Add to cart: Digital Procurement for B2B is the New Normal
Digital procurement for B2B is on the cusp of a significant transformation. Supply chain disruptions through the pandemic are causing CPOs to look at B2B procurement in a new light. While the KRAs of quality, cost, and delivery continue to be relevant, there is an increasing demand for spend analysis, transparency, data, supplier reliability, and risk management. In the near future enterprises will get a more personalized customer experience similar to what individuals get from B2C e-commerce.
What is Digital Procurement for B2B?
Digital procurement for B2B migrates enterprises from ad-hoc and offline buying to a digitized source-to-pay platform. It replicates the customer experience of a B2C e-commerce marketplace.
Like a B2C e-commerce marketplace, a B2B online marketplace offers a catalog of line items spread across product categories. Users can browse through the catalog to compare suppliers, brands, and products. They can compare costs, volume discounts, expected time of arrival (ETA), and inventory availability to place orders.
However, B2B e-commerce offers several advantages, and therefore enterprises have been drawn to it for a long time now.
Reasons for Adopting Digital Procurement Before the Pandemic
The following reasons had been driving enterprises’ adoption of digital procurement before the pandemic:
- Faster Delivery: Agility is a significant challenge in enterprise procurement. B2B online marketplaces offer quicker and cheaper delivery than their offline counterparts and are an enabler of value.
- Cost Control and Compliance: Cost efficiency is a critical KPI for procurement teams. B2B e-commerce platforms enable inter-supplier comparisons and thus augment ease of spending control and compliance.
- Scale: In manufacturing, order sizes surpass the scope of a piece-meal approach and is critical to procurement officers. B2B marketplaces can fulfill large scale industrial purchase orders.
- Quality: The quality of industrial supplies determines the quality of industrial output. B2B marketplaces deploy internal quality control procedures that foster trust creation for enterprises.
Reasons for Upswing in Digital Procurement Through the Pandemic
While online shopping benefits in the B2B segment were visible long back, the pandemic has fastened the move towards digital procurement.
- Risk Management: Supply chain disruptions have been a significant challenge for enterprises. B2B marketplaces have responded with better data analytics, cloud computing, and the internet of things capabilities to augment supplier visibility.
- Reliability: B2B marketplaces with diverse and inclusive supplier ecosystems are less prone to supply chain disruptions than their offline counterparts.
- Safety: The pandemic has pushed the need for ensuring people’s health and safety. The online workflow supports collaboration across the supply chain and is safer than offline models of procurement.
Integrated Solutions: B2B procurement platforms allow enterprises to track, control, negotiate with suppliers, and report from a single platform. It will enable industrial buyers to get a B2C-like customer experience.
How Will Digital Procurement Make Life Easier for CPOs in the Future?
B2B marketplaces have seen a large scale adoption for some time now. Before the pandemic, the procurement officer’s responsibilities were those of negotiation and compliance. Beyond the pandemic, these responsibilities are likely to give way to supplier relationship building and risk management.
B2B procurement automation will soon upgrade to include artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. This will lead to a more personalized customer experience, share product recommendations, and set reminders to prevent inventory stock-out situations.
Indian Start-ups are poised to navigate on the trajectory of growth: Sandeep Goel
COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new set of challenges for the economy along with a major inflection point for Indian start-ups. Such unprecedented economic challenges will create new opportunities for enterprises to innovate and develop new-age solutions to the problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ability of Indian start-ups to leverage the current paradoxical economic conditions to their advantage shall decide the winners and losers.
Getting Indian Businesses Prepared for Restarting the Supply Chain During Lockdown 4.0
The latest MHA guidelines for enterprises to resume commercial activities during the ensuing period of lockdown 4.0 reflect the solutions required to resolve the local challenges posed by the Covid19 pandemic to India following “mass customization”. The roadmap to be adopted by enterprises for “walking off the seatbelt” must address the twin challenges of scale and diversity that are representative of the economic and geographic environments of India. Given the diversity in the rates of morbidity, mortality, and recovery across regions in the country it is evident that the opening up of the economy while being staggered shall also be localized and follow different timelines across regions and industry verticals in the economy. It is in view of these emerging realities that enterprises need to decode the revised MHA guidelines for resuming activity during the nationwide lockdown.
