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By Kari Hensien, President of RizePoint 

The food industry has navigated nearly two years of COVID-related changes, including auditing shifts, supply chain disruptions, price hikes, and staffing shortages. Now, I predict positive changes are coming this year, as the industry focuses on strengthening the supply chain and prioritizing information-gathering to boost safety and quality efforts. Another key trend for 2022 is that tech solutions will become more affordable and accessible for food businesses of all sizes.

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While the pandemic has been extraordinarily disruptive to food businesses, there are some silver linings that have emerged from the chaos. For one, we’ve changed the way we’re auditing food businesses due to COVID-related restrictions, and now the process is much more collaborative – and less punitive – than the way we’ve historically audited. This helps employees feel much more engaged and involved in food safety efforts, and more personally invested in ensuring positive outcomes.

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I’m also excited to see positive changes to help supply chains become more flexible, resilient, and safe. The pandemic-related supply chain disruptions taught us important lessons about the need for agility, traceability, and transparency. Moving forward, we’ll rely on tech tools to improve the way we gather and analyze data, track foods from origin to destination, boost sustainability, and reduce food waste. Hopefully, we’ll use lessons learned from the COVID crisis to prevent empty grocery store shelves – and other supply chain interruptions – moving forward.

My predictions for 2022 include:

  • A focus on building an agile, resilient supply chain. This is increasingly important after widespread COVID-related disruptions. Our supply chains should help eliminate food waste and reduce the time and distance that food must travel. The industry is focusing on becoming more efficient, agile, and environmentally responsible. Looking into 2022 and beyond, supply chains will need to become more resilient, using more flexible operations, collection and analysis of data using tech tools, plus smarter packaging.
  • Circular (not linear) supply chains. A circular supply chain helps companies provide higher quality, safer food because products are continuously monitored from production to consumption. Additionally, circular supply chains are greener and more sustainable, and they can decrease companies’ costs, reduce price volatility, and reduce waste.
  • An increase in data visibility and recency. Instead of an annual audit, organizations will leverage IoT and AI to increase data points and ensure recency in their knowledge of supply chain performance. The Food Safety Modernization Act requires food businesses to properly document food safety plans and demonstrate compliance with best practices, which requires digital transformation. It also requires food companies to trace their product from its origin to its destination. Digital tools help brands track their products more quickly, easily, and accurately, so they know exactly where each item is during its supply chain life cycle. In the event of a food safety breach or a recall, businesses can expedite tracking and identify where potentially tainted products are at any moment in time.
  • The rise of collaborative coaching. We’ll move towards a continuous quality model with more self-assessments and collaborative coaching vs. traditional onsite audits. This will help build strong food safety cultures and environments of continuous learning. It will also boost compliance and reduce risk, leading to safer businesses and products.
  • The end of one size fits all. Moving forward, organizations will stop doing the same annual audits for all suppliers. Instead, they’ll assess the risk of each supplier and location, build adaptive programs that focus time and effort within supply chain segments, and determine where to drive improvement and reduce risk.
  • Technology solutions will become more accessible and affordable. Simplified software solutions will help food businesses of any size afford the needed transparency across the supply chain. These modern, game-changing solutions will disrupt a software market previously dominated by complexity and expense. 
  • Embracing upcycling. While many companies have been upcycling food byproducts for years, it hasn’t been marketed as a positive thing until recently. Now, companies are using “ugly” produce in their products, turning soy scraps into soy milk, etc. And consumers are supporting this upcycling movement because it minimizes waste and finds new uses for foods that would otherwise be trashed. This trend is expected to continue (and grow) in the coming years.
  • The rise of ghost kitchens. Ghost kitchens, commercial kitchens used for “to go” orders, are an exciting trend. These commercial cooking spaces are virtual businesses, without the infrastructure of onsite dining. This allows operators to manage the increased demand for delivery meals, without the overhead costs of dining space or front of house staff.

The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as a great disruptor. The food industry has certainly seen its share of bad news and frustrations over the past two years. But we’ve also shown tremendous resilience and flexibility, pivoting to meet changing demands and regulations throughout this crisis. Now, at the start of 2022, even though we’re still facing new virus variants and surges, the future is looking brighter, with positive trends emerging. It’s about time for some good news, don’t you think? 

As president of RizePointKari Hensien is passionate about finding the right auditing, quality system management, and supplier certification management for the unique and specific business needs of every customer. Her goal is to find ways to streamline and automate existing customer programs, so quality leaders and do less admin work and make more meaningful business contributions. If you want to discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Kari at [email protected].