Advancing Food Industry Innovation
If there’s one thing we’ve learned within the food industry during the last year, it’s that digital innovation is absolutely essential.
It’s essential for maximizing operations and for ensuring food safety, quality and sustainability. This was true before COVID-19, but the pandemic has shone a bright light on the systems, processes and technologies that keep the world fed, revealing both vulnerabilities and, more importantly, solutions and opportunities.
Building consumer trust in the safety of the food they buy — the very reason GFSI was founded — has been put to the test, but technology has helped the industry rise to the challenge.
From our perspective at Ecolab, the key to helping companies deliver safer food is to instill safer processes and habits, and this concept applies to every part of the food system. Advancements in technology throughout the industry have been a crucial part of this effort. I’m proud to work for a company that has the ability to impact so many critical points along the food supply chain.
The food industry has evolved at a rapid clip in the last year, with digital technology driving many positive changes, from advances in remote monitoring and service to the expansion of new business models to help foodservice facilities generate additional revenue.
To help drive home just how important these technology innovations are, consider that Ecolab’s digital solutions are a critical component of our customer offering, and enable us to gather real-time intelligence and predictive, actionable insights to drive smarter execution and superior outcomes for our food industry customers.
When the pandemic restricted access to facilities, we accelerated our ability to monitor customer systems and deliver our expertise and services remotely due to visitor restrictions at many customer sites. We are using augmented reality to keep their systems running at optimal performance, including our 3D TRASAR™ for Clean-in-Place (CIP) systems, to help reduce risks. We are also utilizing digital technology to share real-time views with experts, conduct training and remote inspections, and audit processes.
Being tech-enabled is crucial not just for advancing food safety, but for operational efficiency, productivity and sustainability now and into the future.
Encouraging New Ideas
It’s important to recognize that true innovation requires constant learning, challenging ourselves and reaching beyond our comfort zone to rethink processes and data analysis for improved operational efficiencies, product quality and bottom lines.
It’s also important to recognize that innovation can come from anyone and anywhere. Ecolab’s involvement in the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator program is an example. The Twin Cities-based program, which includes Cargill as a partner, identifies entrepreneurs and start-up companies from around the world who have innovative ideas focused on food safety, the food supply chain, food tech, farm productivity and waste management. Our involvement in the program lets our leaders work closely with entrepreneurs, creating two-way learning opportunities.
One program participant, Tel Aviv-based EcoPlant, connects air compressors’ controllers and pipeline sensors to continuously monitor, control and optimize an entire plant’s system. We partnered with the startup on a pilot program at one of our facilities and identified $50,000 in annual savings.
The 10 participants in the 2020 Farm to Fork Accelerator program included California-based HeavyConnect, which produces an app for tracking food safety compliance; Minnesota-based Canomiks, a genomics, bioinformatics and AI-based platform to help the food, beverage and dietary supplement industries make safer products; and Hong Kong-based IXON Food Technology, which specializes in advanced sous-vide aseptic packaging (ASAP) that enables protein to remain stable at room temperature for up to two years.
The Farm to Fork Accelerator is one of many ways that innovation is coming to life. To learn more about the program and the innovators at work, visit www.techstars.com/accelerators/farm-to-fork.
Keep Pace with the Speed of Innovation
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technology. When we enter a post-COVID world, the digital focus will return to familiar challenges, such as contamination and foodborne illness. Our work to produce safe food is wide-ranging and constantly evolving, and continued advancements in technology will help us meet the challenges of tomorrow.
The food industry has always been at the forefront of innovation, and the use of drones, satellite imagery and connected equipment – all augmented by the power of big data – help to illustrate this. Advancements will continue at a rapid pace to provide us with the solutions and data we need to operate more efficiently and sustainably and deliver the high-quality food consumers demand. It is important that we keep pace for the long-term benefit of our employees, customers and our companies.
Join us for our upcoming GFSI panel conversation, The Rising Stars of Food: Introducing the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator, on March 24 at 5:25 p.m. CET, where program participants will share their first-hand experiences in developing breakthrough food industry innovations to help solve the most pressing food challenges of our time.
John Guttery is senior vice president of Enterprise Initiatives for Ecolab, a global leader in food safety solutions and services. Follow him on LinkedIn @John Guttery.