The problems in Food Industry and how we can help through AI


In this paper, we will study an integrated approach for studying food industries around the world. We will get an overview of various sectors of an Economy and how food industry is inter-connected with various sectors. We will identify the issues faced by food industry. We will analyse how science and technology is helping food industry. The emergence technologies such as Big Data ad Artificial Intelligence and its current applications in this industry. Finally, we will identify the areas of improvement with the focus of artificial intelligence.


Food Industry is the most important industry in world today. Now a days we get processed food products which comes in seal tight packet and are available quickly even with an option of home delivery. These are the same products which were earlier consumed in either in raw or cooked format and had low shelf life. Fruit juices, Tetra pack of Milk, Canned Jam, Canned Fish, Instant food Packages are some of the examples of today’s food products. In order to study todays food Industry, we must understand various facets of the Economy. We will then look at the big picture of this industry.


Google definition of the economy is, “state of a country or region in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services and the supply of money”. However, it is an amalgamation of various sectors which are interconnected.

Sectors of Economy:

1.Primary Sector:

It deals with the extraction and collection of natural resources. e.g. farming, forestry, hunting, fishing and mining.

2.Secondary Sector:

It involves with the process of cleaning, processing and manufacturing raw products which they get from primary sector. e.g. Food, Textile and clothing, consumer goods, energy, chemical, construction.

3. Tertiary Sector:

It involves with giving services as an extension to secondary sector. Secondary sector manufactures products. Tertiary sector performs tasks such as transport, distribution and sale of goods from producer to a consumer. e.g. Whole sale and Retail shops, Trade and procurement, storage.

4. Quaternary sector:

It involves activities related to human skills, knowledge. e.g. entertainment, education, administration, consultation, AI services.

2.Food Industry a big picture

The term food industry is a classic example of amalgamation of all four sectors that we studied just now. It starts from raw products such as vegetable’s, fishes, forest extracts which are then processed and packed and stored in various warehouses, cold storages. They are transported as per customer demand to various retail as well as wholesale shops. While this can be done inefficiently without expert guidance, so people with skills such as management skills, data scientists, financial planners help tertiary sector businesses with the decision making to draw more profits and achieve efficiency.

This was just a big picture about food industry. But in reality, it is part of various industries such as Processing industries known as food processing sector e.g. Meat processing and preserving, Fish processing, Sugar processing and refining. Food storage industry which uses warehouses and cold storages to store processed food products. Transportation industry, Chemical industry and biotech industries are connected with food related products and the list of such industries goes on.

In order to simply thing they are divided into various segments such as:

Fruits and Vegetables

Milk and Milk Products

Meat and Poultry

Marine Products

Grain Processing

Consumer Food.

With the advancement of science and technology various segments adopted automation and digitalisation of their businesses. With the advancement of mobile technology various improvements in logistics took place. Robots, Drones, 3-D printing restaurants, Eco friendly packaging as well as products, use of smart sensors to gather data which is helping in data driven decision making. However, despite all these advancements most of which belong to Industry 4.0, there are many areas and sectors which need to adopt to these new technologies.

Problem Identification


Despite recent reports regarding growth potential at over 4 % for global food industry various parts of the world are still suffering from malnutrition. Climate change brought weather unpredictability for farmers. It introduced decision paralysis when it comes to decision about crop choice. It will also increase hunger rates, malnutrition levels and child stunting cases which will then impact global health. Depleting global water resources and depleting underground water tables are reasons to worry. Recent outbreak of Coronavirus Disease also put pressure on food industry in order to continue uninterrupted food supplies in times of lock down.

Man Made:

Apart from these issues there are certain issues which are man-made. An article on website named “The Global food crisis is here” summarizes IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) with the focus on agriculture. It says, “There is no doubt that Climate change is affecting the world today, but real reason is changed agricultural policies, which are guided by businesses and markets”. Malnutrition is caused more due to massive food wastage around the world.


Issues faced by food industry today:

1.Maintaining quality and safety standards

2.Rising supply chain cost

3.Policy regulations

4.Slow adaptation to e-commerce and Artificial Intelligence

5.Slow Product innovation cycles

Problem Explanation in Detail

1.Agricultural Issues:

A) Wasteful Irrigation:

Poor irrigation is leading to increase in salt content in the land, it is termed as Salt Induced land degradation. This issue arises in arid and semi-arid regions around the world. With the absence of natural or artificial drainage system which is essential for percolation of rainwater through the soil, low rainfall areas are developing salt induced land degradation.

