Tech For The “Clean Eating” Generation
Friday, January 10th, 2020
The adage that “children are our greatest teachers” has been applied literally by Generation Z—in its attitudes towards food consumption. People born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s are more concerned than ever with eating clean, fresh and healthy foods, and how these are sourced. With its growing spending power, Generation Z is set to massively disrupt the food industry. Here, Darcy Simonis, industry network leader for food and beverage at ABB, examines why food manufacturers will need the Internet of Things (IoT) to satisfy this new generation of “clean eaters”.
“Generation Z” is making itself known as the most diverse and digitally-connected demographic group through its food and lifestyle choices. Rather than following their baby boomer and Generation X elders, young consumers are carving their own path with creative food fusions, diets and healthier options. Research by NPD group, an American market research company, has found that flavour and function are more important than brands to Generation Z. With an estimated $200 bn of direct spending power—or $600 billion by influencing their parents—these habits will have a huge impact on the food industry.
Whats more, Generation Z is more closely engaged with mobile technologies than any previous generation—while studies have found their attention span averages eight seconds. Food suppliers can no longer rely on brand loyalty and must evolve their service offerings, accordingly. In order to respond to these challenges they have to optimize their businesses by utilizing the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT)—through reduced maintenance costs, enhanced productivity and new revenue opportunities.
Given Generation Z’s concerns about the health and sourcing of foods, greater transparency and tracking in the supply chain will be crucial. Today’s young consumers prefer fresh ingredients — which are natural, sustainable and organic — over processed foods. A survey by RSM, the multi-national network of accounting firms, found that 12 per cent of middle-market food and beverage companies now use blockchain technologies to track the entire life-cycle of food processing, and this figure is growing.
Elsewhere, the Safety for Food (S4F) initiative by the Italian food company Barilla, in partnership with Cisco, includes adding QR codes on specific products. These codes link to a web page where consumers can see detailed information about the major phases of the supply chain behind their food product. This data is part of a growing database.
When it comes to fresh and ready-to-eat foods, the IoT and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software will be crucial in preserving the integrity of the so-called “cold chain”. Costs of sensors have more than halved over the last decade which makes adopting the IoT less expensive for today’s companies. Sensors can be used to monitor and avoid food temperature variations, safeguard the quality and shelf-life of foods and reduce wastage. More accurate and useful readings are possible with these longer lifecycles—and beneficial to consumers’ safety given the strong links between foodborne illnesses and temperature fluctuations with ready-to-eat foods.
More companies can adopt smart technologies as the prices of sensors continue to drop. There is also real potential to embrace predictive analysis to control the quality of food along the value chain. For the manufacturer, measurements of physical quantities—like temperature, steam pressure and more—can be collected through sensors and turned into digital data. This data can be stored in a memory that’s integrated into the sensor module, or transmitted for analysis via wireless or mobile networks. The ability to resolve issues that have not yet occurred will be crucial in satisfying Generation Z consumers’ appetites for healthy goods on demand.
Meanwhile, consumers can be guaranteed access to, and delivery of, foods through a proliferation of buying methods. Generation Z is the most digitally-dependent purchasing group, more reliant on mobile purchases, downloadable apps and online outlets than ever before. This extends to the growth of self-service outlets, offline, in the real world. Here, food and beverage companies must innovate and differentiate through intuitive point of sale (POS) software and other technologies.
That brings us to another major issue for food and drink suppliers: the Generation Z era heralds new consumer models. Each youth has their own mobile phone and set of individualised preferences. The growing complexity of this decentralised food supply chain will make certain processes, like manual tracking, unsustainable.
Solutions for this lie in the cloud and automation, each of which will greatly improve global manufacturing and supply. Food suppliers have already embraced smart ways to connect with the IoT.
For example, our own ABB Ability system connects devices, systems, solutions, services and a platform and allows our customers to make the most of the Industrial Internet of Things. It enables users to turn data insights into a direction, minimising costs and downtime, while closing the automation loop within a plant.
Meanwhile, food and beverage manufacturers increasingly rely on automation to improve operational efficiency. For instance, robotic arms can greatly enhance food preparation, packaging and delivery. Automation will eliminate the chances of human error and assure the consistency and quality in foods that Generation Z expects.
Generation Z has made its demands clear: clean eating choices, greater transparency and mobile-first technology. Now is the time for companies to embrace the IoT and explore new opportunities to grow.
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