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Food for thought
A fresh look at food brand protection
Heading into 2020, many food and restaurant organizations are focusing their efforts to strengthen brand resilience and improve customer experience. Our four-part article series explores new and emerging risk management approaches that can help you respond to the driving forces behind food brand protection.
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Smarter food quality: The future of food brand protection
In early 2020, the United States was poised to enter a new era of smarter food quality, one that recognized the complex and global nature of the way foods move from farm to table today. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was preparing to release a blueprint to point the way forward for industry stakeholders, emphasizing food traceability, digital technologies, and evolving food business models—all laid upon a cultural foundation of food quality as a top priority.1
Barely two months later, the country was forced to pivot abruptly toward that future with the outbreak of COVID-19. The need for practices outlined in the FDA’s report became even clearer, and restaurant brands and operators that had invested in certain proactive plans and a culture of preparedness became easily distinguishable from those that had not.
The upshot? For foodservice companies, the FDA’s recent actions provide an opportunity to further prepare for a future of smarter and higher food management systems that should engender brand trust, resilience, and security.
In a global food ecosystem, no one can do it alone when it comes to preventing food incidents. The FDA asserts that organizations need to lean on co-governances by the food industry, government, and the media, as well as third-party stakeholders such as associations, insurers, research groups, and academia. Why? Because food quality is extremely complicated, especially during a crisis, and it will take everyone to tackle the problem.
—Bill Flynn, Associate VP, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Former Arizona Environmental Health Director
Tech-enabled traceability and crisis response
One challenge the FDA blueprint aims to address is responding faster to a crisis, whether an outbreak of foodborne illness or the pandemic spread of disease. This concern reflects the lack of traceability and transparency that is the Achilles heel of modern food supply chains.
The agency is examining ways that technology, data, and processes can streamline this endeavor. A full range of digital solutions is on the table: blockchain, sensor technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Deloitte can help organizations prepare with TrueView, a proprietary performance management platform that can help organizations:
- Aggregate and collect customer experience and operating data—such as social media chatter, label scans, and sampling results—into a single, centralized database
- Compress the cycle-time between problem discovery and intervention
- Help frontline users manage remediation in collaboration with corporate stakeholders to foster brand resilience
By addressing the interoperability of traceability systems, food brands and operators can surface and remediate issues more efficiently while setting themselves up for adoption of emerging technologies down the line.
Smarter tools and approaches for prevention
The FDA’s blueprint also focuses on prevention, the need for which became more evident during the COVID-19 outbreak. No restaurant wants to be caught flat-footed by a crisis. However, the intricate networks that underpin global food production and distribution make proactive intervention a tall order to pull off manually.
The FDA proposes to automate it instead, using data analysis tools and predictive modeling to rapidly identify and mitigate food safety risks. Deloitte can assist restaurant brands’ efforts in this area with services designed to help:
- Analyze external data for signs of elevated food quality risk
- Build analytical models to enable trend and anomaly detection
- Deliver visual dashboards of organizational performance, with ad-hoc reporting capabilities
- Enable Predictive Risk Intelligence, a risk sensing solution for monitoring operations on an ongoing basis
- Deploy virtual monitoring capabilities such as web-conferencing for food inspections, virtual mock recalls, or remote review of KPI records
- Implement internal sensors to, for example, detect water temperatures throughout a facility or monitor produce wash, and collect the resulting data for quality review
Gone are the days of reaction as a strategy. With digital transformation, food service organizations can shift resources to proactively create a higher quality food environment for customers, reinforce brand resilience and public trust, and potentially elevate themselves to a more favorable public health risk category.
New business models and retail modernization
Part three of the FDA’s blueprint is to acknowledge the needs of existing and emerging food service business models. "Existing" refers to traditional restaurants and other food outlets. "Emerging" models allude to meal kits, curbside and contactless delivery, and other forms of moving products from kitchen to customers. And then there’s third-party delivery, which tends to span both worlds.
The agency’s intent is to bring it all under a regulatory framework that addresses the usual food quality challenges plus novel considerations such as packaging, temperature control, and means of last-mile delivery. Here, Deloitte can work with organizations to help them:
- Carry out field inspections and research to determine adherence to brand and quality standards
- Design a quality program that sets standards for digital delivery and objectively evaluates performance along with a variety of dimensions—vehicle and driver, timing, documentation, and more
- Provide methods and resources for field-level data collection, analyze observations and data for opportunities to improve, and recommend ways to carry out the improvements
Before the COVID-19 crisis, the digital economy was already changing the way people procure and consume food, amplifying risk for operators and brands that provide service beyond the four walls of their establishment. Now, a fresh perspective is even more important to help industry players get on top of the challenge while further building brand trust and resilience.
Food quality culture
Central to the aforementioned areas of focus—tech-enabled traceability, tools for prevention, and evolving business models—is food quality culture.
Against the FDA’s blueprint, think of culture as the norms, attitudes, and behaviors that employees exhibit toward food quality. The FDA is looking at how it will recognize the importance of food quality culture, promote it in the food industry, and develop smarter consumer education. Deloitte can help by working with brands to help them:
- Develop and monitor measures of food quality culture
- Update training to include reducing food quality risk as a core responsibility of staff
- Train internal or third-party brand designees on ways to assess food quality culture
- Develop strategies to improve the food quality culture
In their ongoing quest to build consumer loyalty and trust, brands are making changes to stay relevant. These changes involve risk, and managing that risk means moving beyond compliance to drive a culture of food quality that permeates all areas of the organization.
Working together to produce high-quality food
In its kickoff announcement for the "New Era of Smarter Food Safety" report, the FDA highlighted the importance of government and industry stakeholders pulling together to take on food quality for the future.2 Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the need for the blueprint provided by the FDA is coming into sharper relief.
The blueprint is a response to the revolution in food technology, but that’s not the whole of it. It’s also about simpler, more effective, and more modern approaches and processes. It’s about working within—and outside—regulatory agencies to foster a food quality culture that transcends borders between the public and private sectors. And ultimately, it all comes down to leadership and creativity in the restaurant and food service industry.
There’s no way (or rational reason) to get around it, so food service companies might as well go through it. The rewards can be improved public trust and a better prepared and stronger, more resilient brand.
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1 “New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” US Food & Drug Administration, 11/19/19, https://www.fda.gov/food/food-industry/new-era-smarter-food-safety
2 “Statement from Acting FDA Commissioner…on Steps to usher the U.S. into a new era of smarter food safety,” U.S. FDA, 4-30-2019, https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/statement-acting-fda-commissioner-ned-sharpless-md-and-deputy-commissioner-frank-yiannas-steps-usher