Such regions observed crop loss due to increase in the salinity of the soil. A study conducted by food and agriculture of united nations has projected that by 2050 we will need 70% more food than current food requirements. Report also says that, world is losing an area as large as Manhattan to salt degradation each week and the cases are more in developing world.

Report Highlights some regions and they are:

1.The Aral Sea Basin of Central Asia

2.India’s Indo-Gangetic Basin

3.Pakistan’s Indus Basin

3.China’s Yellow River Basin

4.The Euphrates Basin in Syria and Iraq

5.Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin

Due to insufficient rainfall, farmers irrigate their fields with surface water and even ground water. Which is not just affecting under-ground water tables but also depleting various surface resources such as Reduced surface water supplies, Land subsistence. It also increases the costs and water quality concerns.

However, despite all these issues the work is not being done with the speed in which it should be done. Speedy action is required to avoid future climate issues. Below is the Global water demand estimation published by OECD in 2012 which clearly hints that we need to move swiftly in the direction of sustainable development with sustainable agriculture. With the advancement in the technology use of Artificial Intelligence can help us achieve the target in time.

B) Soil Degradation:

Soil degradation is the decline of soil quality. Many factors are involved in soil degradation, unsurprisingly agriculture is an important reason. Soil Erosion is displacement of upper layer of soil. It happened due to transition from natural vegetation to agriculture especially Industrial or market demand agriculture. Soil Erosion is one of the forms of soil degradation. National Geography’s 2018 finding says 75% of Earths land areas are Degraded.

Reasons of soil degradation:

Improper Agricultural Practices such as over use of pesticides, wrong choice of crops, e.g. cash crops for unsuitable land, overuse of water, overgrazing.

Other man made activities such as Deforestation, Industrial and mining activities, urbanization.

Effects of soil degradation:

Land Degradation, Drought, Aridity, Loss of arable land, Rise in Floods, Pollution and Clogging of waterways.

2. Business Issues:

Issues faced by food industry today:

1.Maintaining quality and safety standards:

Today, food is distributed in packages through logistics. However, despite giving such facilities certain issues still persist which makes customer unhappy and they are:

a. Microbiological hazards

It occurs when microorganisms found in the air, water, soil, animals and human body contaminate the food which leads to foodborne illness. e.g. Norovirus, Salmonella, E. coli etc.

b. Pesticide residues

These are the remaining pesticides on food after application to food crops. They are toxic to humans and cause acute or chronic health effects. Some pesticides can remain for year in the soil and water. Many of the developing countries are still using such pesticides. Pesticide residues such as DDT were found in milk. Fruits such as Strawberries, Apples, Grapes, peaches are prone to pesticide residues. Tomato, Potato, Sweet bell papers, Spinach are other examples. Long term exposure to pesticides causes eye and skin irritation, respiratory tract irritation, nausea, vomiting, extreme weakness and even death. It has been also linked with cancer and adverse effects on reproduction system.

c. Misuse of food additives

Additives are substance added to food in order to preserve its taste or enhance its appearance or increase its shelf life. They are even used as a sweetener. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is an example of flavour enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. Additives are used in almost every food whether its street food, restaurant food or packed foods. However, there are certain chemicals used in the name of food additives. Boric acid or Salicylic acid can cause gastric irritation and in long term can cause kidney damage.

d. Chemical contaminants

They include pesticide residues, heavy metals such as lead and mercury. They are Organic pollutants like dioxins. They are also Mycotoxins which are generated due to plant disease. Other reasons for contaminations are pollution, waste from factories, fires and even due to climatic conditions. Other reasons are Incorrect way of cooking and processing food, storage, transportation and handling of food products.

e. Adulteration

Popular definition of food adulteration is an act of intentionally debasing the quality of food for the sake of increasing the sales with mixing or substituting it with substandard substances. It is also related with extracting useful substances from food and selling it with fake contents or no contents at all. It can also lead to various organ failures depending on substance used as an adulteration material.

f. Physical Hazards

Physical hazards are outcome of accidental contamination or poor handling of products. Such hazards take place either due to natural or unnatural causes. Examples of unnatural hazards are presence of insects, hair, metal, glass, wood or plastic fragments in the food or in food packages. Natural hazards are presence of stems of grapes, dirt on potatoes etc.

2.Rising Supply chain cost:

Components of Supply Chain managements are:

a. Transportation

Transport is an essential component of supply chain. It is carried out through Air, Sea, Road, Rail etc. An efficient transport system which is in need when it comes to profitability.

