We've heard it time and again: Consumers seeking transparency and the opportunity to align their purchases with personal values want to know more about their food, how it was grown and by whom.
Less discussed are the benefits of a more transparent and connected food system to those who produce, market and sell food - and the benefits are numerous.
In fact, technology, infrastructure and a growing set of benefits for those at every end of the agri-food supply chain are paving the way for a system that is not only more transparent, but also smarter overall.
A smarter food system can help answer questions about where food comes from, drive sales, increase efficiencies, enhance brand equity, and reduce operational risks.
A report from Rabobank describes a smarter food system this way: it combines technology and big data and uses algorithms to change and accelerate the way decisions are made in food production, processing and distribution.
Imagine this: A grower can use software to track his water, energy and fertilizer inputs, auto-calculate carbon gas emissions and compare those items to yields and outputs.
By doing so, he can make adjustments to minimize the use of natural resources, maximize efficiencies and provide greater alignment between supply and demand needs, eliminating waste.
Through data and technology, growers and shippers can focus on continuous improvement, providing constant adjustments to inputs and outputs to achieve optimum performance. When products leave the farm, logistics software can help use less fuel and resources, reducing spoilage and delivering food more efficiently.
For the retailer or foodservice operator, smart sensors can also track things like shelf life and quality of fresh produce.
While investments in technology and new, smarter systems may seem like a burden, the end result can be more trust in food and agriculture, in a time when trust in any and everything is suspect.
By 2025, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization anticipates a 30% increase in global daily food demand. This will require a global food system that is more efficient, better able to meet consumer expectations, more profitable and more resilient in the face of macro-economic pressures.
This is ultimately what a smarter food system is all about.
The smarter food system can be looked at from multiple lenses. To the consumer, it is more transparent. To the grower and shipper, it provides opportunity to streamline operations, reduce costs and tell growers' stories.
And, for the retailer and foodservice operator, it provides risk management and brand enhancement.
While these are each benefits in their own right, together they allow us to address the most daunting task at hand: feeding the world in a way that not only meets nutritional needs, but does so with care for the environment, people and profitability for growers.
John Saunders is chairman and CEO of Where Food Comes From Inc. Jeff Dlott is president of SureHarvest Services LLC. The two companies recently merged.
What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.