Innovation can make meat supply chain more customer-centric

Digital technologies – like blockchain and artificial intelligence – can make the meat and poultry supply chains more fluid and adaptable, enabling the industry to better focus on the needs of customers.

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Natali_Mis | iStock.com
Natali_Mis | iStock.com

Digital technologies – like blockchain and artificial intelligence can make the meat and poultry supply chains more fluid and adaptable, enabling the industry to better focus on the needs of customers, Gavin Hodgson, the Buying Manager: Meat, Fish & Poultry at Sainsbury’s, explained during the Oxford Farming Conference.

A period of significant change

Agriculture is going through a period of significant change right now.

This has numerous impacts on farmers. A growing population means there is an increased need for better, more efficient production methods to meet the demand for protein. At the same time, there is a growing consumer focus on how meat and poultry is produced.

Together, these two factors have collided, resulting in a spotlight on sustainability and animal welfare standards for animals used for food production.

Keep the customer in mind

Earlier in his career, Hodgson considered the next step in the supply chain to be his customer.

“If I knew what I knew now back then,” he said, “I would see my customer as being the person that picked the product up at the end. And I think that's something that I sort of learned, as I've gone through my career of working through the different stages of the supply chain. At the end of the day, the customer is the person that walks into the shop that chooses to pick that product up and pay for that product. Every other stage in the chain is more of a transactional stage.”

Differing needs and demands

Sainsbury’s runs approximately 26 million transactions per week, with approximately 3 million customers per week specifically in the meat, fish and poultry division. No two customers are the same.

“That’s quite a lot of people that can have very different objectives or expectations from the product. And that’s the challenge, to figure out how to move some of the supply chains that we work with to delivery some of the needs and expectations of our customers,” Hodgson said.

Customer-centric

Hodgson looked to Amazon to try to figure out ways to make the food supply chain more customer centric.

“Amazon probably is the one company that has the most literature linked to it around being a customer obsessed business. And I think the difference between this business and other businesses is that it's absolutely centric in everything that they do. They live and breathe, the customer and everything that they do will ladder back to delivering something for the customer,” he explained.

One way that food production can embrace the Amazon business model is by moving from a linear supply chain – where you only interact with the next link – to a supply web – where every step is interconnected. The supply web can help food production flex and adapt to changes quickly.

“The big push how do we build these quite complex webs and find ways to integrate digital technologies to break down some of some of these blocks and allow greater transparency and greater communication around the supply chains,” Hodgson concluded.

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