Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

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Smarter apple
It used to be that the main factors influencing a consumer’s purchasing decisions were those directly associated with the product itself.  Did the cereal have lots of juicy raisins? Was the pot pie stuffed with chicken? How well did the detergent clean my clothes?

While today’s consumer – whether they live in Guangzhou, Chicago, or Manchester – is still concerned with these attributes, they also want more information about products, much more.  Today’s consumers want to know where products came from, each and every ingredient, how they were handled and processed, were harvested sustainably and also their carbon footprint.  To top it off, they want control over where, when and how they receive this information – is it printed on the product, displayed on the store shelf, sent to their phone via text message, accessible via an in store kiosk… or is it information they obtain on-line from a blog or community.

With these same consumers increasingly pressed for time, concerned about their health and eating on the move, products have been developed to deliver convenience, nutrition and portability benefits.  The result is foods that are increasingly packaged, processed and engineered.
Adding further complexity to the equation is the fragmentation and globalization within the supply chain for many consumer products.  Commodities, ingredients and packaging are sourced through a global network of suppliers and sold via multitude of retail outlets.

While the benefits we receive from this highly evolved system are many – substantial risks and costs are also present.  Out of stocks continue to cost the industry billions in lost sales, massive amounts of food are wasted unnecessarily due to a lack of visibility, and contaminations and recalls are exacting a growing toll on consumer trust, brand equity and most importantly people’s lives.

Gathering data from this web of activity and network of players and turning it into useful information is a massive challenge… but one that on a Smart Planet must and can be met.  It is time for the informational supply chain to catch up with the physical one, for information about products to travel with them wherever they go, for consumers to have the information they need in order to feel good about the products they buy.


Guy Blissett is an IBM Global Business Services consultant and the consumer products lead in IBM's Institute for Business Value. His new report, co-authored with J. Chris Harreld, "Full Value Traceability," examines Chinese consumer values and confidence related to food and product safety.

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October 20, 2016
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September 27, 2016
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Posted by: Guy Blissett
December 23, 2008
1:52 pm

Tim – I agree with many of your points and indeed we are already seeing quite some momentum behind the “locavore” movement. One clear reason for the growth in this trend is that consumers (for many of the reasons you list) increasingly feeel disconnected from the food they purchase and ill informed about the trade-offs in their purchasing decisions. We will likely see a continuation of the locavore movement (the number of farmers markets in the U.S. continues to grow) but as with most things there are limits and the answers aren’t clear cut. For example, does it make more sense to buy a local tomato that was grown in a heated greenhouse by an industrial grower or one grown outdoors by a farmer in Africa/S America – thereby contributing to their economic welfare? And for many products local production just isn’t an option for many regions, (i.e., bananas, cocoa, coffee, tea, palm oil).
Where does Smart fit in all this? Smart allows companies to collect and communicate the information consumers need to more effectivley assess trade-offs. Smart allows companies to most effectively and efficiently route shipments so that distances travelled are indeed shorter, trip times faster and C02 impact is reduced. Smart allows companies and governments to more effectively manage crops, commodities and food products to avoid waste and spoilage, reduce H20 and C02 footprints, and also to allocate food to those who need it.
Vis-a-vis the Canadian Dairy industry… one reason it “works” is the artificially high prices Canadian consumers pay in order to subsidize Canadian dairy farmers… local yes, Smart ?

Posted by: Guy Blissett
December 16, 2008
5:30 pm

The problem to be solved is not how to get food safely and economically across great distances, but how to shorten the distances. Tranporting food on a global scale creates problems that cannot be solved. For example, food that travels well and is as nutritious and delicious as the stuff that comes from your back yard does not exist. We have turned developing countries into mass producers of poor quality foods that need too much fuel to move around instead of incouraging them (and our own producers) to create local food supplies while enriching their economies in other more sustainable ways besides food production. Consider the dairy industry in Canada. It works because it must and it works well. At the same time, we have created and sustained the belief that time spent obtaining and preparing good food is wasted, while we destroy our bodies with over-processed foods and our agricultural heritage with crop monocultures that need more and more chemical fertilizers and pesticides to sustain. “Smart” isn’t the only way to enrich our food supply.

Posted by: Tim
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