How Voice Picking Can Help Minimize Food Waste

Meagan Douglas
Tue, May 12, 2015
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Voice-enabled supply chain management may help food manufacturers reduce waste.,Voice-enabled supply chain management may help food manufacturers reduce waste.

Food waste is a major issue facing many organizations involved in food production and distribution. According to an article in Supply Management, changes in the food supply chain could potentially reduce the amount of product that goes bad or is thrown out on an annual basis. The article cites research conducted by the U.K.-based charity WRAP, which focuses on sustainability and environmental issues related to food waste reduction, commercial products and resource management.

Labeling May Play a Major Role
The report issued by WRAP, titled "Reducing food waste by extending product life," took an in-depth look at the retail food distribution industry and scrutinized items that have the greatest incidence of food wastage. These products include:

  • Sliced ham
  • Potatoes
  • Apples
  • Beef
  • Juice
  • Frozen pizzas
  • Frozen dinners
  • Bread
  • Chicken breasts
  • Milk
  • Bagged salad

By looking at the use-by and best before dates put on the packaging for these products, WRAP attempted to draw conclusions about labeling and food waste. One realization the non-profit had was that if manufacturers and retailers agreed to increase the consumption date on a wide variety of products by a single day, the industry to decrease the amount of food wasted annually by 250,000 tons.

It's important to keep in mind that between 1.3 and 2.6 million tons of food is wasted annually - taking into consideration products that are lost through distribution channels or thrown out at consumers' homes because they've passed the expiration date.

Suggested Changes to Supply Chain Management
As much as food wastage is in the hands of consumers, WRAP also suggested that manufacturers and retailers do their part to improve inventory management and distribution channels. For instance, the organization argues that the elapsed time between production at a manufacturing facility or agricultural facility and delivery at a retail store has a major impact on product life. If items arrive at a store on the same day as production, their shelf life is longer, meaning consumers have more time to safely consumer or use them. If an item arrives on the same day as its best by date, there a greater likelihood that shoppers will throw it out before its actual product life terminates.

To achieve this sort of agility in managing the supply chain, food manufacturers and distribution centers will likely have to adjust their workflows and data management structures. One potential solution is using a data collection solution that makes it easier and more efficient to capture data throughout the product lifecycle.

Voice-Optimized Mobile Data Collection
An American distribution center operator, Caito Foods, provides a great example of how other organizations can successfully improve their supply chain management, even when working with fresh produce, which often has a short shelf life.

The company runs four distribution centers which deliver products to customers in the eastern half of the U.S. The company used a paper-based system for data collection before it partnered with RFgen Software. Once legislation requiring stiffer traceability - showing country of origin and Global Trade Item Number - went into effect, Caito realized it couldn't keep moving forward without an improvement in technology and data capture.

The distributor selected the RFgen-Vocollect Voice Solution in part because it integrated so easily with its JD Edwards ERP software. However, the big seller for Caito was the fact that it could trace food from field to fork. The company could also repackage products or combine them without losing track of information for ingredients. Furthermore, intercompany branch transfers were all automated, making paperwork less of a hassle and reducing the time it takes to perform this task.

"One of the main reasons we decided to move to voice picking is that we create pallets as we pick; we don't stage. Our pickers need to have both hands free," explained Director of IT, Cindy Garrett. The RFgen-Vocollect Voice Solution is designed for picking in challenging environments, and it can help businesses increase productivity by up to 35 percent, while reducing errors by up to 25 percent.

If companies want to focus on decreasing food wastage, they will have to rethink their current operations. Manual, paper-based systems are far too cumbersome if food products are to be delivered on the same day as they're pulled from the fields or manufactured. There's no question that food waste is major issue, especially considering there are many people throughout the world that don't have sufficient or consistent access to these items. With mobile data collection solutions, distributors and producers are in a better position to not only trace the path of food throughout the supply chain, but also speed up the flow of goods.

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