Italy is the home of pizza, but is a robot-made pizza less “authentically Italian?” When many consumers want fresh, minimally processed foods, how can a food company successfully use digitalization for supply chain productivity? Prodal of Italy, a privately-owned producer of pizza, bruschetta, and snacks, prompts these questions with its use of ABB FlexPicker robots to automatically spread tomato sauce on its pizza dough. See the process in action in this video . Food businesses must learn to manage a food system that both feeds the world and honors people’s food values. We consumers of food (and pizza lovers!) have the right and responsibility to influence our food system with our spending decisions, so we must understand how digitalization serves us.
Prodal is concerned with digitalization of its supply chain because of macro industry trends. The food industry is struggling to keep pace with changing consumer preferences:
- Diets are constantly evolving. Over forty percent of consumers experimented with their eating patterns last year .
- Most people use food to treat or prevent more than eight health conditions .
Food product lifecycles are shorter than ever, and “Big Food’s” resulting business performance, lackluster at best, requires supply chain efficiencies to cut costs. While short product lifecycles can trigger innovation , today’s dynamic food landscape, and therefore Prodal’s portfolio of products, is changing faster than the company’s traditional supply chain can service. Prodal needs supply chain digitalization to adapt to agile product innovation. Digitalization investments need to deliver a pay-back through multiple trend cycles and the nutrition science journey.
Prodal is addressing the need for flexible supply chain productivity by introducing robots into its pizza-production. Spreading tomato sauce on a pizza was previously suitable only for human handiwork, as machines could not replicate human vision. Robots can now “view” each pizza from above and then spread the sauce to the edge of the pizza with meticulous accuracy and at lower cost. Even more impactful is the ability for most advanced robots to be easily re-programmed to complete different tasks across multiple products . While robots were likely brought in to reduce direct labor costs, Prodal should see less food waste and fewer worker injuries  in the short term. Over the medium-term, Prodal should test its robots on new product prototypes to ensure the robots support gluten free, organic, and other future food trends. Without the ability to respond to tomorrow’s wave of innovation, Prodal will miss digitalization’s opportunity to keep pace with consumers’ food needs.
Prodal and other food companies should use digitization to tap an unmet consumer preference: transparency to consumers in where our food comes from. While supply chain innovation to-date has been focused on cost reduction and productivity within manufacturing, Prodal needs to invest in transparent ingredient-tracking and package-labeling to prepare for the future of the industry. Consumers are increasingly turning to local farmer’s markets and food start-ups so that they can better understand where their meal comes from. The cost of managing ingredient data has been a barrier preventing transparency to consumers on labels and online. The opportunity in Italian pizzas is clear. Prodal advertises its superior dough as its pizza’s key differentiator, stating, “It’s the dough that counts. Prodal combines the selection of the best flours with the rediscovery of classic processes” . Since ingredients are core to the strategy, Prodal should invest capital in the creation of digital QR-code labels that share the farm-source and harvesting practices of the dough’s wheat. The investment will pay for itself when consumers can connect with the product more deeply and “vote” with their food values. Pushing digitalization across the value chain will allow Prodal and other companies to build consumer trust and work toward a stronger food system, one in which educated consumers demand foods that balance their individual preferences with the need to feed a growing world population.
Food digitalization address Prodal’s need for a cost-efficient supply chain and flexible new product development. Prodal has just scratched the surface with its use of FlexPickers to spread pizza sauce, and it should address food labeling with digitalization. There are many questions to overcome as digitalization becomes mainstream in the food space. What role should consumers play the global food system – should we “give up” food values that make it tougher to feed the world? How can food companies be incented to “open up” about their ingredients and production process when there is a long journey ahead to improve those practices? While I will always say, “si, per favore” to authentic Italian pizza, I will now vote for digitalization and transparency with my food purchases (767 words).
 ABB Robotics – Pizza Making with ABB FlexPickers. Youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggFdvUlp8YU
 Watrous, Monica. Keeping Pace with Health and Wellness Trends. Food Business News. http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Consumer_Trends/2017/10/Keeping_pace_with_health_and_w.aspx?ID=%7B6571B5BA-F86B-4607-A3BF-356ED5C3FE13%7D
 Kadaba, Dr. Nagesh and John Cronin. The Complex Role of Innovation in Supply Chain Management. Inbound Logistics. http://www.inboundlogistics.com/cms/article/the-complex-role-of-innovation-in-supply-chain-management/
 Sirkin, Hal, Michael Zinser, and Justin Rose. How Robots Will Redefine Competitiveness. BCG Publications. https://www.bcg.com/en-ma/publications/2015/lean-manufacturing-innovation-robots-redefine-competitiveness.aspx
 Studwell, Laura. 6 Ways Robots Improve Food and Beverage Operations. Packaging Digest. http://www.packagingdigest.com/robotics/6-ways-robots-improve-food-and-beverage-operations/page/0/5
 Prodal Website. http://www.prodal.eu/