Revolutionising an age-old sector: infusing AI into tradition for a more sustainable tomorrow

Alex Kiely
19 February, 24

Shifting the focus

The global food supply chain is complex, with produce passing through many pairs of hands before reaching the end consumer. Although it is an intricate and carefully balanced process that has evolved over the last decade, it has its faults. 70% of food waste occurs along the supply chain before it has even reached the consumer. And with 24% of global greenhouse emissions driven by food systems, the industry as a whole needs to adapt.

For such a complex system, much of its infrastructure is reliant on outdated processes prone to human error. To overcome this shortcoming, digitisation must be embraced at all stages along the supply chain to help food travel more directly, with less waste. 

Certain parts of the supply chain are heavier contributors to food waste, and these are the ones where the most urgent changes are required. The relationship between suppliers and restauranteurs is an area requiring specific attention, as incorrect ordering and mistakes cause food waste every single day. 

Contributing 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and wasting £14 billion worth of food each year, the UK food industry can cut these numbers through increased efficiency, ensuring demand for food can balance out with supply.

Who it takes to make your dinner

To provide a customer with a single meal involves dozens of human interactions. The food industry is one built on relationships and history; however, its outdated nature is contributing significantly to UK food waste.

In the last 60 years, food supply per capita has increased by more than 30%. To account for losses throughout the supply chain, farmers overproduce. Loss analysis needs to occur within sections of the supply chain to reduce the necessity for overproduction. 

Choco has observed that the relationship between suppliers and restauranteurs is one where food losses are repeatedly made. 

And why is this section of the food supply chain making continued losses? At the end of the working day, restauranteurs make phone calls to fish, meat and fresh produce suppliers placing orders for the following day. At the other end of the line, suppliers are taking hundreds of phone calls around the clock. This manually driven task is a key contributor to food waste, as suppliers can misunderstand or incorrectly input orders.

By moving suppliers and restauranteurs onto the same platform, this weak link can be resolved through digitisation to increase order accuracy.

Automating a traditional industry

Implementing AI solutions into the tradition-entrenched British food industry is the next step. Many of the UK’s suppliers are second and third generation family-run businesses which haven’t evolved their operational systems as regularly as other industries over the years. Last year was the year of AI, and while the food industry is the fourth fastest adopter of AI, it is yet to realise the full benefits of its intervention. 

To reduce the waste associated with the supplier and restaurant relationship, greater accuracy is needed. Choco AI can do this by integrating into suppliers’ procurement systems to replace answering machines and email orders.

With new technological improvements, like Choco AI, suppliers and restauranteurs can integrate digital systems within two weeks. AI technology saves time, money and minimises food waste for suppliers. Automation reduces the time taken to manually enter data and can point efforts towards growth and areas for change.

Alternatively, inputting all data into one system provides real-time visibility and simpler communications between suppliers and restauranteurs. Product availability and expiry dates can all be visible on one platform. 

Digital accuracy can transform this relationship, reducing UK food waste and increasing industry growth. Costing individual restaurants up to £60,000 per year, food waste analysis can significantly increase gross profits. Meanwhile, suppliers can process a greater quantity of orders in less time, resulting in more revenue. 

Redirecting our resources

The UK’s food industry is facing a lack of growth due to staff shortages. With a shift in human focus from arduous tasks – suppliers taking orders, and restaurants making dozens of phone calls late into the night – the food industry can redirect its efforts towards sustainability focuses and business growth. Should the food industry continue as it is, 1.95 million retail jobs could remain unfilled by 2035. Redirection of human efforts and technological integration future-proofs the industry to ensure its growth. 

Encouraging a more sustainable food system could generate an additional £7.9 trillion of benefits a year. This requires meaningful and focused changes to be made to the whole food supply chain.

Digitising each section at a time is a step in the right direction; it reduces waste at the source, whilst enabling staff to redirect their time for business growth. 

Starting small

The food industry must embrace digital transformation to progress towards a more sustainable future. As a traditional industry founded on relationships, technology must play a part in bringing perceived old-fashioned links of the supply chain up to speed.

We face big challenges: achieving net zero goals by 2050 and reducing the UK’s food waste by 20% by 2025. Automation and accuracy in the middle of the chain impacts the whole supply – reducing how much is produced at farmer level, and how much is thrown away at the end. 

Shifting human focus from problematic operations, such as ordering, allows more time for business growth and committing to achievable sustainability targets.

Digitisation of the UK’s food supply chain will make the vital changes needed to transform the food industry – and this relationship between suppliers and restauranteurs is the best place to start.

Alex Kiely is the UK General Manager of Choco, the company connecting restauranteurs and their suppliers on a shared digital platform. Alex has headed the integration of Choco AI, their supplier-aiding new technology into the UK market, saving suppliers and restauranteurs, time, money and food waste. 

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