You Are What You Sell: Maintaining Innovation and Integrity in the Food and Beverage Industry
The famous expression “You are what you eat” seems especially true in today’s world. As Elaine Watson writes, there are now labels for non-GMO, Kosher, organic, gluten-free, lactose-free and vegan foods (among many others) and the number of claims only seems to rise as food becomes an increasingly political statement. Interestingly, consumers’ many options have created challenges for food and beverage companies, which are forced to face “both cyclical and secular headwinds.”
However, companies can more successfully navigate these headwinds by investing in digital software such as electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) that provide support to scientists and managers interested in ensuring the quality of their products and the verifiability of their labels. Following are specific ways in which ELNs and digital inventory management systems can similarly be used to improve productivity and food quality in this fast-paced industry.
Leveraging Appropriate Digital Tools Within the Food and Beverage Industry
- Data management: Relying on paper-based records is becoming increasingly inefficient as businesses consolidate information from multiple areas across the country. ELNs enable managers to quickly share data and documents, thus ensuring standard practices across locations. The presence of certain documents online can “provide users with self-service access to the information they need,” thus reducing redundancy.
- Regulations: Certain food industries, such as those involved in organic products, are very heavily regulated and it is necessary that companies are able to produce the appropriate documentation when required. As seen with McDonald’s, a “bad reputation” can deter clients from purchasing products and result in loss revenue. Thus, it is increasingly important that only appropriate ingredients are used and accurately reflected on the labels of resulting products. ELNs can help provide evidence of these practices for regulatory bodies and consumers.
- Product safety: Laboratories in the food and beverage industry are also responsible for protecting the company’s supply chain and various labs in a company can test for the presence of fertilizer, antibiotics and other components. To prevent contaminations, for example, or to more quickly identify a contaminated batch, the results of laboratory tests on products should be stored in a secure database. Staff scientists should also be briefed on the proper safety precautions and this information should also be maintained in a company-wide repository.
- Inventory management and financing: Unlike products for some other industries, food and beverage ingredients have an expiration date. To determine how much inventory a company should purchase and when certain ingredients should be used, up-to-date information must be available to management. Having a paper copy somewhere in a manager’s office is no longer feasible as turnover rates are very high. Instead, a digital inventory management system can enable a manager to keep track of food and beverage ingredients, while sifting through the data to identify trends in order to engage in more accurate commodity hedging.
- Fast deployment in complicated environments: After an initial learning period, ELN technology can ensure a small “time-to-value” ratio given that this technology “drive[s] more efficient knowledge-sharing and documentation.” Client requests for particular products can arise frequently, requiring food and beverage labs to respond quickly. This fast turnover is very well-suited for digital tools. Through the use of cloud-based options and security passwords, data-sharing through ELNs ensures the fast and secure delivery of sensitive information. Colin Thurston, director of product strategy for Thermo Fisher Scientific, reminds the following: “…the food and beverages industry is…a high-volume industry, dominated by multinational companies that work in, and export to multiple markets. Developing tools that allow the most stringent safety requirements to be imposed seamlessly in a high-volume industry and in a diverse international environment is a challenge…” However, ELNs mitigate this challenge by ensuring that the necessary individuals have access to the data and can quickly utilize it to ensure product integrity.
- Science development: As obesity becomes an increasing concern in developed and developing nations alike, food industries are beginning to invest in more healthful food options. New and novel “natural” products or foods promising to lower cholesterol or help individuals manage their weight from the basis of a new business model based on nutritious foods. In order to support research and development, food scientists should have access to tools that carefully document their successes, failures, compounds used, etc. to more reliably herald ideas toward the product development stage.
Ultimately, by implementing digital tools, companies in the food and beverage industry can prepare themselves for whatever headwinds and changes come their way. For information on how your food and beverage research laboratory can leverage valuable tools, such as the BIOVIA Notebook and BIOVIA CISPro, to address innovation, please contact us today.