Efficient Transport system is not just about delivering product on time and updating locations for tracking packages. Its about handling of goods, avoiding contamination, avoiding product damages in any process and should be capable to deal with climatic conditions.

b. Inventory

It is a stock of goods and material that businesses hold with the goal of sale. Inventory need to be a well-managed in order to achieve efficiency. Efficient Inventory management system consists of Avoiding spoilage, Avoiding Dead stocks, efficient storage with cost management, Contingency planning, Spot checking — choosing product and counting it and comparing it with desired number, Cycle counting such as day, week, month, year instead of daily counting, Prioritising ABC such as dividing products into high, medium and low value, Setting par levels — deciding a minimum amount for a product, Accurate forecasting.

c. Procurement

Procurement is a purchasing mechanism under which sellers/businesses decides a strategy to purchase goods for inventory. There are various ways in which it can be done some of them are Commodity procurement which has sub categories such as spot market (i.e. cash) transactions and forward purchasing mechanisms. Forward purchasing, forward contracts are some other techniques.

There are certain constraints which need to be think of before procuring goods and they are Product constraints (decided by either physical characteristics of products or from economics of commodities market), Company constraints (defined by financial, managerial characteristics of firms) and service constraints (related to manufacturers relationship with buyers company).

d. Material Handling

It is a structured movement of goods from source to destination in a given time limit with a given quantity. It will greatly affect the quality of food products. Objective of material handling is to decrease the handling cost by better utilizing labour, machines, storage space in order to reduce operational cost, cost of production and time.

The real challenge in material handling is to utilize storage space and keep the time bound movement of the products while preventing handling related injuries and accidents and reducing material waste.

e. Reverse Logistics

This is a process which recalculates products value and its lifecycle after the sale of the product. It involves returning a product for refurbishing or servicing. It is also known as after market supply chain. Other terms such as Return, refurbish, remanufacture, recycle and waste management, warranty management and warehouse management also come under reverse logistics.

Logistics can be made more efficient and profitable with proper reverse logistics system. Some of the issues with the reverse logistics is to determine the tracking value of a unit, tracking warranty and routine status, handling dealers and contractors, Driving efficiency in repair process.

f. Warehousing

Food products require special care and handling across the entire supply chain. Factors which decides quality of the products are, Type of warehouse (Dry, Frozen, Refrigerated), Physical condition of the warehouse, Sanitation and Hygiene, Proactive pest control, Company track record and FDA registration.

However, they face problems such as Incorrect temperature control, Improper Sanitation Procedures, Cross-contamination between certain food items, Product rotation, high humidity.

g. Information

Incorrect information about food products, incorrect labelling might lead to misleading information. Moreover, information is not only connected with the supply and delivery segment, it is a continuous process. It involves product information, product location, location information, transport information, warehouse information, customer as well as merchant information, customer care etc. it is a coordinated process which carries information from one end to other end for all the stakeholders and customers.

h. Location

Location is also an essential component of supply chain management. An optimum location is necessary with the aim of faster product deliveries. The location must posses basic facilities such as electricity, water and transport facilities in order to decide upon warehouse. Correct location can minimize the costs.

i. Production

Issues with the food production are availability of raw material and storage woes. Transport is again an essential element as raw goods need to be transported early in order to preserve their freshness and quality. High end technological equipment’s are necessary for production at a large scale. It involves all elements such as preservatives, flavours and packaging facility.

j. Price

Price is the factor decided by many other factors discussed above. It is also market and competition driven. One can minimize the price by deciding optimum location for warehouse and there by taking care of logistics as discussed above.

k. Packaging

Packaging need to be done considering the type of the food item. There are types of packaging which helps in preserving food for long time. However, there are serious issues in packaging and they are, designing on traditional lines or internal opinion, Not listening to customer complaints about packaging, packaging is not reflecting the brand story and final issue with them are unable to understand the issues with the packaging.

3.Policy regulations:

Every country has its regulations and policies related to food. Apart from this there are certain policies which are global in nature. Food industry need to take care and keep on updating itself for such policies. E.g. Nutrition labelling on food packages, optimum use of food period labelling, Dietary guidelines, legal regulations, regulations for advertising, price support and subsidy policies, Tax incentives etc.

4.Shift to e-commerce Artificial Intelligence:

Food industry like other industry has moved towards e-commerce. However, there are sections of businesses which are still relying on traditional brick and mortar system. The new approaches such as e-commerce and hybrid system need to be supplemented with the Artificial intelligence.

