Rarely has the global food and drink sector faced such a period of greater instability.

First we had COVID-19. Then the conflict in Ukraine. And next a wave of unprecedented inflationary pressures, which has hiked up costs along the food supply chain, sending many Western markets into a dramatic cost of living crisis.

Unsurprisingly, against this challenging backdrop, some food businesses have failed, with others existing in a perennial survival mode, fighting each new geopolitical fire with a mix of lay-offs, steep price increases and scaled-back innovation.

Against all these odds, it is not all doom and gloom. Some businesses have continued to achieve sustainable growth, defying food system shock after shock with consistent revenues and profitability.

Embedding food system resilience

What sets these businesses apart is, more often than not, an adoption of a business strategy, which proactively embeds a certain resilience into their approach.

It’s a wise move. After all, there is bound to be more instability on the horizon – be it forecast labour shortages, erratic levels of inflation or climate change – so this kind of proactive agile way of working is something that more food and drink businesses should look to emulate.

So, how do you create a resilient business model?

At its core, resilience is the capacity to withstand or recover quickly from a challenging period. Which may sound simple enough, but can be incredibly difficult to achieve in practice.

Contemporary food supply chains tend to be both geographically vast and fragmented. A single business may be sourcing from multiple suppliers across multiple markets, for example. Or a brand may be selling its product or service via a swathe of different platforms and channels.

Not only does this disparate business model make it challenging for teams to maintain an accurate oversight across their whole supply chain, but it also exposes them to a far greater breadth of shocks compared to, say, a business that has all its people and products in a single country.

To build oversight of global food systems – and fortify them against future disruptions – can therefore require significant resources, expertise and agility.

Staying ahead of the game using technology

One of the keys to embedding greater resilience into food supply chains lies in leveraging new technology and data developments. These work to automate oversight, highlight emerging problem areas and flag data-driven solutions to enhance resilience.

There are numerous emerging areas of technology that can play a role here. The use of blockchain, tamper-proof, decentralised digital ledgers work to facilitate a far smoother way to share key information across multiple stakeholders and also help to protect food supply chains against fraud and network failures.

Harnessing software solutions

Software that collates and analyses multiple streams of data is another area of growing potential. These provide teams with a centralised digital platform, simplifying complex systems and providing businesses with real-time insights on both emerging problem areas and highlight areas that could be optimised or strengthened to withstand future disruption. Such centralised systems can also accurately predict future shocks before they occur in some cases.

Even multipurpose technology like drones may have a role to play in boosting resilience, with their capacity to monitor remote structures, spaces and regions and assess emerging vulnerability.

Key takeaways

Why the rush? Because some changes are going to be implemented from 30 September. 

Whatever form it may take, it’s critical that food and drink teams consider how data and technology could help them overcome existing challenges when it comes to embedding resilience in their own business.

It’s a change that experts have been pushing for, for some time after all. In fact, according to one US survey, 89% of supply chain experts believe some element of process automation is essential to supply chain resiliency and agility.

It won’t be the only change they’ll need to make by any means, with areas such as supplier diversification, transparency and education all having a key role to play too in enhancing resilience. But it’s an important part of the puzzle.

And with plenty of challenges still on the horizon, it’s clear that there’s never been a better time for businesses to start considering their role in building a more sustainable, less impactful food system, one piece at a time.

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