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How ‘Connected’ Consumer Products Could Help Reduce Food Waste in the Near Future

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Approximately 1.3 billion tonnes or one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets wasted every year, amounting to a loss of roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries. More than 40% of this waste and loss occurs at the retail and consumer level.

There are a multitude of ways to tackle this problem.  On analyzing where food wastage occurs at the retail level, one of the factors that comes up is overstocking. Overstocking generally occurs as a result of inaccurate demand forecasting resulting in the accumulation of unused stocks. Under the aegis of the Industry 4.0 movement, we are seeing a revolution in big data and analytics as more and more brands and manufacturers are employing IoT powered demand sensing technology to better anticipate demand and streamline production and supply chains. But what if we take this one step further?

The industry 4.0 espouses a connected and automated ecosystem which was first undertaken in the manufacturing sector. Going by the term Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it involves incorporating sensors and AI into the physical assets on the manufacturing floor, collecting, storing and transmitting a wide range of data. Level sensors are being used for management of liquid asset inventories, the working condition of a machine being monitored with sensors analyzing its temperature and vibrations as well as sensors instantly tracking and alerting to a breakdown or malfunction. Sensor technology has reshaped industrial manufacturing by creating seamless and automated intelligent systems.

However, applications of IoT and sensor technology need not be bound to the confines of the manufacturing sector. For the Retail sector and CPG industry, IoT suggests possibilities beyond just an enriched shopping experience at a brick and mortar store. IoT powered technology possesses enormous potential to solve inventory management issues, especially overstocking and waste reduction.  

Currently, a lot of brands are using predictive analytics on the basis of demand sensing which involves collecting and combining data from multiple sources in real time throughout the supply chain to better assess the demand for certain products. Smart shelves equipped with sensors to detect the addition and removal of items placed on them are also gaining momentum with retailers to monitor and update their inventory in real time. These smart shelves are also capable of recognizing cases of low stock and alerting management, thus freeing up store employees to engage with customers. But what if the data collection does not stop at the shelf? What if brands could have access to real time data on the consumption habits of its consumers?

A crossover of level sensors from industrial plants to food packaging could provide a  solution for this purpose where smart food packaging can play a major role in providing the interface to gather more information of such nature. A liquid level sensor implanted into the packaging of a juice bottle could detect when the bottle is empty and store that information against a digital twin or instance of the bottle stored online. The particular brand can access all this information in real time through the digital twin. Data of this nature opens up new perspectives into understanding consumer behavior and consumption patterns. It can then be used to more accurately predict demand and pinpoint locations where this demand will occur. Having a clearer picture of when a particular product will be in demand, manufacturers will be able to better plan production cycles as well as manage distribution channels. Stores will be able to have the right product, in the right amount, at the right time, avoiding overstocking and thereby reducing wastage due to spoilage.

However, the main barrier to adopting connected products on such a large magnitude is the lack of cheap and small sensors in the market. For an operation of this nature to be successful, we would require sensors that could be embedded into packaging without altering or affecting the properties and appearance of the product in any manner. These sensors would also need to be very affordable to be mass produced for millions of everyday consumer products.

Nonetheless, current research in sensor development looks promising. Rvmagnetics has already come up with what they claim to be the world’s smallest sensor. Based on microwire technology and magnetic fields, the thin as hair sensor is capable of sending accurate and real time data regarding physical quantities like temperature, pressure, torsion, position etc. Even though these sensors have been developed for the industrial sector, it is an encouraging start towards the idea of adapting IIoT sensor technology for the retail atmosphere.

Technology bolstered by the IoT platform can not only improve business practices, but positively impact the lives of everyday people, reduction of food wastage being a part of it. Within the broader context of the Industry 4.0, sensor driven technology is just part of the journey towards the digital transformation of the physical world, but a part that holds limitless potential and scope for waste reduction and streamlining demand-supply chains in the retail sector. But it is the manufacturing sector where the ideals of the industry 4.0 have flourished the most. Retailers could take a leaf out of their book and bring sensors used in factories into the brick and mortar stores for smarter inventory management solutions. For this to become a reality, we need to see a bigger shift in existing beliefs and ideology in order to prioritize research into industrial level sensors that can be applied to the packaging on food products sitting on the shelves in retail stores.

posted Nov 21, 2018 by Poulami Singha Roy

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We are fast moving towards a future where cities will feature hundreds and thousands of smart connected objects, talking to each other, exchanging and producing meaningful data and insights, basically reshaping the urban landscape into intelligent and autonomous systems. Internet of Things will be at the heart of this technological transformation, as sensors and digital tags will find their way into various physical city infrastructure, monitoring traffic, weather, crime and even rat infestations! However, it’s not just hardware IoT and sensors that will provide city planners and authorities to gain more visibility into the working and management of a city. Smart connected products or ordinary consumer products tagged with digital ID’s and digital twins can open up new dimensions in how we imagine Smart Cities to function.

