The Food and Beverage (F&B) industry has long been innovative and fast moving: the fast moving consumer goods title might be a better moniker. F&B enterprises continually strive to stay ahead of the competition while having to meet regulatory demands such as:

  • Food safety
  • Traceability
  •  Ever-changing consumer preferences (or should we say,“peccadillos”?)
  •  Expanding global demand from increasing population


Not unlike counterparts in other manufacturing sectors, F&B makers are under pressure to reduce costs and maximize throughput, perhaps more so than other verticals. To meet these demands the industry is poised for Digital Transformation across the (very) extended supply chain—from farm to fork.

In the race for Digital Transformation, they’ll make use of IIoT Platform technologies like, Connectivity, Cloud, Big Data Analytics, and associated analytics to offer new capabilities specific to each customer. These makers of foodstuffs will become providers of services or value, as they realize the ability to harmonize people, processes and technology, both internally and external to the enterprise, for the benefit of the customer.

Digital Cereal in Action

If we take the example of a cereal producer, there are always new product introductions for variations and flavors, from new healthy choices to kid-friendly flavors and unique packaging.

Now, imagine if this food company could use digital information to:

  • Predict the ramp up, supply, and associated pricing of grains from farmers
  • Rapidly scale up from R&D pilot runs to full manufacturing, containment,compliance
  • Better predict consumer impact and demand to manage price or take market share in specific consumer segments


In addition to these benefits, at the same time, the company could use this information to know where to advertise and promote, better linking its planning, marketing, R&D, manufacturing,and consumers for improved safety, quality, and customer experience.

This Digital Transformation is, in fact, happening at one of the world’s leading and most socially responsible cereal producers—General Mills, a company that also serves as a preeminent member of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC). This Automation World article describes how General Mills is using IoT to improve visibility from farm to factory. In this emerging implementation, certificates of analysis from farmed ingredients will proactively adjust Manufacturing Execution System (MES) recipe and manufacturing equipment setups to match incoming ingredient properties such as moisture, weight, and flavor.

Visibility: Consumer to Marketing and Farm to Manufacturing to Fork

F&B companies are notoriously good at marketing. The Internet of Things (IoT) brings a new level of information to the marketers as they connect to consumers and study the social media reaction to their products. With today’s technologies companies can test market products and get vastly more accurate information about preferences from the Internet prior to committing to new strategies and product plans.

Looking back toward the farm, IoT technology will allow much closer interaction with farms and farmers, ensuring that F&B producers have full visibility into their supply chain right back to expected yields and qualities from farm fields—all leading to better predictions of supply and pricing. Manufacturers also expect the complete genealogy and traceability of the ingredient supply, warehousing, manufacturing, shipping, and consumer delivery chain—to know every element along the way in order to better address food safety.

Why Is This Important?

The most recent LNS Research survey of over 80 F&B companies harvested the top industry trends that are impacting manufacturers. All of these trends and associated challenges can be better addressed using Digital Information.

The most recent LNS Research survey of over 80 F&B companies harvested the top industry trends that are impacting manufacturers. All of these trends and associated challenges can be better addressed using Digital Information.

Digital Transformation has the potential to enable several evolutionary and revolutionary improvements to reimagine F&B operations, such as:

  • Dramatically improve manufacturing performance through improved decision making and flexibility with the right predictive and prescriptive analytics presented in context.
  • Complete logistics, ingredient, and product information can be used to address traceability, labeling, and serialization across the entire supply and demand chain from farm to fork. This crystal-clear visibility will also ease compliance to the Food Safety& Modernization Act and other global requirements.Faster visibility into consumer buying patterns and social media trends to react faster to changing consumer preferences, including newer trends like the healthy food segment.
  • Faster visibility into consumer buying patterns and social media trends to react faster to changing consumer preferences, including newer trends like the healthy food segment.
  • The use of Digital Information to set up more flexible manufacturing production and packaging lines, as well as to enable faster new product variations and introductions. 
  • The ability to link R&D and Laboratory Information Systems (LIMS) results into manufacturing systems to ramp up from R&D pilots and ensure consistent quality,taste, and composition much faster
  • Global visibility for a globally expanding food supply chain and dealing with complex supply networks in a safe and efficient manner
  • The use of digital information from farms and other ingredient suppliers to better predict commodity pricing, aiding financial and market pricing planning
  • Having direct digital links with consumers via social media for improved customer service and market planning


Making the Enterprise Work for You

Achieving full digitization of “farm to fork” will require breaking down business,engineering, operations and IT silos in F&B companies. Today’s large F&B companies have some unusual threads of communication. For example, there is often a tight collaboration between R&D and marketing; they discuss small tweaks in products and packaging, and continually look for ways to drive more value from their huge, billion dollar brands. What is often lacking within internal communication is the inclusion of manufacturing in these discussions, which often leads to delays and disruptions.

Integrated systems that allow design and recipe changes to be quickly rolled out in production will help to deliver faster value. Digitization of the processes from idea to production and beyond will help bring people together as well as improve factory and enterprise efficiency.

As products become more complex and diverse, ingredient suppliers have more say about the product and during the R&D process. Outsourcing of parts of product development and manufacturing will become the norm in a digitized world, and flexible,multi-enterprise manufacturing environments will rapidly become the norm in fast-moving F&B companies.

The Digital F&B Opportunity Is Now

The opportunities are clear as to how F&B companies can transform the way they do business by connecting all of these groups of people and keeping them aligned to the consumer, making sure purchasers are happy with each and every fork or spoonful of tasty food.

Companies that want to be leading digital industrial companies need to start aDigital Transformation journey that will see the introduction of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies and processes. Emerging IIoT platforms will deliver Cloud, Big Data Analytics,flexible applications, and the connectivity required to transform the processes that run the enterprise,as well as the way that people manage it.

As in the General Mills example, the Digital Transformation of F&B companies is making full supply and demand vision a reality. It’s time to reimagine the future of your favorite food and beverages.

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About the author

Andrew Hughes

Principal Analyst, LNS Research

Andrew Hughes joined the LNS Research team in May of 2015 and is a Principal Analyst with his primary focus being research and analysis in the Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) practice. Andrew has 30 years of experience in manufacturing IT, software research, sales and management across a broad spectrum of manufacturing industries.

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