National Directives for Covid19 Management and Standard Operating Procedures: MHA Guidelines
The latest order for lockdown 4.0 retains the status quo of preceding orders during the last 60 days of the lockdown while devolving regulatory functions of the business to local authorities to assess health risks and resilience of the apparatus for civil administration. It mandates that disinfectants be used for regularly sanitizing: entrance gate of building and office, cafeteria and canteens, meeting room, conference halls, open areas, verandah, the entrance gate of sites, bunkers, portacabins, buildings, equipment and lifts, washrooms, toilets, sinks, water points, walls, and other surfaces. Further, it deems the sanitization of all vehicles, machinery entering the premises, and thermal screening for everyone entering and exiting the workplace as mandatory. The National Directives for Covid19 management mandates compliance with the following workplace safety measures:
- It recommends that the practice of work from home be followed as much as possible.
- It requires enterprises to ensure on the best effort basis that employees install the Aarogya Setu app on their personal devices for safety in the workplace.
- It deems the wearing of masks as compulsory for people in public places and workplaces.
- It deems the making of adequate arrangements for temperature screening and hand sanitizers for people as compulsory.
- It deems as compulsory for organizations to sanitize workplaces between shifts.
- It deems as compulsory for organizations in manufacturing units to ensure frequent cleaning of common surfaces and makes handwashing mandatory.
Reimagining the Solutions for Lockdown 4.0 from a Local Perspective
One of the major highlights of the extended period of lockdown 4.0 from the standpoint of supply chains is the approach to localization of challenges and solutions thereof. The latest order from the MHA for lockdown 4.0 clearly suggests that the delineation of red, green, and orange zones will now be decided by the respective state and UT governments. It also devolves decision-making powers for demarcation of buffer and containment zones to district-level authorities, while requiring them to operate within the guidelines of MoHFW. Enterprises that are looking to resume economic activity in the ensuing period are now required to take cognizance of the decentralization of the business regulatory framework and must look to engage with local authorities, local suppliers, and local communities of people.
Implications for Supply Chains and Workplaces of Enterprises Due to the Localized Approach
The new approach enshrined in the MHA order for lockdown 4.0 brings into focus the aspects of localization of supply chain practices and engagement with business and civil regulatory institutions at the district, state, and UT levels.
Enterprises that are preparing to restart their supply chains thus need to be more aware of the evolving on-ground situation in states and UTs to understand the regulations on the mobility of people, materials, and multimodal logistics and thereafter map their availability for work across multiple locations in their supply chain.
For enterprises that are multi plant operators, this requires them to adopt a new decentralized and bottom-up approach to planning, implementing, and monitoring supply chain operations in different locations across states and UTs in India.
By implicit rationale, it also calls for enterprises in the manufacturing sector to take a fresh look at the upstream and downstream activities of their supply chain. Given the wide diversity in the rates of spread of the COVID19 pandemic across locations, it is prudent for enterprises to keep track of operations across every plant location separately.
The localized approach to lockdown 4.0 calls for a fresh mapping of suppliers against procurement requirements for each plant location. This shall, in turn, set the tone for mapping the available modes of hyperlocal transport, engaging with logistics service providers, planning the logistics routes and number of sorties required for each vehicle, and conducting a gap analysis of headcount of people for covering each touchpoint in the supply chain from the point of manufacturing to the points of distribution.