For the sake of painting a picture of the role of connected products within Smart Cities, let’s consider a pharmaceutical company supplying critical drugs to a city. Enabling every drug product at batch and serial item level to have a digital twin of its physical self will allow for exchange of product related data to happen between manufacturer, the supply chain, the city authorities, end consumers and the products themselves. Read on to see how the pharmaceutical industry could look like in the not so distant future.

Smart Logistics & Traceability: Digitally tagged consumer products such as medical products will paint a clearer picture of each item’s journey from the manufacturing facility to the hands of a customer, resulting in intelligent movement of products characterized by autonomy. Each time a product moves, whether it’s from the factory to a truck, or from the truck to a warehouse, its location and movement will be logged against its digital twin in real time with the help of a scanner, RFID reader, smartphone or other connected devices.

So, when situations arise where brands or smart city authorities become aware of substandard or defective products in circulation, the process of factoring on the production source for them and a faster and leaner product recall will become easier by tracing back to the relevant point in the product’s journey.

Smarter Production & Distribution Channels: Smart connected products will help in procuring the right amount in the right place at the right time. Complete visibility at all events of the supply chain will allow brands to better predict demand in respective locations in a city. Better predictive ability will help them to create seamless intelligent systems capable of efficiently managing production and distribution channels, ultimately leading to reduction of wastage by preventing accumulation of unused medicines.

In fact, brands will be able to predict demand on a much larger scale than before. They will anticipate when a particular medicine is supposed to run out at the city-level and trigger production cycles for the particular product.

Smarter response to Public Health Crises: With IoT powered smart connected products, the engagement and the monitoring does not stop at the customer level. Even after the product leaves the shelf, customers can input valuable data through the digital twins which can be mined into to tailor smarter responses to public health emergency situations.

For example, city authorities will be aware of exactly how many medical products are in inventories across the city by keeping track of their movement across every touchpoint in the supply chain. In situations where a contagious disease breaks out, public health officials will be instantly alerted by hospitals that are also hooked onto the network. By keeping track of the quantity and location of stocks of medicines dispersed across city, public health officials will always be prepared to tackle such high priority situations as they can more efficiently assess and redirect required medicines to appropriate locations.

Even smarter, cities of the future could be prepared for seasonal illnesses by predicting their onset based on algorithms derived from a mix of data from weather forecasts, hospital reports and product supply chains.

Smarter Citizens: Digital twins will give rise to smarter citizens, who will be capable of using smartphones to digitally interact with the packaging in order to obtain accurate information pertaining to authenticity, ingredients, color-coded expiry dates, instructions for use (IFU) etc. Not only will digital twins of medical products enforce transparency, but they will help in improving health literacy by weeding out counterfeits and providing easy-to-read and user-friendly formats to dispense IFUs.

Medical products empowered by IoT will also lay the foundations for a multiway communication channel between consumers, manufacturers, and city authorities, especially aiding researchers to collect and analyze feedbacks for clinical trials and development of new cures.

Smarter ways to tackle Counterfeits: Falsified medical products take the top spot in the fraudulent products market, being worth US$163 billion to $217 billion per year. Falsified, substandard and unlicensed medicines and medical devices pose a serious threat to public health. Counterfeit medicines are on the rise and no place remains untouched by them.

However, medical products with digital twins can have vast implications in fighting the war against falsified medical products. The sophisticated digital tags on these products can act as a unique identifier, at the same time providing a user-friendly way to verify their authenticity. Both retailers and consumers just need to authenticate the product using the digital tag which will allow it to confirm the product’s genuineness by running it against an online database.

Going one step further by taking advantage of a highly connected ecosystem, fraudulent products can instantly be reported by consumers directly to manufacturers and city authorities. City authorities can thus keep track of regions in the city reporting counterfeits and crack down on the sources for such illegal operations.

