- Hugo Walker
The Great Reset: the role of digitalisation in fostering resilient food manufacturing
Following the World Economic Forum’s urgent call for a ‘Great Reset’ in the global economy, there is an imperative for food manufacturers to consider how to cultivate resilience in a world rocked by the COVID-19 crisis.
As the WEF outlines, the possibility of a serious recession in the coming years is high - but there is hope that we can use the aftermath of the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine, reinterpret, and ‘reset’ our global economic system. With complex supply chains that are vulnerable to external shocks, implementing flexible systems with digital technology at their core in the manufacturing world is paramount. A WEF article points out: “The current crisis has underscored the necessity to retool the entire food system to enable digitalisation and data-driven transformation.”
The current supply chain crisis in the UK reminds us just how fragile and prone to shocks these chains are. Rotting cauliflowers, discarded meat and queues for petrol speak to the harsh reality of Brexit and an unprecedented labour shortage. It’s not only issues on the supply-side, but also rapid changes in demand, that makes production so difficult. For instance, alcohol sales in UK supermarkets increased by over 27 per cent in 2020. Across the pond, meanwhile, American consumers spent more in restaurants than in retail grocery stores for the first time ever. A combination of volatility and crisis in both supply and demand poses a significant challenge for producers. Digitalisation and automation, coupled with a solutions-based, people-centric approach may be the stabilising force that is needed.
From production giants to artisan delis, all businesses can benefit from digitalisation. While many automation processes have been inaccessible to smaller businesses in the past, programmes like Made Smarter have been rolling out tech support to SMEs. Inventory management, value chain optimization, production maximisation and quality control aided by Industry 4.0 will help create a more agile and adaptable manufacturing system that can navigate a post-pandemic world.