Fresh Food Supply Chains: Challenges and Innovative Business Concepts

Our food should be fresh, healthy and visually appealing. And bananas, cheese and frozen pizza should be transported and stored as sustainably as possible on their way to the shelf. What new responsibilities does this present to companies, and how should they tackle them? Professor Sandra Transchel, co-founder of the Food Research Group at KLU, shares the results of a workshop that addressed this question.

Most people expect flawless fresh foods at low prices in the refrigerated section when they go shopping. What challenges does this pose to the actors in the supply chain across production, transportation and distribution?

Sandra Transchel:The greatest challenge at present is high inflation and the extreme price increase it entails, especially for energy costs. This affects the cost of refrigerated transport and of course the storage of fresh products. For both companies and end customers, the effects are palpable. In the near future we’ll have to expect continued price increases. Especially on fresh foods, which make high demands on continuously functioning cold chains.

Another challenge is the conversion to more sustainable supply chains. Here, we consumers need to rethink too. Whether carrots, broccoli or cucumbers meet certain standard measures shouldn’t factor into one’s purchase because this leads to unnecessary food waste. If nothing else, it’s the high expectation of always finding “flawless fresh food at low prices” and the tremendous competitive pressure in food retailing which make it so difficult to transform food supply chains sustainably.

 

KLU teamed up with three universities in Munich, Bayreuth, and Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in April and organized a workshop online for students and others. What were the objectives?

Sandra Transchel: The workshop is the prelude to a small series in which we’re pursuing two key objectives. For starters we want to create a platform for exchange between science and companies regarding the challenges particular to food supply chain management and their possible solutions. We’re interested in the extent to which research can contribute. The second aim is integration into teaching. Students at all participating universities benefitted from four practice-oriented talks and a subsequent panel discussion.

What were the main results of the exchange?

Sandra Transchel: The company representatives agreed that in addition to broad practical training, through various internships, for example, a solid base in scientific education is also necessary. As data preparation and analysis are no longer a choice but a necessity at many companies, solid skills in mathematics and statistics are increasingly important.

Prof. Alexander Hübner at TU Munich and I had the idea for a workshop series a year and a half ago. Prof. Christian Fikar at the University of Bayreuth and Prof. Heinrich Kuhn at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt joined later as co-organizers.

 

How can science contribute to solving practical problems in supply chains for refrigerated fresh foods?

Sandra Transchel: The effects of the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine have led to many companies having to reorganize their supply chains. In many areas you can see a trend towards shorter, even regional supply chains. And the food sector won’t circumvent the shared work of continuing to scale down carbon emissions and transportation routes. The question, however, is what exactly that can look like.

How can regional food supply chains, which consist of many small independent suppliers, become more sustainable and competitive? How do logistics networks have to be designed and organized to ensure the availability of food in times of crisis? Or how do innovative concepts, such as vertical farming, influence food supply chains and logistics networks? There’s an array of research questions like this which we’re currently working on in our Research Group Food Supply Chain Management at KLU.

 

Representatives from the Business Community

Philipp Bächle, Director Supply Chain & Procurement, HelloFresh: Supply Chain Management & Procurement are one of the toughest areas to keep food services/groceries shipping up running. But it's also fun to solve the most pressing problems in the day-to-day work. (LinkedIn profile)

Dr. Benedikt Schulte, Strategy & Quality Management Logistics/SCM, REWE Group: Given today’s volatile environment, logistics and supply chain management are of increasing importance in fulfilling our customer’s rising expectations. In this context, we employ operations research and machine learning in order to help improve efficiency, increase performance and minimize food waste. (LinkedIn profile)

KLU organized a student workshop called Fresh Food Supply Chains: Innovative Business Concepts for Current Challenges on April 22, 2022 with the Technical University of Munich, the University of Bayreuth, and Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Corporate representation included: REWE, Picnic, HelloFresh and the food startup Every.

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