- Food and beverage leaders largely agree that digitization will have a "huge role to play" in the industry in the future, but investment in IT remains notably low, according to the new 2018 CSB-System survey, as reported by Food Ingredients First. The survey talked with industry decision makers from 29 countries.
- Twice the respondents rated digitization and IT as very important compared to the 2017 CSB survey — but that still represents only 17%. And just 15% said they spend more than 1.5% of their gross revenues on IT. About 70% don't invest more than 1% in digitization, according to the survey.
- The survey also identified the largest hurdles to digitization in the food industry: insufficient employee skills and little understanding of IT options on the market. Frank Braun, head of marketing at CSB, said this survey shows there is "still a lack of knowledge and understanding that is preventing many companies from investing heavily in IT and digitization."
Even though many are not investing much in IT, food and beverage manufacturers do seem to recognize its importance to the future of the industry. Respondents said technology could help deal with big challenges, including strict global legislation on food safety and traceability, increasing retailer requirements and higher demand for quality.
From artificial intelligence and robots to blockchain and 3D printing, technology is playing a more of role in the food and beverage industry. But it's not without glitches and high costs in its early stages. Although companies are starting to ramp up investments in new digital systems, some manufacturers seem to be hesitant.
The survey found that manufacturers were the most excited about robots and artificial intelligence. Consumer-facing investment in this space can be seen throughout the industry. Grocery stores are increasingly using robots to stock shelves, scrub floors and move products. Postmates and PepsiCo are using robots for snack delivery.
According to the survey, food manufacturers don't see blockchain gaining a foothold in the food industry soon. But that could quickly change. Big companies like Walmart and Cargill are using the technology, which is a decentralized way to record and pass along information about items as they move through the supply chain. The technology is still in the earlier stages, prompting many questions about its best practices, costs and how it will be regulated.
But blockchain can accommodate consumers' increased desire for transparency. Ramesh Gopinath, vice president at Blockchain Solutions at IBM, told Food Ingredients First that it could revolutionize the food supply chain because manufacturers will be essentially forced to respond to consumer pressure around sourcing transparency and how items get from point A to point B.
Cost is likely a concern that is holding many companies back from investing in new tech, but if consumers start to see some companies with advanced digitization, they could expect it from all manufacturers. Although this survey indicates that food companies aren't yet investing big in IT and digitization, that could change drastically in the coming years as the technology becomes more advanced — and more of a necessity.