In this interview with Bühler’s Chief Technology Officer, Ian Roberts, we discussed the role of innovation for the company, as well as the future of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) in the food industry and supply chain.
By Tudor Vintiloiu, senior editor European Baker & Biscuit/Asia Pacific Baker&Biscuit.
Please refer to frozen food innovation and research currently in development.
Most of our innovation and research for frozen food is done in optical sorting. The bulk of our product development happens in our London facility. This is where our digital technologies reside. We are very strong in optical sorting for several industries, including frozen fruit and vegetables, where we have technology which was released last year and is proving extremely popular with our customers.
What is the company’s strategy on the IoT and its future for the food industry?
We decided that digitalization was one of the key disruptive trends of the industry that we must master, and should identify what is useful, test it and package it in a way that supports our customers to be more successful. We committed in 2016 that we would invest all of our R&D activities to reduce waste and energy consumption by 30% in our customers’ value chains. We partnered with Microsoft two and a half years ago and built, as far as I can tell, one of the most advanced digital platforms in the industry: Bühler Insights. We can connect 85% of our technologies to it and can build new businesses and services onto the platform in weeks, after which we can propagate them globally. This brings us the capability to execute service business digitally. One of the primary benefits of this is to enable transparency across value chains because these services provide benefits for all players in the value chain.
What would you first improve with regards to the food supply chain?
I think the deepest concern is where food losses are the highest. The first thing would be to implement smart sorting and storage systems, in order to bring efficiency to those value chains. Also, to use our new microtoxin elimination technology, so that instead of chucking away 20% of the product, when it gets to a factory, you are actually sorting it early in the value chain. I believe that is where the urgent need sits at the moment.
What are the main geographic differences with regards to sustainability, digitalization, automation and investments?
Sustainability is an industry priority. Less energy consumption means more profit. Less waste means more profit. If you are a food processing company, it is in your interest to optimize these, purely from a financial perspective. They also have a very positive environmental and social aspect. So, I think that in terms of sustainability, the key is that we provide an attractive business reason to our customers to support their positive impact on the environment and society.
Does Bühler usually prefer greenfield investments or the acquisition of existing assets?
We are pursuing both greenfield and brownfield investments. At the same time, Bühler has also invests in start-ups and start-up accelerator programs to support the development of nascent businesses. For Consumer Foods, we are, of course, first and foremost focusing on integrating the different businesses. At the end of the day, what really counts is creating value for our customers.