The goal of smart cities is to create intelligent urban spaces and infrastructures to improve the lives of their citizens. But the first step towards this goal is to set up digital twins for products to bring them onto the Internet of Things platform. For these automated and intelligent systems would be impossible without various products generating and transmitting data about themselves. At this point, we have barely scratched the surface with IoT’s potential to create smarter cities, and smart connected products will lead the way in laying the foundation for the cities of the future.

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With the rise of hardware and software platforms to connect every object in the physical world to the internet, Internet of Things is a technology trend that has come a long way. It is molding how people interact with their environment and how they have come to rely on smartphones and the internet to fulfill daily tasks and requirements. And similar to a lot of industries, it is also making its way into the food and beverages industry. IoT is making every aspect of the food industry smarter through a combination of IoT smart connected products gathering data throughout the supply chain and intelligent algorithms converting them into smart insights. 

Let us take a look at some applications within the industry that are already transforming how we think about food manufacturing, processing and safety.

1. Supply Chain Management, Traceability & Product Recall

A combination of digital tags on everyday consumer products and tracking sensors on transportation facilities can enable manufacturers to keep track of their products at every stage within the supply chain, leading to more efficient and leaner supply chain operations. Zeroing on and connecting to the source of production to initiate product recalls in case of damaged goods becomes simpler and faster by connecting every item on a batch and serial level to the internet. Brands can ensure ingredients for finished food products are all sourced ethically and responsibly while providing this information to their customers if individual ingredients are also hooked to the web. 

IoT empowers brands and manufacturers with improved visibility into the journey of a particular food item from source or manufacturing plant to the shelf of a retail store. Qliktag is an IoT platform that enables brands to connect everyday consumer products creating digital twins or counterparts for each item on the internet, allowing them to deploy them as connected smart products, sharing each of their actions across the supply chain. 

2. Consumer Transparency

In this digital age, not only are modern consumers used to being able to access vast quantities of information through their smartphones, the information has made them more aware of their world and the consequences of their consumption and lifestyle choices on the society and environment. 

Through means of scannable digital tags like QR codes, NFC stickers, data matrix codes, barcodes and RFID tags, brands have the opportunity to leverage the smartphone technology by choosing smart packaging as the medium for digital disclosure product information. The SmartLabel initiative, created by the Trading Partner Alliance (TPA), is a prime example. With the aim to digitize label content and champion increased consumer transparency, the SmartLabel QR code enabled products on the platform allow consumers to quickly assess important information like expiry dates, provenance, certifications and promo offers apart from an ingredients list, in attractive, interactive and easy to read formats.

3. Improved Food Safety

IoT is already being harnessed by smart kitchens and restaurants to monitor the temperature and other storage conditions of food items to heighten and maintain  product quality. In fact, there are quite a few innovative projects that are developing solutions that combine smart sensors and cloud based predictive analytics to predict certain pathogens before a potential outbreak occurs. SugarCreek Packing Co.’s plant in Indiana is a one of the many manufacturing facilities that’s hooking up each piece of machinery on the factory floor to the internet through smart sensors. These sensors that can detect biochemical and chemical reactions during the harvesting, manufacturing and transportation stages, allowing identification of certain pathogens and their removal before they move down the supply chain.

4. Leaner Inventory Management

Smart connected products can also be a game changer for IoT solutions in retail. Digitized products through smart packaging connecting to the cloud and updating their status autonomously will give rise to smoother and more efficient inventory management operations. Employees working in warehouses will have an accurate idea pertaining to the number of units per item and products nearing their expiry dates. IoT will enable simpler, smarter and more intelligent inventory management solutions that are cost effective, efficient and reduce wastage due to overstocking.

5. Reduction in Food Wastage

Smarter inventory management process will result in faster detection of expiry dates as well as more efficient stocking operations, reducing food wastage due to spoilage. Smarter storage and transportation facilities make it possible to control and maintain ideal conditions for food items so that they do not spoil. Smart connected products will be able to update details regarding their quality on their own in their digital counterparts, making it easier for warehouse employees to quickly identify any food item nearing its expiry date. IoT enabled intelligent processes can also help retailers to contribute more to food banks.

