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    The Future of Food Safety: New Markets for Retailers

    Adapting to this ever-growing trend

    By Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies Inc.

    On average, $10 million dollars is the cost of a recall on a food company. Add this to the fact that recalls have been doubling every year from the 2002-2014 period in the United States, and it should worry any stakeholder in the manufacturing and processing facilities. Yet many of them are surprisingly optimistic about the chance of a recall affecting business, and it’s their belief of invincibility that leaves them unprepared to weather a storm when one blows up. When manufacturers take a risk on their customers' health, they take a risk on their business’s health.

    The silver lining to this is that progressive retailers are leading the march for suppliers and processors to get their HACCP documentation in compliance with international regulations. During this year’s annual International Association of Food Protection Conference that took place in Portland, Ore., earlier this month, Frank Yiannas, VP of food safety at Walmart, made his position clear on the future of food safety: all roads lead to automation. Automation is the breakthrough solution to resolving the technological stalemate the food safety industry is currently finding itself in.

    Food safety, ironically enough, can be at the bottom of the priorities list for a supplier. Limited resources mean the short-term challenges that face grocers and producers boil down to education and cost. These factors prove to be the biggest barriers for suppliers to undertake what is demanded and required of them. The next three to 10 years will see substantial growth in this sector, which means more opportunities, not less, will open up for retailers and their suppliers to market themselves to consumers.

    What will the future possibilities of food safety management and its marketing potential look like? Here’s my take on what we’ll see grow in the coming decade.

    Food Safe Labeling

    Brand transparency is not a trend reserved for gluten-free products. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, and that desire will expand to how safe their food is. Savvy retailers would be wise to capitalize on the growing demand for transparency by adopting a proactive stance. A food safe label is what a customer might conceivably scan for when they are also checking out a product’s food allergen labeling.

    Live Collaboration

    The supply chain, as it runs, is proving to be a less than ideal space of communication. Touch points are routinely limited to high-level personnel. However, the move toward transparency is happening. A channel of live collaboration, where a network of information is shared between manufacturers, inspectors, distributors and retailers, is a necessary step for real change in food safety. By ensuring food safety practices are in open dialogue with involved stakeholder parties means more efficient safeguards against emergency recall situations. This also develops in organic discussions that can be marketed favorably as an inspirational narrative for consumers.

    The future of food safety is for innovators. The call for paradigm shifts is a sign of new market opportunities. It’s for the bold retailer to discover. From a global perspective, the Asia-Pacific region is poised to become the fastest-growing market in the food safety industry, and for the forward-thinking retailer, there is untapped marketing potential in promoting food safety as a selling feature for products.

    The critical relevance of food safety for competitive grocers will continue to grow as an economic reality in the next decade. To stay ahead of the game, cost and education are short-term challenges compared to their long-term benefits.

    By Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies Inc.
    • About Steven Burton Steven Burton is a software architect whose latest project, Icicle Technologies Inc., helps food manufacturers, processors and retailers ensure their products comply with international regulations on food safety and quality assurance management. You can reach him at [email protected]

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