Social distancing norms for as long as they apply shall compel enterprises to operate at sub-optimal production levels thereby drastically cutting down gross value addition at multiple levels in the supply chain and a search for new models of costs. Owing to the different timelines of the opening up of regions across the country, a restructuring of the supply chain is bound to happen. Enterprises located in regions that are first to open up shall have the first-mover advantage, albeit in the short term. The resumption of economic activities in the regions that lead the race to reopen shall create a local demand for industrial supplies and local suppliers located in proximity to these enterprises shall be the first in line to secure these orders for raw materials, intermediate goods and class C items like packaging and MRO. In the short term, as long as all the regions in the country do not open up for the economic activity to resume, local supply chain ecosystems resembling the raisin-pudding model envisaged by the scientist JJ Thomson shall emerge. As long as logistics across adjacent states shall remain cut off, such local supply chain ecosystems may also increasingly witness opportunities for arbitrage and speculation, thereby affecting new pricing and revenue enablement models in the newly reopened regions.
Building Supply Chain Capabilities for the Short Term and the Long Term
Given the new realities of supply chain restructuring that are about to emerge during lockdown 4.0 and beyond, enterprises need to start building capabilities now and look to scale best practices through a repetitive model to arrive at a new normal in the long term. Creating local supplier networks and investing in collaborative supplier relationships in local geographies shall be integral to restarting economic activity in the short term. Partnering with these new suppliers in the short term and moving towards strategic supplier relationships shall require new supply chain models driven by collation and analysis of data on key performance indicators of supplier performance. Agile collaboration with suppliers shall require switching to a digital workflow to fast track the PR-to-PO process. Most importantly it shall be necessary for enterprises to leverage cloud platforms to store such data and then apply sensing, processing, and learning capabilities of artificial intelligence to drill down their supplier networks to understand their supplier risk exposure better to stay insulated from supply shocks in future. A new normal shall eventually emerge from these altered ground realities.
The New Normal: Supply Chain Touchpoints Separated by Distance and Connected by Technology
The revised MHA guidelines for business enterprises while being effective for the ensuing period of the lockdown 4.0 are integral to the strategic evolution of the economic, geographical, and regulatory environments for business in India towards a more federal and localized supply chain design. There is a likelihood that enterprises may now have to work with a unique supply chain design composed of pools of resources, materials, and people within local jurisdictions and geographical footprints while being connected to each other in India and across the globe through high-end supply chain technology platforms and digital systems.
The takeaways from the localized approach to the lockdown shall in the long term lead towards a trajectory whereby all functions of business shall pivot on gaining visibility into the next steps in the local supply chain, making their supply chains more granular and agile to respond to opportunities and risks in the local environment, designing low-touch processes to stay operational from remote locations and building capabilities to align local resources towards the next opportunities in the shortest turnaround time. The Covid19 pandemic has caught business enterprises unawares amidst a massive supply chain disruptions. The supply chains of the future shall be much more localized and technology-enabled to enable enterprises to insulate themselves from the risks posed by opaque supplier relationships, failures of long-distance logistics, and look to move closer to the point of consumption.
Enabling Indian Food and Beverage Supply Chains During COVID19 and Beyond
Food and beverages (F & B), the fourth largest sector in the Indian economy, has continuously endeavored to keep the supplies of essential goods up and running in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic. While the F & B sector had garnered annual revenues of USD 52. 75 bn in FY 2018-19, it had been experiencing growing headwinds over the last 12 months before the onset of the COVID19 pandemic. It was able to register a growth in value in January and February in FY 2019-20 to the tune of 8.6%. Still, the recovery was cut short by the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic in March, with growth slipping to 6.2%, owing to disruptions to its supply chain emanating from a wide range of factors.
How Does the Geographical Footprint of Indian F & B Affect Its Supply Chain Ecosystem?
The Indian F & B industry finds the presence of several large enterprises with a geographical footprint spread over 40 Mega Food Parks across the country. These Mega Food Parks may be further classified into the categories of: in operation, in progress, and in principle. Five of the top enterprises in the F & B industry in the country run food processing and manufacturing facilities at 17 “in operation” Mega Food Parks, with four such Mega Food Parks each in the north, west, and south and two each in the east and the north-east respectively. These large enterprises also have food processing facilities across the 21 “in progress” Mega Food Parks, with eight of these being distributed across the north, five across the southern states, and four across the central-south zone. The industry is characterized by the presence of a well-established distribution network, and non-price competition between the organized and unorganized segments. Traditionally the industry has benefited from the easy availability of raw materials from farmgate players, low labor costs, and value addition by post-farmgate players and MSMEs.
