Three years ago, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt began touting the potential of the fledgling Internet of things (IoT) to enable GE to track the performance of aircraft engines as they were actually flying planes. Since then, GE has been doing just that: tapping the data flowing from its engines to monitor them for the most minor of indicators, with the hope of repairing malfunctions before they become serious.
Other ambitious deployments have followed in other industries. Coca-Cola tapped the IoT to streamline its order processing and improve its supply chain and logistics. Canada’s BT Hydro has made the IoT an integral part of its new smart meter program, monitoring and updating its meters remotely. And Tesla keeps tabs on its customers’ vehicles from afar, uploading updates and, if necessary, scheduling valets to pick up vehicles that need repairs.
The fast-growing impact of IoT technologies, which enable companies to constantly collect data from connected devices and analyze it to improve the business, is why IT consultancy Jupiter Research is predicting that the global IoT opportunity (not the actual market) will reach $300 billion by 2020.
But of all the opportunities in the world’s industries, perhaps none is as large, or as important, as the one facing food producers. As consumer demand for healthy, non-processed foods continues to grow—and we hear reports about one food-borne illness outbreak after another—Italy’s Barilla Group, one of the world’s best-known makers of pasta and sauces, is piloting an IoT technology platform in an effort to give consumers visibility into the production of the food they’re eating.
The so-called “Safety for Food” platform combines hardware and network configurations from Cisco Systems, business intelligence software from management consulting firm Penelope S.p.A., and supporting services from NTT DATA Italia to create a real-time feedback loop through the entire food production process—from the fields where food is grown all the way to consumers’ plates.
“The goal is to increase [consumer] awareness of our daily engagement in quality and safety,” explains Andrea Belli, Barilla’s technical project leader for quality and food safety. “This is very important. It confirms where your food is coming from, and that it’s safe for consumption.”
Barilla is using the technology to capture data about two products from a particular production lot: farfalle pasta and basilica sauce. Both are currently available at selected co-ops in Northern Italy and are part of an exhibit on the future of food at Expo 2015 in Milan. These “limited edition” products are tracked at every stage—from assembly of ingredients to where and how they were grown and, finally, to how they arrived on store shelves.
That data then feeds a Website that consumers can access by scanning a QR code on the product packaging. This information enables them to feel confident in the quality and safety of the products they’re buying. Once the pilot effort has been thoroughly assessed, the plan is to expand it to other products and geographies.
With 650 products being exported to more than 125 countries, there’s certainly plenty of opportunity for the Food for Safety initiative to grow.