5.Slow Product innovation cycles:

There is not doubt that food industry is continuously undergoing a change. However, the process of innovation takes more time which further takes time to reach to actual implementation level.

There are various types of innovation such as innovation related to processing technology, innovation related to packaging, innovation towards developing healthier foods.

The existing works on the problems:

1.Solution for Agricultural Issues:

Developing proper irrigation system with the guidance of experts and public administrators.

Massive Tree plantation to avoid the salt accumulation known as Agroforestry.

Salt tolerant crops need to be grown in rotation with usual crops.

Use of Drip irrigation and water flow meters.

Use of latest technologies such as Drones to detect leaks and use of Irrigation management apps such as FieldNET Mobile, The Irrigation App, Hydrawise Irrigation etc.

Precision agriculture practiced by Israel consists of 450 companies offering advanced data collection and analysis services.

e.g1. AgriTask mobile app combines data from multiple sources such as on field sensors, imaging and weather station.

e.g2. Taranis is another Israeli company helps farmer in decision making process by taking high-resolution images of the farm. With the help of Computer vision and Artificial intelligence, it analyses the data to check how insects affecting the leaf level.

e.g3. Prospera is another Israeli company with a digital farming ecosystem. It collects, digitizes and analyses vast amounts of data. It helps growers control and optimize their production and growing systems. It utilizes the power of Artificial Intelligence. NatureSweet a grower and seller of a produce utilized AI technology developed by Prospera to see increase in the harvest from 2% to 4%.

Switzerland based Gamaya uses drones and AI to early detect any disease or weeds. They recommend optimum use of agrochemicals for the farm. They also provide prediction for future challenges.

Soil Degradation Issue is also being taken seriously. UK Research and Innovation is performing an experiment with a novel coupled sensor and use of machine learning framework to detect and restore the degraded soil.

There is a concept called Erosion Modelling which is a measuring tool for land users and decision makers to evaluate the land cultivation.

“A Novel Ensemble Artificial Intelligence Approach for Gully Erosion Mapping in a Semi-Arid Watershed (Iran)” is a paper published on website of National centre for biotechnology information know as NCBI. [].

2.Solutions for Food Industry with focus on Business aspect:

For maintaining the safety standards following steps are essential:

1. Taking inventory of all the equipment’s

2. Creating a maintenance schedule based on various operations and priority

3. Documenting the procedures

4. Keeping supply handy

5. Keeping detailed maintenance records

However, now a days AI is helping food industry in various areas some of them are given below:

1.material identification with the use of computer vision. Pingwell provides contextual information to consumers and retailers in the grocery.

2.Product development using Recommendation system — it saves research cost and time

3.Packaging recommendation system — recommends efficient package for particular food item.

4. Sorting food with AI — TOMRA is a company which utilizes machine learning and advanced sensors to sort food items such as potatoes according to size. Which is then helpful in deciding which potatoes need to be sent for making chips.

5. Supply chain issues are now solved with Symphony RetailAI which helps retailers monitor demand accurately.

6.Hygiene Woes are now addressed by company known as KanKan. Which uses Computer vision technology.

7. Food safety compliance can be achieved with the help of cameras which are AI-enabled.

8.Gastrograph AI uses consumer’s sensory perception of flavour and predict consumer preference of food and beverages.

9.Whisk analyses users behaviour and recommends relevant advertising and customized personalization related to food.

10.Tastry uses AI, to provide consumer product recommendations. The company provides retailers with suggestions for product development, inventory purchase and direct-to-consumer recommendation.

11. Instacart uses machine learning to predict real-time availability of grocery items

Suggestions and future works:

As we have seen that machine learning and artificial intelligence is now available in food specific industries as well. However, there are certain sections of society which includes people from food industry (including all sectors primary to quaternary) are still hesitant about use of Artificial intelligence.

It is widely assumed that AI is only for big businesses and it is beyond their scope and is costly technology. To alleviate this fear, we should use AI platform to reach toward such people. Moreover, efforts need to be put on minimizing the cost and improving the simplicity of the developed application.

With keeping UN Sustainable Development Goals in mind AI applications and accessories should be built. The current uses of AI are mostly targeting consumers and looking for potential consumers. However, when we think about malnutrition, food wastages, social psychology about food AI is still lacking in such areas.

Food industry will only flourish when inherent and primary issues related to primary sectors specifically related to raw products, land, water, environment are addressed through artificial intelligence. For that thing to happen we need to Digitalise the farmlands.