What Are the Supply Chain Risks and Operational Challenges Facing Indian F & B Now?
From the standpoint of an analysis of the supply chain risks and operational challenges facing the Indian F& B industry, the following factors assume significance:
- the epidemiological dynamics across the geographical footprint of Indian F & B
- the regulatory guidelines for crop harvesting and threshing and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19
- the dependence of Indian F & B enterprises on global suppliers and markets
- the dependence of Indian F & B enterprises on supplies for value-added services
- finally, the supply chain risks emanating from a breakdown of contractual obligations and compliance mechanisms in hotspots, red zones, and containment zones
How Does the Spread of the COVID19 Contagion Impact the Indian F & B Industry?
From the standpoint of large Indian F & B enterprises, it is essential to note that its geographical footprint across the Mega Food Parks and beyond farm gates has a direct bearing on the food supply chain and exposure to COVID19 led disruptions. 80% of the final products manufactured and processed by Indian F& B industry comprises of non-food grain items like poultry, dairy farm products, fruits and vegetables, sugars, permissible additives and preservatives, and edible oils and are driven perishable food supply chains (FSCs). These are low-shelf life products, with 60% of volumes being handled by non-farmgate players. Further, a whopping 85% of the FSC is handled by MSMEs that are dynamic and clustered near and in towns. The dynamics of the contagion thus far indicate that urban areas with a high density of population and congested physical environments are especially vulnerable to risks of transmission of the #COVID19 pandemic.
What to Make of the Regulatory Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures to Combat COVID19?
An analysis of the Indian FSC on the lines of segregation of farmgate players, post-farmgate participants, and downstream MSMEs can enable F & B enterprises to act with prudence and proactively map contingency and recovery mechanisms to ensure compliance with regulatory measures.
Farmgate Players in Indian FSC
The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation, and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India has issued guidelines for harvesting and threshing for farmgate participants in the FSC. While foodgrain items make for only 20% weight of the FSC in India, the dependence on several critical agro-based products hold relevance to the F & B enterprises.
Post-Farmgate Players in Indian FSC
Indian F & B enterprises face higher exposure to post-farmgate activities that account for 60% of the FSC. Data reported in the National Sample Survey 2011-12 suggests that post-farmgate activities are undertaken in semi-urban areas, towns, and tier-II cities in regions that are close to farm areas. Such physical proximity has traditionally served to reduce the TAT of cargo, reduce logistics costs, and added a measure of speed to the FSC that holds relevance for perishable goods. The low rates of morbidity and mortality reported thus far, coupled with easy access to healthcare services and regulated commercial real estate, make post-farm gate participants less likely to be disrupted by the COVID19 pandemic. Furthermore, the presence of organized labor makes it easier to implement social distancing measures stated by the Ministry of Home Affairs vide the National Directive on COVID 19 Management and Standard Operating Procedures.
MSMEs in Indian FSC
MSMEs form the third key stakeholder group in Indian FSCs. NSSO 2011-12 data suggests that MSMEs handle between 72% and 83% of the F & B products consumed in India for wholesaling, processing, logistics, distribution, and retailing, all of which are labor-intensive and operate with high densities of workers in small commercial real estate. Given the trajectory of the COVID19 metrics thus far, it makes sense to suggest that MSMEs that are engaged in the downstream supply chain are the most susceptible to COVID19 risks. With 80-90% of retailing and distribution being routed through MSMEs operating in densely populated urban areas, the downstream of the Indin F & B supply chain stands at risk of being disrupted.
How Does Dependence on Suppliers for Value Added Services Affect Indian F & B Enterprises?
