How digitalisation is delivering much needed efficiency in the cold chain


World Food Day 2021 was a chance for all of us to reflect on two of the biggest issues currently effecting the cold chain: the cost of inefficiencies, and food waste. However, the day provided not only time for reflection, but also for looking forward to modern solutions that can tackle these issues head on.

Tackling Food Waste

The humanitarian and environmental impact food waste has on the globe cannot be understated, with the United Nations estimating that if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of carbon in the world. The UN also lists food waste as the number one cause of food poverty and insecurity in the world.

Food waste is an issue effecting every aspect of the cold chain. Olio states that between 35-50% of all food is wasted, amounting to the equivalent of over £730 worth of produce. At the same time, 800 million people are suffering from malnutrition and starvation daily. Clearly, change is needed in our food supply chain, and it needs to happen now. 

A Digital Solution

Digital transformation of the cold chain has the potential to mitigate food waste and minimise inefficiencies. However, unlike other industries who have welcomed new technologies to modernise, the cold chain has historically been wary of integrating digital solutions. From farmers to retailers, the organisational components of the cold chain have been concerned by large up-front costs, equipment downtime and disruption to trading that was often seen as a price of change, and so the industry has not been able to harness the revolutionary potential offered by digital technology. Thanks to new innovations, though, cost and inconvenience are no longer barriers to cold chain modernisation.

Machine upgrade and infrastructural overhaul is a primary concern and unachievable obstacle for the industry; will an expensive and costly restructure be required in order to access the latest digital solutions? Although historically there may be foundation to these concerns, now, controls agnostic Internet of Things solutions are available and enabling the cold chain to digitise existing machines without the need for overhauls and upgrades.

This works by introducing a digital IoT layer which connects to existing assets regardless of their age or manufacturer. This ‘out of the box’ solution allows for rapid digitalisation of machines, processes and operations, and can deliver advanced visibility, control, and automation. These unprecedented levels of monitoring and management over entire environments allows organisations across the cold chain to optimise their businesses, both improving the conditions in which food is kept (thereby keeping it fresher for longer), whilst also decreasing the need to overproduce food that isn’t required.

Economic Benefits

The benefits of digitalisation extend further than improved environmentalism. With the food retail industry reliant on improved financial efficiency in the post-pandemic world, digital solutions can decrease costs as well as waste. By giving businesses oversight into unparalleled, real-time data, these solutions enable management teams to effectively alter operations to save on both energy and maintenance costs in addition to the financial benefits of mitigating food waste. 

Moreover, this digital infrastructure also performs a transformative role, taking assets that traditionally provide operational functions and converting them into value generating assets. Examples of this include transacting with the Grid and/or predicting the availability of excess produce capacity for redirection. 

Digital transformation of the cold chain is key to tackling food poverty and improving sustainability in the industry. World Food Day gave us a chance to reflect on the challenges of a more sustainable cold chain, but the food retail industry should be optimistic that a greener, cleaner future is not only possible, but makes huge business sense thanks to digitalisation.

Article courtesy of Jason Kay, Chief Commercial Officer at IMS Evolve

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