Digital Technology and Food Manufacturing: The Next Steps for Industry

From using satellites to track asparagus crops, to measuring the lean meat percentage of pork using a high-tech camera, companies across the £28.2bn UK food manufacturing supply chain are embracing emerging technologies in new and interesting ways.

Now, experts say taking advantage of digital technologies is "vital to the prosperity of the UK food industry" requiring immediate action, and a new report has identified three different "digital food strands to encourage take up of such technology: real-time resource efficient production; a resilient and productive food supply chain; and digital technologies to improve consumer engagement.

The brief for stakeholders has been prepared by academics from the University of Lincoln's Internet of Food Things (IoFT) initiative, with Professor Simon Pearson as Principal Investigator, and Loughborough University's Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Recycling Technologies (SMART).

The 15-page briefing document, entitled 'Digital Food Briefing Document: digital technologies for improving productivity in food manufacturing', is aimed at business leaders and policymakers interested in the cutting-edge ideas for increasing productivity through digitalisation. It is hoped that it will accelerate the large-scale adoption of digital technologies to improve productivity, in particular by food SMEs.

The document builds on evidence gathered at an event led by the IoFT and Centre of SMART, which brought together 50 industrial leaders, professional bodies, government representatives, and academics to discuss improving productivity in food manufacturing.

A number of case studies are referenced in the report as examples of how technology is already being used to benefit companies in the sector. Edeka's digitalised meat processing plant and Barfoot's asparagus tracking methods are discussed, as is the new emerging food supply chain actors such as Gousto – one of the UK's leading recipe kit providers.  

The briefing document concludes by outlining the current challenges presented by digital technologies and suggests nine "next steps" for the industry.

Actors across the food manufacturing supply chain are evolving their practices to reduce waste, meet the food security challenge, and address changing consumer needs, aided by the emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0). The specific actions proposed by this briefing document aim to remove the existing obstacles for taking full advantage of modern digital technologies within the UK food manufacturing.

Professor Shahin Rahimifard, Director of the Centre for SMART

Steve Brewer, IoFT Network Co-ordinator, added: "The elusive goal of greater productivity can be found in a number of pioneering innovations in the food sector, these now need to be scaled up in order to reap the full potential of digitalisation. We hope that this report can prepare a pathway for successful digitalisation in the food sector.

The full Digital Food Briefing Document can be downloaded via the on the IoFT website. It can also be found on the Centre for SMART webpage.

Meet the Expert

Professor Simon Pearson
Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology and

Simon Pearson is Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems and leads the University's Centre for Doctoral Training in agri-food robotics. 

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