September 20 2021

How is technology helping the Food and Beverage Industry manage demand during the worker shortage crisis?

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

In August, a report titled ‘Establishing the labour availability issues of the UK Food and Drinks Sector’, was compiled by Grant Thornton revealed that there were “953,000 vacancies in the UK over the past three months” (1), with just over half a million job vacancies in the food & drink industry alone.
These vacancies are affecting every level of supply, and the implications have been contributing to supply shortages which are expected to worsen in the coming months.
Immigration regulations due to Brexit, alongside the ‘pingdemic’, have resulted in driver shortages and offices operating under capacity, at a time when demand is rising.
For the food & beverage industry, there are simply too many vacancies for each company to have the resources available to meet the demand set by their customers, and this goes for every level of supply. The Government has been urged, along with individual businesses, to incentivise people to apply for roles in this sector, and food distributors are looking for ways to retain a level of normal service amongst these disruptions.
For the horticulture sector, a 12-month 'Covid-19 recovery visa has been recommended “to help firms recruit staff such as HGV drivers, and an expanded seasonal worker scheme”, with some businesses seeing a “34% shortfall in recruitment.” (2)
Alongside these incentives, what are the ways food & beverage businesses can retain efficiency at a sustainable level while these disruptions continue?

Protecting Workers

The first priority is worker and customer safety. Cases may be dropping but it has been outlined that we are not in the clear, and hospitality’s reopening will test the efficacy of our efforts in terms of social distancing measures.
Electronic proof-of-deliveries, and photofraphic evidence of a fulfilled order are 2 digital capabilities that ensure accountability while keeping workers and customers safe.
With both delivery operations and their customers working at below optimum capacity means there is a window for deliveries to be made while customers are not present.
This must be balanced with the security that deliveries have been made as per customer requirements - Photographic evidence ensures deliveries are accounted for, which helps you to avoid disputes over misplaced deliveries. The proof is there, and can be sent to the office and your customers right after the delivery has been made.
Having as much evidence as possible for deliveries in these circumstances is essential for promising consistently reliable services.

Automation & efficiency

An enourmous change that we have noticed, throughout all sectors involved in the supply of food and beverages,is the recognition of technologies that automate and improve efficiency where possible.
Traditionally, warehouses and farms can leverage robotics for certain tasks that are high-risk or error-prone, and this massively improves the overall workflow of the operation.
With the case of worker shortages, small changes to certain processes are able to have a big impact on whether a company can continue to operate.
A major player is the route planning system. Being able to plan as quickly as possible, using digital optimisation features where possible to calculate the quickest routes can save a huge amont of time for a team which is already strained by both numbers of workers and time to fulfil tasks.
“More automation equals less people”. “So, in areas where it’s hard to find labor, it’s a real option. It can be costly, though. It’s a little more of a challenge.” says Tammi McAllister, the business unit manager for the food and beverage division of CRB. (3)

route planning

Digital Communication

Elaborating on simply planning routes, digital delivery management systems can ease each process of the ordering cycle; picking, packing & loading the correct items into each order can be carried out quicker, with quantities and products all visible on a single device, and then these orders can be recorded on that same device without the need to juggle paperwork.
From there, delivery apps can guide a delivery driver through their day, providing them with a single source to both retrieve and input information digitally. This information is stored and shared throughout the organisation in real-time, so cash flow is improved and delays and disruptions can be responded to quicker than using traditional forms of communication.
Slight improvements to workflow on every level, ultimately result in consistent productivity, which ensures companies can use their resources as efficiently as possible during difficult times.
The bottom line is control of the business. With more visibility over each delivery process, management can have a clearer picture of daily operations, meaning they can make decisions to work more flexibly and curve issues surrounding worker shortages by reassigning or rearranging tasks and orders effectively.
For example, a digital route planning system lets teams easily see where the gaps are in their operation each day. If they are missing drivers one day, they can reassign deliveries quickly to other routes, and use automation to adjust delivery times and routes to ensure orders are fulfilled without causing too much disruption.
Ultimately, the ability to work flexibly helps supply chain links work through unfavourable conditions and remain adaptable to unexpected and unpredictable disruptors along the line.
References
  1. https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/brexit-and-the-workforce/labour-crisis-revealed-food-shortages-caused-by-500000-worker-deficit/659312.article
  2. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9933841/Food-drink-trade-call-new-12-month-covid-recovery-visa-tackle-worker-shortage.html
  3. https://www.foodengineeringmag.com/articles/99301-food-beverage-companies-cope-with-labor-shortages

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