"Enhance Product Distribution" - Following the Roadmap to 2030 Webinar Series
Wednesday June 30, 2021 1:00 pm EST
Transporting food from where it’s produced to where it gets processed, sold, or consumed is complicated under any circumstances, and the challenge increases with time-sensitive products, strict quality standards, and specific temperature requirements to maintain. How can sensors, optimized routing, and other technology along with updated management procedures streamline distribution and increase freshness?
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If you could know without destroying the avocado, without breaking it open, if you could know just from a picture which ones should go to the guacamole factory, which ones should be sent to export, and which ones should stay in the local market, imagine the additional food waste that you could reduce. We’re looking at time and data and how we can use additional solutions to optimize the two.
Using our sensors and predictive algorithms and the data that we’re collecting, we can predict a freshness rating for every product that uses our system. So if we predict freshness and intelligently prescribe supply chain routing changes mid-transit – all optimized around freshness – then we can reduce rejections by retailers and reduce the amount of food being wasted.
The view we take is one of equity and access, and how to specifically address transportation as a barrier to access.
For highly perishable food like fruits and vegetables, there’s very little data and insights being used to understand how the food moves throughout the supply chain. Because it’s a highly commoditized industry, there’s not a lot of attention on which produce should be going where and when. It’s highly subjective… because we just don’t have the data in real time in ways that are manageable to really integrate throughout the supply chain and make better decisions.
Food waste is this invisible problem to some extent, and we think about it as this invisible tax on the system. But then we see the numbers about the return on investment for some of these solutions, and I think that we need to educate around how this can create value. Thinking about food waste as this untapped savings account, not just this invisible tax on the system, is something that you’re starting to see shift… Investing in these solutions as business opportunities is something that I’d like to see a lot more momentum behind.
There’s a change management aspect of this. It’s not just about installing another big system, but it’s about asking individual truck drivers to change their behavior or to do something different in their day-to-day jobs
Finding the right partners is really the key, and the right partners who have the capacity to move quickly is crucial.
The challenge that tech guys like me have is that we’re not generally great at putting it into terms that our buyers understand – KPIs… When you’ve got technology solution providers that can’t make that translation, they just talk about the tools… Pilots are the way to go in the short term, but we’ve got to grow up and move past those awkward teenage years.
There are a number of solutions modeled in the Insights Engine, where we were able to put financial and environmental impact data behind them. But there are a number of solutions that are emerging, and advanced imaging technology is the perfect example of that, where it’s so new that we just don’t know what the full potential of it is yet. But it’s really exciting to see these technologies coming to market and this leap of faith happening in the food waste are.
There are predictive analytics out there, mostly they’re focused on predictive ETA, like “When the truck is going to arrive, so I can have people on the dock to pick up the load and reduce my dwell time?” But I think the cooler thing is prescriptive analytics, where we can actually tell people what to do. We’re not just drowning them in data and dashboards, since most of our audience are not data scientists.
There’s tremendous promise in bringing algorithms into distribution. Algorithmic bundling can allow the carrier to have a “clean” roundtrip. If a truck’s moving from SF to DC and ultimately wants to go back to SF, algorithmic bundling allows you to highlight those loads that would allow you to go back while minimizing [partial or no loads].
We’ve got to invest in the technology and solutions to capture the data, but then we have to do something with it. And when you not only connect it to the business and meeting an internal business leader’s KPIs, but you actually connect it all the way to the consumer through dynamic pricing and… moving some of that product that has a shorter shelf life out of the store rather than letting it go to waste, I think it gets really exciting and you start to see that real change.
We have the tech, we just need the will. A lot of time, food waste is just a secondary consideration, as much as we hate to say that or hear that. ReFED’s done a great job of translating this into a “capital waste” issue, but that drumbeat needs to get banged louder and more often to educate people, to get them to understand what’s going on and how to take their first step.