Zest Lab’s innovative ZIPR code (Zest Intelligent Pallet Routing) was developed with the aim to improve the efficiency of logistics post harvest and identify critical points across the supply chain where wastage occurs. ZIPR allows live tracking of the freshness of each pallet of produce using a combination of wireless IoT sensors and cloud based predictive analytics and machine learning, making it simpler to make decisions regarding how far a department store should a particular pallet be transported to, depending on its freshness.

6. Fighting Counterfeit Food Products

Enabling every single food item to have their own individual identity in the form of a digital twin on the internet does not just make it simple to track and update, but also makes it possible to separate from counterfeit items.  Both consumers and distributors down the supply chain will benefit hugely by being able to scan digital tags on food packaging to confirming their authenticity, eliminating large blocks of substandard and fraudulent food products in the market. IoT enabled smart connected products are powerful tools for brands to establish trust with their consumers by ensuring the genuineness and quality of their products.

7. Better Control on Food Quality

Smart transportation containers and refrigerators make it possible to control the environment for food storage remotely. Any changes to the storage conditions can be detected quickly making troubleshooting a far simpler process. Advanced and intelligent storage and transportation containers make it possible to maintain the consistency of a food product’s quality. 

Technology is the key to smarter, leaner and safer food processing systems that help brands create more intelligent and sustainable supply chain events that are transparent, cost effective and promote higher quality and safer consumption of food products.  

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According to the statistics by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 1/3rd of the total food produced for human consumption goes to waste. This accounts for more than 1.5 billion tonnes of food going to waste in the world today which is a staggering number!

As per the Economic Research Survey (ERS), United States Department of Agriculture USDA reported nearly 12.3% of the US was food insecure at some point in 2016. This raises serious concerns provided the gravity of the situation. With food insecurity looming communities worldwide, preventing world hunger has been identified as a key global development goal.

And a large part of this problem is contributed from the consumer side of the food supply chain.

Today, technology enables anyone with a smartphone and internet to develop applications that can help solve global level issues. A number of driven companies within the food & beverages manufacturing / CPG retail space have committed resources to providing solutions that deal with the issue of ‘food safety and management’

We have already talked about how IoT Platforms can play a role in recycling and smarter waste management.

When it comes to food waste management, the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is being applied to build platforms which combine quality assurance, traceability, food safety, food sharing & recycling, and vendor management, etc. into one digital centralized platform where data can be gathered and used to make things more efficient.

Manufacturers are investing in building smarter processes, applications and robust IoT Platforms to ensure sustainable and productive models of food management.

“Investing in Technology infrastructures instead of training workforces is the new normal in the age of IoT”

For instance, USDA’s Foodkeeper app that allows users to understand and maximize the freshness and quality of items or UK based Too Good to Go which provides stores and supermarkets with their cloud-based platform in order to manage and sell their surplus at discounted prices.

Or take PareUp for example, which connects consumers to retailers in the New York City. By browsing and purchasing the food which is nearing its expiration date at discounted prices, PareUp App benefits both consumers and retailers.

Or the UK based FreeMeal Swap, which connects consumers to share excess food or ‘leftovers’ with other members of the community.

Let’s look at Ireland’s FoodCloud.

Food Cloud has developed ‘FoodCloud Hubs’ to work with business, manufacturers, distributors, charities, and supermarts to manage the supply of surplus. With the help of data analysis and an IoT based platform, FoodCloud provides efficient farm to fork solution for the storage and distribution of surplus food around Ireland.

IoT and Food Security

If the CPG industry can leverage IoT platforms and technology to digitize their product data on a serial level or batch level and update those instances as they move along the supply chain, it could provide very detailed data on the “location” and “status” of those products in relation to the “Product Expiry Date”.

For example: If we were to run a trace on a particular batch of peanut butter jars and trace discover their status as “In Storage” at the retailers’ location just 3 weeks before the expiry date, we can safely assume that batch is not going to be sold and is heading towards waste disposal in 3 weeks. Those insights could enable the company to flag that batch for transport to a food security program elsewhere where it could be consumed rather than disposed as waste.

Similarly, a consumer at home could scan the peanut butter jar at a serial level, view insights into how much longer that product will remain safe for consumption on their shelf and take a call on whether they can consume it on time or drop it off someplace responsible for food security programmes. This enables consumers to make decisions on an individual level.

IoT enabled applications support high-quality data analysis aimed at refining and optimizing operation processes and changing food waste to food security is an area that can significantly benefit from IoT technologies, traceability and offering insights into the movement of food products.

 

 

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