sensors to monitor transportation and delivery statuses. Food delivery companies will have similar opportunities to restaurants to make improvements. In addition, using smart algorithms, these companies can also predict demand, as in what the customer's next order will be, estimating how many customers will order and at what time of day.
Improving one's health is a personal journey - what works for some may not work for others. Due to this complexity, recommendations for personal nutrition range based on behavioral, physical, and attitudinal data that is specific to an individual - determined by genetics and metabolic makeup. Given that the personalized nutrition market is projected to reach $11B by 2026, with demand of food apps, testing kits, wearables contributing to this growth.
Big data can collect personal preferences, specific data points from users and make consistently better improvements for its recommendations. Analyzing nutritional information, suggesting meals, giving advice on what a specific user should buy or integrating at-home kits with online platforms for health monitoring purposes are just the surface of big data's capabilities in the personalized nutrition space.
Nutrifix, a British startup providing companies with a virtual staff canteen and tailored weekly meal plans from local restaurants. The app utilizes individual's data points such as age, weight and health goals to calculate and guide users on what their body needs.