Today, more and more customers want to know the precise provenance of their food.

Farmers of the future will have much to offer full-service restaurants. With the current average age of farmers at 58, a new generation is forged to take over. They will bring technology and education to modernizing their farms and the food supply chain will change in ways that will benefit full-service restaurant operators.

At the corporate level for full-serves, and even for independent restaurants, it has become imperative to introduce tools and technologies—like RFID solutions—that streamline people’s work and make it quicker and easier to do. In fact, the instantaneous, accurate data generated on restaurant inventory in real time, has great value for any data analytics team to see exactly how inventory is flowing through the system.

RFID technology deployed through labeling at the farm reaps those benefits across the supply chain. The goal—that is currently being met in a pilot program with 20 farms around the U.S.—is to implement a solution with RFID that provides traceability from the farm all the way into the restaurant.

That’s a huge plus when it comes to consumer communications. Today, more and more customers want to know the precise provenance of their food, especially at full-service restaurants where many menus are proudly displaying this information. With RFID applied at the farm, restaurateurs can guarantee exactly where the food comes from and have the data to prove it.

The benefits of traceability flow through every aspect of restaurant operations encompassing labor allocation, inventory tracking, freshness, and expiry as well as forecasting. In labor savings alone, the ability to have full visibility of inventory, instantaneously with the wave of an RFID reader saves operators countless arduous hours of manual scans to achieve total accuracy.

ESG From the Farm Forward

Each year, $163 billion worth of food inventory globally is discarded due to expiry or overproduction. Often ESG is considered independent from the economics of running a business, but when you look at the problem of recalls, ESG is the business. This ability to gain surgical precision through traceability during recall events is a major ESG objective for full-service restaurants and it all starts with accurate data.

Full-service operators who were in business in 2018 will never forget the FDA order for all romaine lettuce to be taken out of food service. The national recall mandated that it all had to be thrown out. Months later, the FDA issued a report with further detail on what had happened: the food safety issue was traced back to just one farm!

With RFID solutions deployed at the farm, identifying the exact contaminated case could have been quickly accomplished, so only the romaine lettuce from that one farm would have needed to be discarded. Its travel across the supply chain would have been documented and quick-service restaurant operators could say with certainty which lot needed to be removed—and a huge source of waste would have been avoided.

Empowering Tomorrow’s Farmer

A tweak in labeling by deploying RFID technology adds a digital connection to the analog data already contained on labels applied at the farm. Deploying this intelligent solution is not a revolutionary technology implementation and does not require significant disruption to existing processes.  However, the benefits that unfold are the beginning of a bigger story in the food supply chains and FSR operations, because the same data will enable a future generation of farmers.

For farmers, employing RFID technology didn’t change their labeling processes. However, what has changed is that each carton now has a unique number that can be read wirelessly, across the food supply chain.

The farmers themselves never see traceability information and do not need it—yet. The two major elements in the food supply chain that cause food waste are one, making too much or two, not using it fast enough. Tomorrow’s farmers will use the data to do a better job of tying production to consumption patterns, to ensure the maximum amount of food is being sold before it goes to waste. 

Farmers are taking advantage of new educational opportunities, some even driven by the food industry at large. For example, for the last several years, Chipotle has offered 50 grants of $5,000 each to young farmers under 40. In the new scenario, there is a strong case for farmers to use the data from RFID solutions.

Owning and leveraging their own farm-level data makes the next generation of farmers a stronger partner.  They will be looking at patterns of buying and predictive analytics that drive what full-service restaurants need to buy. Likewise, farmers will use that data to decide what they need to grow and to plan their farm schedules, without harvesting extra product. That’s a future win-win for farmers and operators.

Julie Vargas is VP/GM of Avery Dennison’s Identification Solutions business, specializing in food and logistics where RFID is building new capabilities for supply-chain traceability, inventory optimization and convenience retail. Her team drives accelerated market adoption and integrated, scale US-based manufacturing for automation and identification solutions across food service, grocery and supply chains worldwide. Julie has been active in RFID technologies since 2009 and joined Avery Dennison in 2011. She has spent the last decade at the intersection of digital and physical retail. As Director of Digital Solutions, she led brand and retail partnerships in on-product innovation and helped shape the vision for the “Internet of Clothing”. During her tenure at Avery Dennison, Julie has also partnered with apparel and footwear retailers and brands to implement innovative RFID strategies. Prior to joining Avery Dennison, Julie led product and business development for interactive RFID experiences in Latin America and was a senior analyst at Coach, where she helped launch the buy online/pickup in-store program. Julie has shared her expertise at global events, including SXSW, the Economist Feeding the Future, Greenbiz VERGE, the GS1 Digital Convergence Forum, PI Apparel, RFID Journal, the Internet of Things Summit and Summit Latin America. She holds a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology