A Conversation About Software and Technology in the Global Food Supply Chain

The global food supply chain and the software and technology sector share a symbiotic relationship—as the food supply chain becomes increasingly complex, technology provides visibility, facilitates collaboration, supports regulatory compliance—while at the same time serving as a platform for ongoing expansion.

For this first of two special editions in 2014, Food Logistics explores the impact of software and technology on the global food supply chain from a variety of angles, including industry research and interviews to exclusive content from experts in the field.

At a fundamental level, the way executives and organizations think and feel about information technology has changed, points out a recent IT benchmarking study from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

“For years, the mission of chief information officers (CIOs) at consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies was clear: to deliver efficient and reliable systems at the lowest cost possible. Information technology was typically seen as a cost center, not a key lever of strategy,” according to the study.

That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Social media, mobile devices and Big Data are changing how companies interact with their customers. The study shows that nearly 75 percent of CPG CIOs surveyed cited supporting business growth as a top IT objective, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2010.

And, business growth is evident throughout the global food supply chain. The National Restaurant Association’s chief economist Bruce Grindy reports that restaurants in the U.S. added jobs at a “strong 3.7 percent rate in 2013, the strongest gain in 18 years.” For 2014, “job growth in the restaurant industry is projected to outpace the overall economy by a full percentage point.”

Moreover, recent discussions with industry executives also suggest the outlook is considerably brighter than it has been in years. Ocean carrier and rail executives say they’ll make more capital investments in equipment and infrastructure to keep up with rising demand; manufacturers in the warehousing automation sector tell us they are gearing up for a strong year ahead; and researchers say food importers and exporters will generally see steady growth ahead as well.

Technology is exciting. Hardware and software developments are fast-paced and enable a more flexible, safer and interconnected global food supply chain than ever before. The following pages are but a handful of voices in a larger conversation, yet representative of a profound movement currently underway in our industry.

–Lara L. Sowinski, Editor-in-Chief

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