Cloud computing provides key for food manufacturers seeking provenance guarantees

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By Marcel Kars is Senior VP Sales and Marketing at Zetes.

The recent food fraud scandal, which is affecting producers and retailers of many meat-based ready meals, perfectly illustrates the dilemma facing food manufacturers as they seek to offset rising costs with the need to operate a sustainable business. Market conditions require food manufacturers to produce quality food for the lowest possible prices, yet this commercial priority needs to be balanced with consumer demand for food provenance and safety.

Longer, complex supply chains exist because they allow food manufacturers to source raw materials for the best possible prices within a pan-European network of suppliers and traders. However this practice should not compromise food quality or safety levels for the consumer. Food manufacturers wanting to ensure that something like the current horsemeat contamination crisis does not affect their own reputations, should be looking for ways to obtain real-time access to business-critical product information in their supply chain operations.

Cloud based track and trace solutions, linked to secure product identification, provide the perfect means for complete, immediate visibility of product and ingredient provenance. Cloud based platforms are ideal for food manufacturers because they provide a capability for highly scalable, object-level processing of products and events throughout the supply chain, working in a collaborative way with other stakeholders.

This provides manufacturers and governments with an ability to dramatically increase visibility of serialised products as they move within the supply chain. Here, the definition of 'product' can be broad and ranges from raw materials, packaging items, production activities and the final finished goods including forward and reverse logistics.

Tracking activities can be configured and deployed from any point during production, distribution or within a third party supply chain. This means, for example, that recalls can be conducted at any stage of distribution or consumption and inventories of remote consignments can be managed for returns, warranty processing and restocking. Working with a cloud based solution is also more economically sustainable since it requires no upfront capital expenditure and can be implemented to integrate with and complement an existing ERP system.

Manufacturers can achieve effective and efficient sustainability through collaboration. Companies could be taking advantage of cloud based track and trace solutions, which offer the ability to store product information virtually, creating a secure, real-time data repository of traceability information. We believe that if suppliers, sub-suppliers and trading partners were obliged to store information relating to their raw ingredient sources and record product movements across the supply chain, manufacturers and retailers selling own branded goods would reduce food fraud in their own supply chains. This is because individual companies involved would be more accountable and easily identifiable.

In turn, this would improve levels of security within the supply chain and build greater trust between the different partners. By storing information virtually in the Cloud, raw ingredients can be tracked all the way along even the most complex supply chains, literally from source to fork. For retailers, it also means recalls can be managed more easily and shelves cleared of exactly the affected stocks rather than having to take a blanket approach. Ultimately, if a supplier intentionally mislabels ingredients there is little that can be done to prevent the practice. However what a manufacturer or retailer can do is insist that suppliers record the origins and movement of all products within the manufacturing chain and improve levels of transparency.

There is no doubt that food supply chains have become more complicated and longer. Food manufacturers and retailers alike need to effect a change within the industry to protect themselves and consumers from fraud. By holding data securely within a collaborative, cloud-based repository, makes it possible for a manufacturer to work in harmony with independent partners to quickly retrieve very specific product information. In doing so, the resulting improved traceability will enable improved product quality and safety, control grey imports and eliminate counterfeiting - ultimately protecting brand reputation and minimising the impact of product recalls for consumers, manufacturers and retailers.

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