Dependence of Indian F & B enterprises on domestic MSMEs for class C items like packaging and labeling adds to the supply chain risks. Given the economic environment of MSMEs as discussed above, the withdrawal of people from workforce participation, compromising with regulatory guidelines, and exposure to red zones and containment areas make them susceptible to supply chain disruptions. Further, the bundling of services like third-party logistics and warehousing makes MSMEs more vulnerable to the risks of COVID19, thus raising the risks of inflated costs of packaging, warehousing, and distribution and higher turnaround time of cargo thereby affecting market outreach of enterprises.
Recommendations for Making Indian F & B Supply Chains More Efficient Now.
The Indian F & B industry, while being a leading player in the resolution of the impasse, is required to make its supply chain more efficient to withstand the disproportionate impact created by the Covid19 pandemic. Following operational and supply chain measures are recommended for deployment in the short-run (next two financial quarters):
- Map Exposure to Local Supplier Network in Red Zones and Containment Areas
In the wake of the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) elements that have been accentuated owing to the dynamics of the contagion across India, it makes sense for Indian F & B enterprises to regularly assess the on-ground developments across red zones and containment areas. Given the challenges that are likely to emerge in the downstream distribution of food products, a switch to smart packaging to enable more excellent track and trace of SKUs during the supply chain journey can create customer delight in times of crisis.
- Periodic review of HVACR in Plants and Warehouses and PPE
Given the prerequisites of the operating environment that the F& B industry has, there is a necessity to periodically monitor and review the working condition of cold storages and cold chains to ensure the freshness of perishable products. The most important measures to ensure the safety of the lives of people and ensure minimum disruption to production routines are the optimal procurement of personal protective equipment and regularization of the MRO supply chain. Periodic quality control audits of HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration) can enable the easy downstream distribution of food products when these are still fresh and fit for human consumption.
- Gradually Evolve to Sustainable Packaging to Protect Edible Contents to Address Health Risks
The immediate supply chain risks posed by the COVID19 pandemic to the downstream activities of wholesaling, retailing, and distribution of F & B products call for enterprises to take greater cognizance of the trust deficit among customers by the need for social distancing. Enterprises can do well to invest in partnering with suppliers that have the necessary capabilities of new product development and industrial-scale to provide tamper-proof packaging solutions that insulate the contents of edible items from the risks of contamination by pathogens during the supply chain journey. With the likelihood of a new normal of contactless delivery and models of low touch distribution, Indian F & B enterprises may like to drive pilot projects of innovation in sustainable packaging for edible items and scale-up deployment across product categories to reduce costs.
- Advance Booking of Logistics and Warehousing Capacity to Counter Surge in Domestic Demand
With an eventual reopening of the economy over the next financial quarter, a surge in domestic demand can hit logistics costs and, by implicit economic rationale, may invite a need for optimization of inventory holdings. Booking of logistics and warehousing capacity can reduce demand-pull inflationary pressures. Vendor managed inventory services for holding inventories can enable Indian F & B enterprises to unlock cash and rationalize working capital usage over the short term.
Beyond COVID 19: What is Next for the Indian F & B Supply Chain?
The COVID 19 pandemic, while having disrupted the downstream supply chains of Indian F & B enterprises offer a vast spectrum of takeaways that are likely to lead to the evolution of a new normal. Currently, the F & B retail market is dominated by food grocery stores and food services, both of which are growing at a CAGR of 25%. The overarching reliance on MSMEs for retailing and distribution routed through the manual workflow may witness a paradigm shift. It should enable Indian F & B enterprises to invest in temperature-controlled supply chain capabilities in urban areas, thereby allowing them greater control over the supply chain, volumes, and value. Given the non-price competition in the packaged F & B industry, a new technology-driven approach to the procurement of packaging and labeling can: reduce TAT of perishable goods, bring visibility into the supply chain journey of every unit of product, strengthen brand equity and reduce spoilage of food products.
Building Flexible Supply Chains in Manufacturing: Lessons from the Covid19 Pandemic
As countries continue to be affected by the disruptions caused by the transmission of the Coronavirus pandemic, enterprises in the manufacturing sector are becoming increasingly wary of what the future of their procurement should look like. While the transient setbacks to a large number of suppliers are nudging supply chain leaders in the manufacturing sector towards exploring local sourcing options, fact remains that global procurement offers the best supply chain risk mitigation outcomes and is therefore likely to not only stay but grow once the manufacturing sector looks to recover and rebuild.
