Blockchain, vision technology, and Artificial Intelligence – tech is going to invade the fresh fruit and vegetable sector. The prediction comes from the latest trend report from Fruitlogistica, published this month.

The document, “Disruption in Fruit and Vegetable Distribution,” predicts that the produce supply chain will change, essentially, in four aspects: speed, flexibility, precision, and transparency. A shift that can only happen with the aid of new technologies.

All of this to meet the demands of a changing market, which is increasingly globalized, interconnected and populated by consumers with high standards.

A faster chain for hungrier customers

Modern end consumers of fresh produce ask for a lot more than their predecessors: not only do they seek high quality, organic and sustainable fruits and vegetables, they also want to obtain them quickly. Thus, industry players need to organize to create faster supply chains, guaranteeing the product freshness and speed demanded by the market.

Some companies are leading the way here, such as Amazon Fresh, an online service which allows consumers to order fresh produce for same-day delivery.

“If other players are to meet the challenge this presents, they will need to get better at managing the supply chain. This means taking actions to optimize the chain and eliminate inefficiencies,” the report authors recommend.

Cooperation between players is also essential to improve the speed of the supply chain. By way of strategic partnerships, collaboration would make it possible for the different players to increase the chains’ efficiency.

Using the latest tech for increased precision

For Fruitlogistica, it is imperative that supply chains become more precise. But how do you get there? Through supply and demand forecasting and increased automation, which are enabled by new technologies.

Predictive analytics – which allows businesses to predict problems that may affect supply – will be more and more important. “Companies will need to make use of more advanced systems and tools to address forecasting, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) that can improve automatic stock replenishment,” according to the report’s authors.

Another technology that is starting to gain traction is image recognition. That is, systems that analyze produce quality with vision technology, something that is currently used for hard fruit, like apples. In the future, says Fruitlogistica, this type of technology will branch out: “vision robotics will enable increasingly sophisticated interactions in retail warehouses, for example in picking and packing.”

More transparency with blockchain

For the authors, “the most critical challenge for the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain is its inherent lack of transparency,” which results from insufficient data availability and a high level of manual intervention and paperwork.

Blockchain, “an inherently secure and highly decentralized data system,” can be a solution to this problem.

This is how it works: an element in the chain (a farmer, for instance) registers data (such as a fruit’s growing conditions) into the blockchain. This data – a block – is encrypted and timestamped. The next element in the chain can consult the data and add another block, and so on. This gives way to a chronological chain of transparent, secure and cloud-based data.

In practical terms, this allows the origin of a product, a damaged lot or a vegetable’s harvest conditions to be consulted with ease by any member of the blockchain.

Big retailers like Walmart and Carrefour have already declared their intention of adopting this technology in their procedures.

Read also: Beyond Bitcoin: How blockchain will transform agriculture

A more flexible chain for a better supply

“Increasing the flexibility of the supply chain is aimed at ensuring continuity and fulfillment in supply,” the report reads. What happens is that the chain is often interrupted – for example, due to plagues that affect crops – but consumers are less and less tolerant of interruptions in the supply of fresh produce. Hence the need to increase supply chain flexibility.

“In [the] future, weather-related stock shortages will no longer be acceptable. Customers will opt for suppliers that can offer produce whenever and wherever required, while at the same time balancing consumer demands for sustainability and authenticity.”

Predictive analytics is essential in this regard since it will provide decision makers with the necessary time to take preventive action to avoid interruptions in supply.

It couldn’t more clear: the future is at the door, and industry players need to adapt if they want to keep up with the competition.

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