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Traceability in food supply chains: The asset with umpteen benefits

Agri-food companies around the world are seeking answers to the question: why would a company need a traceability system when certifiers can help in assuring the product quality? Traditionally, we know traceability and certifications as credence attributes that brighten a brand’s good name, but the function of traceability in food supply chains have definitely grown beyond in the 21st century. Supply chain traceability today does not just translate to better management anymore, it is an ode to ethical consumerism, a gateway to transparency, a solution to food security and a trail to the unseen farmers who make our food products a reality.

So, in this world where transparent brands are gaining more brand popularity and disruptive supply chains are openly criticized for its failure, here are a few reasons why your company needs to have a traceability system to be the best pick among your consumers and providers.

1. Securing your global food supply chains

The break of the global COVID-19 pandemic has unwrapped the realities of troublesome global food supply chains and the immense lack of food security that prevails in our economic system. While one half of the world was exposed to starvation and hunger, the other half set the stage to a massive amount of food waste with producers no longer being able to transport their goods to the point of sale. Companies around the world failed on their supply chains that have for long relied on a one-up-and-one-back system where manufacturers usually know their direct suppliers (one-back) and direct customers (one-up), with the visibility tending to stop there. Oblivious of the nodes in their supply chains, companies found it difficult to find sources who would meet their demand and unaware of knowing where their produce ended up, farmers failed to identify his potential buyer. This where a robust and whole chain traceability system comes into action by equipping full visibility into the supply chain, pinpointing to the sources of a product, and travel of every batch units from farm to suppliers to factories to markets where it reaches your consumer.

Even in a hopefully-nearby future that is relieved of the pandemic, traceability systems will continue to help your brand in developing a workable production plan. When the traceability information such as production facilities, products under processing, and raw materials including supplier information and storage time is available, an optimal production plan can be made, avoiding the uneconomic mixing of high and low-quality raw materials, reducing the risk of cross-contamination of raw materials or ingredients, and at the end prolonging the product life cycle; all with minimum total production costs.

2. Better prepared for food risks and product recalls

2020 was not just a year of food insecurity but a year that witnessed multiple food products recalls. From Whole Foods recalling queso sauce due to the presence of undeclared cashews to the recent recall of baked chicken meal by Nestle due to foreign matter contamination, food brands have always faced the inevitable risk of having risks and recalls. An effective traceability system helps reduce the potential scope of a food recall and the volume of product that needs to be withdrawn. And when unfortunate scenarios of product recall hit your production line, traceability systems assist you in identifying the problem lots, isolate and locate the products associated with potential risk concerns. The impact on your brand name is diminished by quickly pinpointing wherein a supply chain the problem originated and implement an appropriate remedy.

Traceability systems also help in reducing the production and distribution of unsafe or poor-quality products, which in turn reduces the potential for product recalls. Integrating the traceability system with your company’s risk assessment models enhance overall quality improvement by enabling you to evaluate the potential health risks to humans and animals, and identifying various factors causing quality and safety problems for models to assess the factors. The risk factors that influence the assessment such as process environment, raw materials, the composition, packaging and storage conditions can also be made transparent with a traceability system coupled into your food supply chains.

3. Empower your CSR activities

Growing consciousness is driving governments to better policies, society to sustainable living and companies who want to reserve their spot in the future to stronger CSR plans. Corporate Social Responsibility in today’s world is not just about the moral obligations that the establishments of capitalism have to comply with. But it has rather grown to a demand for ‘responsiveness’ where businesses are expected to interact with society by uplifting communities that work for them, making a zero to negative ecological footprint, and sustaining stakeholder interests.

Being green became a huge customer attraction, with sustainable products earning sales that is 5.6 times greater than ones without the green labels. But for a consumer perspective, identifying green marketing and green sheen is a fine line, and often a trap that they fall into or companies struggle to justify. A pressing reason that allows the existence of such a line is the ambiguity of what happens in the supply chain. While supplier and facility certifications might give you enough for your next CSR report, only true transparency can ensure that the social initiative of your company makes a noticeable difference.

It is no doubt that traceability is the backbone of a sustainable production system to verify social and environmental claims. Combined with social verification and your brand’s sustainability objectives, CSR managers can ensure that they incorporate appropriate data capture to distinguish themselves from the green sheen and maintain brand integrity. And what better way to prove it your consumers than a scannable QR code that tells your brand’s genuine story!

4. Most importantly, the human touch

Fundamentally, a traceability system requires identifying locations from where the product originates from sourcing of raw materials to processing, packaging and storage, including every agent in the supply chain till it reaches the final consumers. But having the appropriate technology in place is best useful only when you add the human touch in your supply chain, i.e. your supply chain actors.

Close coordination and collaboration of supply chain actors are important to assure that everyone is prepared to implement traceability and comply with the standards & practices of traceability systems as to assure the product claims to the final consumers. Critically reliant on the record and retrieval of information, traceability system will enhance more synchronization between your supply chain members, and interoperability between systems across your supply chain.

But more importantly, empowering the often-ignored farmers hidden in the corners of your supply chain with such collaboration and knowledge leads to a better tomorrow where their role in the global food system is appreciated and solutions to their never talked about issues are put into action.

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