The COVID-19 pandemic has hit a majority of the Fortune 1000 companies, out of which many food and beverage companies were hit due to severe disruptions in the supply chain. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic turned the food and beverage industry upside down overnight. There was a significant increase in in-home consumption; however, out-of-home consumption came to a standstill. This change resulted in a huge business downfall and crippled the food and beverage industry. The new Omicron variant of the coronavirus is poised to further hammer the food and beverage sector.
How Did COVID-19 Affect the Food Supply Chain?
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns were enforced in most parts of the world to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The changes in consumer behavior and demand during the pandemic largely impacted the supply and value chain in the food and beverage industry. The agriculture and F&B sectors were tasked to ensure the availability of sufficient food sources for the public. The stakeholders in the food supply chain were concerned about the availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability of food products. Food accessibility was a highly concerning factor as logistics, distribution, and delivery obstructions largely hindered the food supply chain.
The import and export of food products were also affected due to tariff and trade affairs and resulted in the disruption of food stock availability. The food supply chain was also impacted due to a shortage of labor which resulted in a steep decline in industrial production. Governments imposed movement restrictions that led to a huge wastage of edible agricultural products, thus interrupting the domestic food supply chain. Consumers’ concern about the scarcity of retail products led to desperate buying, leading to temporary scarcity of food products at retail stores.
The food supply chain is more prone to the transmission of the coronavirus due to multifarious activities involved, such as production, post-harvest storage, packaging, and distribution. Thus, maintaining a secure food supply is another herculean task. The food & beverage industry was largely impacted in developing countries due to the lack of advanced IT and transportation infrastructure. Food companies that import raw ingredients suffered the most due to movement restrictions and lockdowns. Many businesses decided to digitally transform their operations to survive the pandemic. However, this could not work for smaller businesses as adopting and learning new digital tools was a hassle for them. Hence, they had to incur more losses.
Although COVID-19 immensely impacted the F&B industry, it took all the companies along the path of digital transformation, paving the way for higher efficiency and lesser manual intervention. The use of technological solutions proved to be an effective strategy for alleviating the crisis.
How Does Digital Transformation Help the F&B Industry?
Food manufacturers, unlike other industries, are not much into digital transformation and consider the upfront cost of digital tools before adopting them. However, more and more food manufacturing companies have started realizing the benefits of investing in digital technologies such as automation and IoT-enabled devices and instruments. They now realize that digitization is the key to improving food traceability and transparency in the supply chain to meet rising consumer expectations and assure food safety. Digital tools can help food manufacturers monitor and analyze data in real-time and leverage smart insights to remotely monitor operational processes effectively and reduce maintenance costs significantly.
Food & beverage testing laboratories also experienced similar challenges. Increasing consumer demands and concerns regarding food safety have increasingly placed the onus of food safety on testing laboratories. Laboratories need to efficiently test food samples and produce accurate test results. Food testing laboratories perform several tests on food samples, beverages, packaged food, and feed, among others to test for food contaminants. Food testing laboratories face several challenges daily that got more complex over the pandemic. Food testing laboratories need to ensure complete traceability in their processes, generate valid, accurate, and reliable test results, assure the quality of test results, maintain laboratory instruments, manage data, SOPs, documents, and record corrective and preventive actions.
The pandemic has accelerated the digitization of the food and beverage industry, both on the operational and regulatory front. More and more food manufacturers and testing laboratories are embracing digitization to drive their operations, reducing reliance on the manual workforce. A crucial tool to automate operations is a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS).
Role of a Food and Beverage Laboratory Software in Digitally Transforming Lab Operations
A food and beverage laboratory software, also known as a food LIMS or food and beverage LIMS, is a turnkey solution to all the problems faced by food testing laboratories. A food and beverage laboratory software helps identify and monitor cross-contamination at critical control points and record changes in environmental parameters in a laboratory. A Food and Beverage LIMS tracks and manages samples, streamlines QA/QC processes, assures traceability from farm-to-fork, automates workflows to minimize cost and save time, and helps laboratories follow regulatory guidelines, such as ISO/IEC 17025:2017, FSMA, HACCP, and state and local regulations.
A food and beverage laboratory software supports integration with IoT-enabled devices and instruments for data interoperability, in addition to statistical and risk analysis tools for downstream data analysis and determination of cross-contamination risks. A food and beverage laboratory software can also be integrated with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to centrally manage critical business metrics and support the business operations of laboratories. A cloud-based food and beverage laboratory software eliminates the need to invest in IT infrastructure and personnel and safeguards data from loss due to natural calamities. Furthermore, a cloud-based LIMS enables laboratory managers to remotely access data, validate test results, and share certificates of analysis (CoAs) with clients without the need to be physically present in the laboratory.
The food and beverage industry has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the initial imbalance, the F&B industry has more strongly evolved throughout the pandemic. Digitization has helped the industry transform itself into a highly modernized sector. The pandemic also posed a challenge to food testing laboratories as it concerned people more about the health and safety issues. However, digital laboratories found it easy to cope up with the prevailing pandemic situation. An easily deployable, cloud-based food and beverage laboratory software can help food and beverage laboratories quickly automate workflows without the need to invest in IT infrastructure or personnel and maximize investment returns.