Ornella Urso
Ornella Urso (Head of Retail Insights and Customer Experience Strategies Lead, IDC, Europe)
Anielle Guedes (Senior Research Analyst, IDC’s European Customer Insights & Analysis)
Anielle Guedes (Senior Research Analyst, IDC’s EMEA Cross-Industry Research lead in the Industry Insights Group)

Complexity of the Issue and Value Chain

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” –  said the Italian operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.

Indeed, it is not just about satisfying a primary need, eating is nowadays more and more associated with a healthy and sustainable choice. Along the need-value continuum, the food value chain (FVC) reveals the complexity deriving from the high impact on human-wellbeing, society and the planet, the different sectors involved, without underestimating the intrinsic characteristics of food: meaning highly perishable products, that follow the nature’s life cycle.

In the grocery and restaurant sectors, for instance, the low profit margins of food are counterbalanced by other factors, such as territorial proximity with farmers and producers (Km0), the demographic concentrations and different profiles and nutritional habits of end consumers.

Food quality and safety can be at risk from different “contact points”, uncontrolled used of pesticides and/or antibiotics, cold-chain rupture, cross-contamination, inadequate storage and packaging, improper sanitary practices and international standard, spoiled ingredients, even natural disasters. These will, ultimately, impact consumers’ habits, choices, health, and wellbeing.

Beyond that, food loss and food waste call for supranational social responsibility as a guiding principle with a clear deadline: globally, there is a commitment to halve food waste by 2023.

As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) clearly states on their website, “14% of food valued at an estimated USD400 billion is lost from harvest up to, excluding retail. 17% more is wasted at the retail and consumer levels (UNEP 2021).” Also, in 2022, as part of the “Farm to Fork Strategy”, the EU relaunched the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW) and aims to operate until 2026.

Scaling Technology in the Value Chain

Leveraging technology to the benefit of safe and security across the food value chain cycle, from production and distribution to the end consumer, to ensure food quality, products traceability, and healthy habits while lowering food waste for a sustainable economic, social and environmental ecosystem is possible if the right technologies are implemented in the right way.

Circularity is intrinsically embedded in the production-distribution-consumption life cycle framework while technology, and in some cases ethic, can be applied across the different processes of the food supply chain: from production, through distribution, to the final consumer with the aim to control and, ultimately, eliminate food waste and losses.

Source: IDC, 2023

Challenges of the Food Supply Chain’s Core Process

Leveraging the competencies and industries’ key trends, we have identified the top challenges that businesses and institutions need to consider:

Production & Design

Fresh products (fruits, vegetables, etc.) provenance intersects with different sectors, from agriculture and manufacturing to large scale food retail trade and stores. At the same time, the use of unusual ingredients, as insects, as well as the production of lab-grown food from cellular agriculture and genetically modified crops/livestock raise questions around the sustainability of methods used, such as maintaining freshness of products and ensuring traceability.

Climate change and increasing urbanization are also important challenges affecting the availability and productivity of farmland. This might have severe impacts on food security and overall quality of life.


Track and trace perishable items, assuring the integrity of the cold chain are critical use cases for guaranteeing food safety and provenance. The establishment of food control systems is essential to maintain a safe and trustworthy food supply, protect public health, and ensure consumer confidence in the food they consume.

Strengthening collaboration between producers and retailers to enhance transparency while assuring confidentiality on food shelf life is crucial in achieving these goals.


Food waste, food surplus management in the consumer industry includes food and grocery stores as well as restaurants and coffee shops. In most cases, food packaging is associated with shelf-life monitoring for disposing what have not been sold or just reducing or re-using certain food packages.

Also, food security, food safety and healthy nutrition need to be compliant with existing regulations, such as the European General Food Law Regulation, and agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Where Can Technology Help

The field of food production is in constant development, seeking for innovative approaches and technologies to produce food more efficiently, distributing focused on the reduction of losses and do consume in a way that privileges the health of consumers and waste minimizing. Here we highlight the technologies employed in the three core processes along the food value chain:

Production & Design

Computer vision for field monitoring, IoT in agricultural devices and equipment to the internet for real-time monitoring and data collection, enabling farmers to make data-driven decisions, agrivoltaics to provide protection from environmental extreme events. Also, other technologies playing a role in food production are vertical farming and controlled environment food production, using artificial lighting and climate control to maximize production in limited spaces and reduce the environmental impact.

Robotics is automating tasks such as planting, harvesting, sorting, and packaging, reducing labor costs and increasing overall efficiency.


Eco-friendly and biodegradable materials to replace traditional plastic packaging, enabling a circular approach to food packaging. Tracking, tracing and monitoring technology into food packaging to ensure freshness, temperature, and shelf life, extending the product’s longevity. IoT sensors providing for real-time monitoring of temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors during transportation and storage, ensuring food quality and safety.  

Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to optimize supply chain logistics, inventory management, and demand forecasting. Moreover, autonomous delivery vehicles and drones are being tested for last-mile delivery of food products, which has the potential to reduce delivery times and costs.


AI-enabled prediction of retail shelf-life for food to mobile-friendly technologies that allows customers to buy and collect food boxes from cafés, restaurants, hotels, shops and manufacturers that otherwise would go to waste, but are still under the expiration date. On the food safety side, advanced food testing methods, pathogen detection using AI and optical recognition, and food traceability systems to identify and prevent contamination issues.

Mobile apps, NFC and QR codes on packaging were being used to provide consumers with detailed product information, including sourcing, certifications, and nutritional data.


This all encompasses a continuous spectrum of need and value within the food sector, where the intricacies of the food value chain (FVC) are illuminated, showcasing their profound impact on human well-being, society, and the environment, involving various sectors, and acknowledging the inherent complexities of food itself. Simultaneously, food quality and safety face vulnerabilities from multiple “contact points,” including unchecked pesticide or antibiotic usage, disruptions in the cold chain, cross-contamination risks, inadequate storage and packaging, improper hygiene practices, international standards compliance, spoiled ingredients, and even natural disasters.

Furthermore, addressing food loss and waste necessitates a global social responsibility commitment, aiming to cut food waste in half. To solve for those complex challenges, the field of food production, consumption, and distribution, must continually evolve exploring innovative approaches and technologies that enhance the efficiency of processes at the same time create a new industry based off the interactions of the food value chain (FVC) stakeholders. AI & machine learning, IoT sensors, robotics, and even data & analytics are the service of a more productive, higher quality, healthier food ecosystem.

If you want to know more about the cross-industry research, access the European Verticals: Use Cases and Strategies

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