Allergen control and traceability are top issues in plant-based food boom

Mike Chadwick, Supply Chain Consultant at Indigo Software

Who could have expected Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Roll would become the iconic snack for a new generation of plant-based foodies and spawn a wave of imitators? It used to be the case that vegans had to subsist on a diet of bean sprouts and lentils but now they’re spoilt for choice. We have ‘pepperphoney’ pizza, vegan tuna (a.k.a. savoury watermelon) and even ‘faux gras’ for the real gourmets.

It’s big business and generates a lot of publicity. In 2019 over 250,000 people signed up to Veganuary – a record high – with even more expected to participate this year. And that’s just the ones registering online. Many more people will be unofficial vegans for the month, just exploring what it’s like to eat a plant-based diet. Whether they remain vegan or not, they will have tried a wide range of new foods and expanded their culinary horizons.

The business of veganism

Great news for food manufacturing. As a sector, food and drink continues to demonstrate its staying power within British manufacturing as a whole, rising to 16% of total output in 2019. Over the past decade, food has also maintained the most consistent upwards growth trajectory of any manufacturing sector. Veganuary, the general boom in plant-based eating and all the innovation associated with this new sub-sector offers even greater opportunities for start ups and established food brands alike, who are looking for the next big thing.

Some experts are highlighting that exotic Asian produce, like the giant jackfruit, the tofu alternative, tempeh and wheat based meat alternative, seitan, are all expected to become common sights in UK supermarkets. As a result, traceability and allergen awareness are set to become top supply chain trends for 2020, especially the capability to trace ingredients back to their original sources.

Tight management of traceability and allergen control

In the food manufacturing industry, having full stock traceability, the ability to manage which stocks are selected for a production run, and the ability to trace an item from the moment it arrives onsite to its final dispatch as a finished product, are now more important than ever.  Many of these new, plant-based meat alternatives contain allergens – nuts, seeds, pulses, wheat and soya predominantly – which must be labelled correctly and potentially stored away from other raw materials to avoid contamination.

Benefits of a WMS for plant-based food manufacturers

This is where implementing a Warehouse Management System (WMS) and integrating it with an existing ERP system to power real time decision making comes into its own. A WMS gives plant-based food manufacturers the ability to trace every product made together with its constituent ingredients right through the warehouse and beyond to the customer.

A WMS provides manufacturers with complete control of all stock coming into the warehouse, being moved around the 4 walls and into production and then control of finished products as they leave the warehouse. This can be done at the single item, case or pallet level.  Particularly important for allergen control, is the ability to select raw materials and stock with special characteristics to meet specific requirements and the ability to trace when a specific batch of stock has been issued and to which dispatching point. If necessary, stock batches can be quarantined and investigated for contamination, with a complete audit trail for compliance reporting.

Just as important as traceability management is stock rotation. Many plant-based foods have limited shelf lives and using a WMS, it’s easy to track stock according to production, best before, expiry or inbound receipting dates. Operating First-In, First-Out (FIFO) stock rotation for efficient shelf life management becomes a routine procedure – for raw materials as well as packaging, thereby reducing levels of waste.  Finally, a WMS supports real time reporting of outbound customer deliveries, ensuring full stock traceability through the supply chain and simplifying product recalls in the event of a QA issue.

Clearly there’s huge scope for marketing new plant food concepts to adventurous vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians. With these commercial opportunities comes a requirement to tightly manage traceability and allergen control. Any plant-based food manufacturers implementing WMS warehouse management software can expect to recoup their investment many times over in a short space of time. In the US alone, UBS is predicting that sales of plant-based protein and meat alternatives will increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030, while the sales of plant-based dairy could reach $37.5 billion by as early as 2025. We can expect similar trends in the UK, albeit with lower numbers due to the smaller population levels.







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