Q&A: Futureproofing food production in SA


Despite South Africa’s massive agricultural potential, we do not have enough local production to meet local demand, relying on importers to fill this gap. Local food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers and distributors are becoming increasingly important to reduce this shortage, which will not only ensure food security, but provide a much-needed economic boost within the country.

“At the same time, they have a role to play as a powerful driver of enterprise development, job creation and a more productive economy. But to do so, the F&B industry requires innovation and technological solutions to assist them in finding new ways to unlock efficiencies and ensure that our F&B manufacturers can future-proof our food production,” says Mark Wilson, Syspro EMEA CEO.

What are the challenges the F&B industry faces?

This year, 2022 finds us recovering from a global pandemic, conflict, a climate that won’t stop warming, rising prices and international tensions, seriously affecting global food security. However, over the past three years, we have seen many challenges to the availability of F&B products. PWC’s latest South African Economic Outlook has attributed accelerated loadshedding, the impact of COVID-19 on production, unrest and looting in July 2021; as well as flooding in April/May of 2022, to the massive impacts on business activity within South African ports.

High food inflation is a global phenomenon at the moment, spurred by a range of factors including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as both countries are major grain producers. The Russian invasion of Ukraine shifted global trade patterns and increased soft commodity prices, further impacting F&B manufacturers. While the price of grain has come down in recent weeks, fertiliser prices remain high. With shrinking profits, increasing raw material costs, consumers changing the product mix they buy – including spending a smaller portion of their income on F&B products; companies need to re-evaluate their business plans and use advanced data analytics to make informed decisions.

How do you achieve the efficiencies needed?

Efficiency is vital to any industry to keep costs low, protect profit margins, and compete in globalised markets. F&B manufacturers and distributors have entered the digital age with access to information and resources they need to sustain their agricultural output. With the right systems and technology in place, F&B manufacturers and distributors will be well placed to embrace the new technologies that can improve visibility and performance in their business, managing changing demand and recipes, while improving yields and stabilising an essential industry for South Africa. SYSPRO’s research survey, Realigning the links of the disconnected supply chain, showed us that throughout the pandemic, 65% of F&B businesses invested in IoT or IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), while 55% of F&B businesses invested in cloud computing. While cloud is a positive step in the right direction; data analytics is still an area of improvement, with only 23% of F&B businesses investing in analytics tools to mine Big Data to get at real business insights.

By utilising AI (Artificial Intelligence), we are able to take advantage of ML (Machine Learning) which mines Big Data constantly into one common language, making it possible to gather and process vast quantities of data from a range of sources. AI/ML seeks patterns of performance/meaning in the data scrutinising the performance and other metrics of each of your organisation’s manufacturing lines, customers, and suppliers to predict and identify the business processes (in procurement, manufacture, distribution, and finance) that are working well and those that may require intervention in order to avoid disruptions and so achieve better results. Organisations can also dig into the effectiveness teams and adjust as necessary should manufacturers find that their shifts need to be re-optimised.

How do you reduce wastage with data analytics?

Waste may always be a drain on food and beverage businesses—such is the current nature of a market dealing in many perishable and processed goods. Waste comes from food trimming, poor planning, exceeding “safe” shelf life, perishing, and even late logistics/delivery. It should not be a foregone conclusion, though, that the amount of waste organisations are currently generating is unavoidable, and data can give insight into how to improve in this regard. A purpose-built ERP platform can have a significant impact on reducing food waste by maintaining and tracking your expiration dates in a fully digital database and helping to guide a “first-expiry, first-out” (FEFO) picking method. Previous data from either food manufacturers’ product portfolio or similar product lines, enables product sales figures to be estimated before goods have even been transported to the shop. This is revolutionary for food manufacturers, as they can use this data to produce and transport only what is needed.




Main image credit: Unsplash.com.



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