The Costs of Supply Chain Disruption on the Community and Businesses –
As governments across countries issue orders for lockdowns and look to freeze the mobility of multimodal logistics, supply chains across the globe are coming to a grinding halt. For many industry verticals like FMCG, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and life sciences that manufacture essential goods and are thus still in operation, the capability of enterprises to withstand the disruptive supply-side shocks also determines the potential risks of entitlement failures what with communities of people being dependent on uninterrupted supplies of PPE, masks, sanitizers, soaps, medicines, shelf-stock food items, groceries, and other edible items. The Coronavirus pandemic presents them with multifold challenges of procuring:
- MRO items to keep their operations up and running
- effective packaging to roll-out products into the market
- warehousing to maintain sufficient inventory
- logistics to ensure fast last mile delivery
The Contemporary Scope of Local Sourcing and the Promise of Global Procurement –
The supply chain challenges facing enterprises in the manufacturing sector may nudge them towards searching for new suppliers with local footprint and in proximity to the points of manufacturing, new logistics service providers and even new sub-contractors with industrial-scale capabilities for agile manufacturing to meet the demand gap. However global procurement offers enterprises unparalleled advantages of supply chain de-risking that are beyond the scope of local sourcing.
Success Stories of Enterprises Using Global Procurement to Overcome Supply Chain Disruptions –
As arguments for greater localization of supply chains and procurement networks begin to gain traction, here are a few lessons from success stories of enterprises that have leveraged global procurement to navigate supply chain disruptions.
Intelligent Product Design Can Lend Greater Flexibility to the Supply Chain
Back in the first decade of the new millennium, Nokia was a leader in mobile handset manufacturing with the demand for its products at its peak. The Finnish mobile company had manufacturing facilities across countries in the world. In the year 2000, a mishap destroyed an important chip manufacturing facility located in Albuquerque that supplied Nokia. Despite the mishap, the impact on the manufacturing capabilities of Nokia was by and far limited. Nokia had designed the chips from the ground up such that it was possible for the enterprise to swiftly move its production to the Netherlands and Singapore.
Lesson #1: If products are designed intelligently from the ground up with an eye on scaling up manufacturing across multiple locations it offers an enterprise greater insulation from disruptive shocks to their manufacturing and operations and consequently to their downstream supply chain and distribution channels.
Contingency Logistics Planning Can Help Enterprises with Downstream Distribution
The cotton shirt manufacturer, Esquel is a vendor for major international labels like Hugo Boss and Nike. The enterprise has manufacturing facilities in Vietnam and routinely uses logistics routes from China to procure fabrics for its manufacturing units in its home country, Vietnam. However,the enterprise had invested heavily in forging partnerships with logistics service providers with a diverse portfolio of supply chain capabilities that could, if required, divert from the regular trade route through Hong Kong and on to Vietnam. This contingency planning for alternative logistics proved critical when eventually Esquel did face the challenge.
Lesson #2: Agile companies that are proactive and prepared for the turbulences downstream face a relatively lesser risk. It may take longer and cost more to ship supplies through a second-best route, but given the stakes of imminent disruption, even a sub-optimal choice is better than having no choice at all.
Access to Multiple Avenues of Connectivity Can Create Market Opportunities
Take the case of Ethiopia. Until a few years ago Ethiopia was a landlocked country with very limited options for first and last-mile connectivity to long-distance logistics infrastructure for the mid-mile leg of the supply chain. This had the effect of inhibiting the growth of the textile industry. Over the years there have been massive investments in new highways and a railway project that provides connectivity to the nearest major port and a multitude of industrial parks located in its neighbor Djibouti. Today Ethiopia is the home to several global manufacturers in the clothing and textile industry that have set shop in the country and operate production units.
