Why blockchain will play a leading role in the Food & Beverage Industry?: Keith Thornhill, Head of Food & Beverage, Siemens UK & Ireland

25 Dec 2019

Why blockchain will play a leading role in the Food & Beverage Industry?

Keith Thornhill, Siemens Digital Industries Head of Food & Beverage Industry

Knowing where our food comes from is more important to today’s generation than it has ever been. We live in a world where answers to everything are at our fingertips. Technological advances in every sphere of life, including communications, have made it possible to remain connected and enjoy easy access to information.

The food production industry is increasingly able to employ new technology to respond to a new powerful factor in the food market – customer expectation around the provenance, quality and ethics of edible products.

Whether it’s the superfood avocado you had for lunch or the quinoa salad which were both probably grown and harvested in the Americas, customers want to know how it was cultivated and transported across the Atlantic before it reached the table.

Food production and supply chain involve complex modalities and logistics, as foods are highly perishable and almost everything we consume has a ‘best before’ date. This invariably means farms should use technologies designed to create better produce, and the supply chain must ensure that both nutrients and freshness of the product are intact when they reach the table.

Consumer awareness, enhanced by healthy eating habits, demands nutritious food, whether it’s a farm producing eggs, dairy, growing grains or salad greens. Cloud-based IoT technologies are the solution. They help producers achieve consistently superior product quality, maximise farm processes through integration of machinery, robotics, hardware, and software solutions using artificial intelligence for deduction of results. In the process, it can also optimise use of resources like energy, water and workforce. The entire value chain from farm to fork can be digitalised with automation and process solutions.

Some of the more commonly available solutions to today’s farmers, producers and grocers are creating a digital twin, which enables integration of current data into the design of product, packaging, transportation and stock availability, ensuring that variable climatic conditions are taken into consideration. The digital twin simulation helps to adapt to actual environmental conditions. It determines the optimal parameters and makes them available as reference values across production facilities attached to a farm, packaging or distribution centre.

The food industry is more vulnerable than any other industry. For instance, a farmer needs to protect his crop from any expected variables. In such cases, integrating his farm and agritech equipment, such as self-propelled crop protection sprayers, active and passive cultivators, precision air seeders, landscaping and grounds-keeping equipment, is important.

These machines can be connected to Siemens’ cloud-based technologies, such as MindSphere and apps developed with MindApps, to meet customers’ requirements. The data gathered is processed using artificial intelligence, making it available as reference values across production facilities.

Consumer habits are constantly changing, and the food and beverage industry needs to be more prepared than ever to meet the demands of altering palates and values. The customers look at food labels not only for nutrition information but also to know the origin of ingredients and the final product.

One of the new technologies that is set to revolutionise the food and beverage industry is blockchain. Just scanning a bar code on a smart phone will enable shoppers to see the farm from where the egg came from, how and what distance it travelled to reach the supermarket shelf and perhaps even view a picture of the farmer who raised the chicken. What this means for food producers is that the market becomes more competitive and brand loyalties can change in an era when product transparency is increasingly expected.

‘Farm to table’ is the new reality for every food producer and manufacturer, whether we are talking of fresh produce or packaged food. It is time the industry looked at end-to-end solutions like total integrated automation of machines and accepted IoT cloud-based solutions that provide analytics using artificial intelligence. Traceability of food is no longer a dream for a customer but a reality, as the buying public want to make healthy food choices as part of health and wellness goals.

With numerous participants in the food chain from farmers, logistics specialists, vendors, retailers and finally the consumer -- the process to track goods from farm to table is complex but the use of blockchain technology can make the entire process seem a piece of cake.

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