How F&B Digital Solutions Are Increasing Food Safety and Quality Efficiency

How F&B Digital Solutions are Increasing Food...

by Geert van Kempen, Head of Food and Beverage Strategy, Veeva.

In the decades I’ve spent working for companies such as Unilever to evolve and optimize food safety and quality processes, I’ve seen firsthand how automation and technology can drive better business outcomes in the food and beverage (F&B) industry. In fact, implementing automation through cloud-based solutions is essential for effective digital transformation—a journey that many F&B companies have embarked upon, but not yet fully completed.

Widespread adoption will be slow and steady for the industry. Many long standing F&B companies have become accustomed to legacy process infrastructures. Most food safety and quality processes are still managed by a combination of disjointed systems and manual processes, with pertinent data around hazard, control measures, critical product properties captured in disparate spreadsheets or communicated via email. And a recent study found that 51% of F&B organizations are hesitant to adopt digitization due to not knowing how to use and integrate technology, while 50% cited lack of budget as a barrier.

But F&Bs don’t have time to hesitate or hide behind budgets. The industry had an employee turnover rate of 11.34% in 2022. And baby boomers, many of whom have been the backbone of F&B operations for decades, are retiring in droves. The workforce is shrinking and human resources are becoming more scarce. Yet automation can help, not only closing this gap, but also opening up opportunities for new value streams. 

The time to modernize and digitize key F&B business processes is now. But doing so effectively will require food safety and quality leaders to recognize the massive opportunities that come with digitization and automation: measurable improvements to food quality and safety processes and greater product innovation over time. 

Legacy systems drive the need for automation

One of the biggest obstacles to automation adoption at F&B enterprises is their inability to scale transformation at a company-wide level. From my experience working with enterprise F&Bs, companies tend to provide a corporate framework for managing food safety and quality, with significant room for local operating teams to implement according to their individual circumstances, including their management systems. 

These teams, often including factories, have traditionally used tools such as spreadsheets and Word files, which led to a lot of variation and adaptation to adhere to local ways of working. But the problem is that this level of localization led to isolated, disparate ways of working and systems. 

For example, a multinational F&B company sought to harmonize the ways of working across the organization in order to improve corporate reporting, as well as data and process governance. One of the company’s key obstacles was convincing its factories to adopt a centralized system to manage all of their food safety and quality data. Each of the company’s factories had their own method of gathering information—and factory leaders voiced concerns that adopting a new system would not be as easy to use as those they grew accustomed to using over the years. The company’s corporate team had to convince the factories why onboarding the new system would ultimately benefit their operations by communicating the benefits of transformation: it could save them time and help contribute to the production of safer products for consumers.  

Product diversity is also intrinsic to F&B. Companies may produce different types of products across their portfolios, from drinks to dairy to packaged foods and confectionery. And each one has unique and complex quality and food safety management requirements. This too has led to diverse, product-specific approaches to processes. 

These factors represent just a few reasons why it’s vital for the industry to modernize existing operations with automation. And many of them recognize the urgency. At Veeva, we are already seeing F&B companies take action by leveraging cloud-based technology to simplify intricate business processes—such as HACCP and other food safety processes. 

Digitization, automation is already evolving HACCP management

HACCP is a crucial food safety process that automation can transform. Most F&B companies implement HACCP through a written document or a sophisticated Excel file for each of their processes. Food factories often have several HACCP plans to manage simultaneously depending on their factory complexity. It can take up to several weeks to conduct a single HACCP analysis due to the amount of research and investigation food safety teams need to conduct to understand all of the potential hazards, associated risks and control measures. 

Across large enterprise companies, once a HACCP is completed, the associated data is often stored in standalone spreadsheets. There’s no efficient way to compare how the process is executed across factories, determine if food hazards are being managed correctly and consistently, or easily access the granular information needed to ensure products have met HACCP standards. 
A global top three F&B organization sought solutions to digitally transform its HACCP management. This global F&B company has used spreadsheets in the past, but realized it was too labor intensive to maintain and was impossible to standardize across the company. Now the company is working with us to shift to a cloud-based system that structures all of the pertinent data, share expert knowledge with their factories, and allow the company to better compare how HACCP is implemented across its factories. Additionally, this company is working with us to radically simplify the way factory users interact with the information captured in the HACCP system. 

Dive deeper into the possibilities of digital HACCP

HACCP teams have to gather and assess significant amounts of data during the creation of a HACCP study. Once created, production teams in factories only really need to know the outcomes: critical controls and their control measure information. This is where digital solutions can help to bring this information to the forefront, as compared to the current state where it’s scattered across the many sheets of a HACCP spreadsheet.

While the HACCP program with the company is in early stages, initial pilot feedback from the first few factories that have adopted the system has been positive. In fact, we’re looking at the simple act of factories adopting our cloud-based system as a measure of success for the short term. Meanwhile, our long term success with the company will depend on company-wide improvement in HACCP plan compliance, and on the company’s ability to assess the practice across factories and implement adjustments.

The way forward for effective business process automation

Slowly but surely, enterprise F&B leaders are starting to see the benefits of digitization, particularly in how it provides data transparency and makes business processes more efficient. Technology, such as Veeva’s cloud-based system for HACCP management, is helping companies structure how they access and use their food safety and quality data—which, in turn, is streamlining the food safety and quality processes that have historically been complex and inefficient for F&Bs. 

As more F&B companies approach automated solutions, company leaders should set the goal of achieving automated process harmonization—meaning that all relevant parties, from product strategy and R&D teams to those on the factory floor are fully onboard with new ways of working that are supported by unified digital tools. When F&B companies achieve this harmonization, the impact of digital transformation will manifest across their organization, driving better business outcomes and innovation. 

Learn more about how Veeva is helping F&B companies adopt automation to modernize food safety and quality processes here.


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