Lesson #3: Suppliers with access to global connectivity are better positioned to hit the ground running in times of disruptive shocks to the supply chain to feed supplies to large scale enterprises that operate a truly global and multi-plant manufacturing network.
Looking Ahead: Global Procurement Shall Be Inclusive, Collaborative and Digital
While the temptations of the localized supply chain and sourcing strategy are palpable, there are enterprises that have been leveraging collaborative supplier ecosystems to good effect prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, an American multi brand retail heavyweight operates a procurement ecosystem consisting of 100 suppliers through a dedicated project that aims to improve the operational environment at their manufacturing units and bring greater visibility into its supplier collaboration. The internal consulting team at the enterprise is entrusted with responsibility to meticulously map the capacities and capabilities of each supplier. Thereafter the team recommends a customized supplier collaboration program that aligns with the concerned supplier’s business model. Interestingly the enterprise extends its supplier collaboration beyond the timelines of the project. Through greater repetitiveness and economies of flow, the supplier ecosystem when managed through a single window, improves over time and develops a greater immunity to supply side shocks.
In the face of the takeaways evidenced by the above mentioned business cases there are some lessons for enterprises in the manufacturing sector to draw inspiration from. Global procurement networks offer a reliable risk mitigation strategy. It makes enormous good sense to assert the same by premising one’s conclusions on the following paradigm:
- First, it is apparent by now that the Coronavirus pandemic leverages a time interval to spread from the epicenter to the rest of the world. As manufacturing units of suppliers and large scale multi-plant enterprises in the epicenter crawl back to normalcy, they are now in a position to provide supplies to enterprises in the rest of the world.
- Second, this time lag in the spread of the pandemic and the consequent economic lockdowns across countries creates opportunities for: arbitrage (procurement from vendors across geographies) and speculation (distribution and sales across time horizons through brand partnerships).
- Third, diversified supplier ecosystems provide greater flexibility of choice to large scale enterprises for procurement by providing diverse options for logistics, warehousing and procurement of relevant products that comply with specifications, quality parameters and costs.
With global procurement, enterprises in the manufacturing sector can actually have minimum exposure to the risks associated with supply chain disruptions like the ones caused by the Covid19 pandemic.
What is the Buzz Around Smart Packaging – Let’s Find Out
Conventional wisdom has it that packaging performs three functions: to preserve the value of a product during its shelf life, to promote the face of a product and finally to protect unit loads during transit in the supply chain journey. However, a new paradigm is emerging, wherein packaging shall perform a completely new function: it shall perform.
Smart packaging uses technology to optimize the packaging process. Grand View Research pegs the global smart packaging market at $26.7 billion by 2024, up from $10.8 billion back in 2015, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.6% from 2016 to 2024.
The reasons for this phenomenal growth are evolving customer lifestyle, rapid urbanization, and unprecedented technological growth that makes it possible for manufacturers to leverage content to add value to customers and enables the track and trace of unit loads all along the F2C, i.e. factory to customer supply chain journey.
What Are the Benefits of Smart Packaging?
Manufacturers have leveraged traditional packaging solutions to good effect to date. Therefore the emergence of smart packaging mandates an objective assessment of the additional value that it creates for manufacturers across diverse industry verticals by leveraging technology.
• Map End-User Trends – With smart packaging manufacturers can leverage the products to establish a stronger connection with customers through technology. This improves customer trust, which builds stronger brands. For instance, a sensor inserted into the packaging of the product can allow manufacturers to map the flow of the product through different stages in the distribution channel before it ultimately reaches the end-user. It makes enormous good sense to suggest that such technology integration into packaging can enable manufacturers to collect and map valuable data on user trends.
• A Better Degree of Sustainability – Smart packaging can allow users to support reusability and recycling initiatives in packaging. For instance, manufacturers that look to create a circular and closed-loop economy for reverse logistics of their packaging can track and trace the movement of used packaging materials, plan and optimize the logistics routes and identify waste collection points to create the paths for used packaging materials to return. This, in turn, can facilitate the reuse and recycling of packaging and thus reduce wastage; one of the single most important challenges facing manufacturers in the domain of industrial packaging.
