If yes, then this article is for you.
New technology is everywhere: blockchain, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, big data, and the list goes on. Companies that are built on technology, particularly services that depend on it, often find it easier to adapt to newer technology.
Consumer product companies that have been household names for generations may find the topic of new technology daunting; this is particularly true within the food and beverage segment. In my 30 years working with food companies, I have seen them tackle challenges of assessing and adopting new technology in a variety of ways, some more successful than others. But every company – large and small, established or new – must adopt new technology because of the increasing demand on productivity, new processing options based on higher technology equipment, and especially the Food Safety Modernization Act requirements regarding food safety and traceability.
We have over 50 years helping companies understand, develop, and implement technology. We know what works, so if you are thinking ‘What should I do? What shouldn't I do?’, we have these recommendations.
- Identify the type of technology you need by the problem you need to solve, and how it benefits production, operations, and the enterprise. Do you need to extend shelf-life? Are consumers demanding a fresher flavor or less color degradation? Is traceability the biggest challenge? Focus first on the problem you need to solve which may be core to your process or may support and manage information or steps adjacent to your process. Don’t be distracted by what sounds interesting without first knowing what problem you need to solve.
- Learn a little. Talk to your peer companies, suppliers, and even customers. Find out what technology they are considering and why. Read news articles and trade journals to learn the basics of some technologies that might apply to your needs.
- Get on the same page organization-wide. Don’t assume that because one part of the organization jumps into a new technology with both feet that everyone else will come along. If the plan is to have one group test a technology, that’s fine. Just don’t have it be a skunkworks project such that both the resources spent and results are surprises to everyone outside the test group.
- Find the right external partner to help you consider your options. We first understand what our client’s company produces and the challenges they are facing, and then evaluate technology to consider for both short-term and long-term solution options. You need to be smart about technologies that might fit for your business and situation. If you decide to wait for the next generation of technology, that’s fine. You’ve gotten smart on the options, and that’s what matters.
- Understand where you are with assessing and adopting technology, and where you’re going. We’ve developed maturity models to get a handle on the present, and get the conversation started about where organizations are going and how technology will get them there. This work doesn’t require advanced algorithms. Rather it’s about the conversations and communication when identifying the path forward, and probably a spreadsheet and calculator to put a stake in the sand of where you are now. Once you have set this path, you can use the model for assessing technology to solve your next production or operational challenge.
- Be ready to fully support technology to benefit from it. New technology is an investment in the future, and it probably won’t pay off in the current fiscal year. Can you afford the investment of time, resources, and money? Can you afford not to invest due to competition or the urgency of the challenge? The resource investment is as important as the financial investment to achieve success.
Whether you are considering how blockchain could impact your supply chain or if your production data can be mined for deeper learning, remember that understanding the challenge, having early information and good stakeholder engagement, and establishing a good roadmap will make all the difference in achieving success (and shipping more cases).
About the Author
Susan Mayer is our technical food industry leader, with great problem-solving, strategic, and communication skills. Our clients rely on her experience in product development, product lifecycle management, and public-private food industry partnerships to understand how technology, research, and the right suppliers can create innovation opportunities.
How does her work with us benefit food companies? Susan believes that our human-centered design perspective makes all the difference. ‘Product developers always believe they are thinking about the consumer, but our human-centered design approach to considering technology brings an entirely different perspective.’ Susan applies her love of food science to her hobbies; she and her husband formulate and brew beer, much to the delight of their friends and neighbors.
Susan has an M.S. in Food Science and a B.S. in Foods from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is a Certified Food Scientist.