"Most food processors still tend to focus on quality only when a product hits their door," Patrick Miner, sales and marketing vice president for software company Linnet, told FoodProductionDaily.com. "They don't think about what they can do to improve quality from an agronomic point of view."
The problem, says Miner, is that lots of traceability products focus on a particular piece of the supply chain. "Our view is that you can only achieve an effective traceability system if it runs end to end. Most large companies in other areas are realising that islands of information simply do not give you the capacity to scale your business."
To ensure complete traceability, Miner says that a company like Marks & Spencer needs to be able to go back from the store shelf to the farmer's field. "You need a completely integrated system, and to us it makes more sense to start to the point of origin."
As a result, traceability from the farm to the shelf is moving up the CEO's agenda. "If you are a US multinational you know that the European consumer is more vocal and aggressive in demanding full disclosure," said Miner. "The European market is not something that you can be excluded from, so you will strive to meet these stringent safety concerns."
Software-supported vertical information management is emerging as both a solution and a marketing opportunity for the food industry. Vertical information management technologies that connect the farm to the end-users and are capable of managing the products and relationships between agents along the supply chain are becoming increasingly popular.
There is a sense of inevitability about all this. "Because of the current regulatory environment and the need to drive costs down, sooner or later the food industry will have to embrace these ideas," said Miner.
Linnet, a Canadian-based software specialist, has put this principle of traceability from the seed to the shelf into practice. Raw material supply chain management is possible through Croplands, the company's system suite of tracing products.
Miner says that Croplands can connect information across the supply chain to create a vertical information system that the company claims allows companies to reduce costs through process efficiencies, and can ensure food safety and integrity.
"The software we've built applies this supply chain philosophy of end to end coverage to agriculture," he said. "It's a tool that facilitates this approach, and I've seen the advantages myself. A customer of ours is in the business of processing potatoes, and he can find out, in less than a minute, the origin of a particular fry."
The benefit to the food manufacturer is the fact that customers are willing to pay a premium for food that can be guaranteed safe. "A research held an auction among a test group of consumers for a chicken sandwich," said Miner. "The result was that they were willing to pay a 35 per cent premium for a product that they perceived was safer."
Miner compares traceability software to the table stakes in a poker game - if you don't have it, you won't stay in the game. There is a pay off though.
"The benefits for companies that invest in the software is that you get access to a premium market, you ensure your brand and you enjoy cost savings," he said.