• Streamlining the Supply Chain – Smart packaging can ensure lower wastage of the products. Measures like temperature sensing and anti-tampering if embedded into smart packaging can boost efficiencies in supply chain management. For instance, think of an FMCG enterprise that may look to use temperature-sensitive packaging for its product line of edible items with a short shelf life like curds and yogurts with a color scale to indicate the freshness of the product for consumption. It can reasonably simplify warehousing and downstream distribution and sales of inventories of such perishable goods on a first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis.
What Are the Types of Smart Packaging?
Depending on the two major dimensions of the functional value it delivers, smart packaging may be broadly classified into two categories as follows:
- Active Packaging: This type of smart packaging interacts with the contents of the package to help improve shelf life or its quality. An example is the sorbate-releasing LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) film that helps add anti-microbial activity to cheese packaging.
- Intelligent Packaging: This kind of smart packaging monitors and diagnoses the health of the package contents and communicates timely information to users. An example is Diageo’s tamper detection NFC chips. If any counterfeiter tries to open the product before it reaches the customer, then the chip tears off, revealing tampering with the product.
Such packaging innovation goes beyond merely protecting the product. It can detect and monitor various metrics like temperature and humidity and integrate moisture repellent properties to keep goods dry. It can allow heating or cooling a product by touch. Majorly intelligent packaging uses technologies like AR/VR and NFC codes to improve customer interaction and deliver a superior user experience.
What are the Use Cases for Smart Packaging?
Given the new avenues of performance that smart packaging creates for manufacturers by integrating technology, innovators and early adopters in the food & beverage and healthcare verticals have begun leveraging it. Some of the most unique use cases of smart packaging in these verticals are as follows:
1. Connected Whisky Bottles
Diageo has leveraged smart technology to ensure that no counterfeiting or tampering occurs when the bottle moves from the production warehouse to the consumer’s home.
It uses an ultrathin film of electronic sensors that reveals if the bottle has been opened before and its location in the entire supply chain. The NFC chips convey meaningful information to support the company’s anti-counterfeiting efforts of its range of liquor bottles.
2. AR Packaging
Cadbury Quacksmack ensures that users can play a smartphone game when enjoying a bar of chocolate. It uses Blippar image-recognition technology. A mobile scans the packaging which launches a game.
This use case is the first known instance of a chocolate brand using a blend of interactivity and augmented reality in this innovative and fun way.
3. Verifying Freshness of Food
The intelligent ink used on the package by Freshcode gradually changes color. This color indicates the freshness level of the packaged poultry products. If the indicator changes to black, it means that the product is no longer safe for consumption
Such innovation in packaging ensures that users can track product freshness from processing until its final consumption. Distribution chains can enhance their credibility by dealing in the freshest poultry produce and facilitate food safety controls easily.
4. Patient Care Made More Effective
E Ink’s PhutureMed helps a patient to improve adherence to drug therapy efficacy. The solution can sense when the pack is opened. It also monitors when the patient has taken a pill from the blister pack. It helps patients to take the medication on time and trigger an alert in case the patient misses out on the prescribed medicine on time.
5. Verifying Product Shelf-Life
Mondi’s Sanocoat packaging prevents microbial growth on food items. It prevents accelerated product contamination with its anti-microbial packaging solution
As a result, it prevents germ growth and inhibition of mold. By removing bacterial infestation like e.coli, the hygiene of the product can be maintained. As a result, the products’ shelf life is enhanced substantially.
Looking Forward: Ushering a bold new future in packaging
While smart packaging is still in a nascent stage and constrained majorly to the verticals of food & beverage, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, the rapid proliferation of technologies like NFC and IoT is enabling more and more enterprises to take cognizance of the immense potential it holds. As more enterprises look forward to adopting smart packaging eventually in the long term, those that shall do it now are guaranteed to harvest the returns of a first mover’s advantage by creating a key brand differentiator.