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The role of digital in the Italian agri-food industry: the new research by the Smart AgriFood Observatory

The Smart AgriFood Observatory launches a new survey dedicated to the food processing industries to investigate the state of digital adoption and its impacts.

The thrusts of global competition, the growing pressure towards a production system that is sustainable and respectful of the environment and the constantly evolving consumer preferences – increasingly oriented towards the need for greater transparency and knowledge of products – are just some of the challenges that the agrifood sector is called to face now and in the coming years. Digital can prove to be, if correctly inserted into business strategies and supply chain dynamics, a formidable ally in helping food processing companies to fit into such a dynamic and challenging context.

The Smart AgriFood Observatory has analyzed, since the first year of the Research, the impacts of digital on the entire supply chain. For example, with respect to the procurement of raw materials, digital technologies can help strengthen ties with suppliers, promoting proper management of agricultural businesses and cultivation and breeding activities in order to obtain a finished product of better quality. In the industrial phases, the application of the “Industry 4.0” paradigm allows advantages in terms of effectiveness and efficiency thanks, for example, to the use of Big Data Analytics, able to provide indications for the optimization of processes, or robots and co-bots, which assist operators in carrying out their duties.

Another relevant area, in which digital is showing all its benefits, is that of traceability (linked not only to regulatory objectives, but – more generally – to the sharing and enhancement of supply chain data for the benefit of supply transparency and efficiency chain). From a mapping conducted by the Smart AgriFood Observatory it emerges that there are more than 40 innovative solutions on the Italian market, i.e. those solutions based on technologies capable of significantly impacting one or more phases of the traceability process, allowing, in particular, to automate data collection, enable more effective sharing and allow for better processing.

Among these, the Blockchain plays a primary role (used in 43% of the solutions), but the technologies related to data analysis (34% of the solutions) or the Internet of Things (30% of the solutions) should not be underestimated; in fact, among the examples of greatest interest, the Observatory has detected sensors applied to logistics, which allow you to monitor the conditions of transport and storage of the product by providing timely information so that its quality is not altered.

Despite these premises, the spread of digital technologies among Italian food processing companies seems limited. According to the recent Permanent Business Census conducted by ISTAT, in 2018, 10% of food industry companies with more than ten employees use artificial intelligence in their processes, 6% IoT and only 3% use Big Data Analytics.

Beyond the numbers on the use of innovative technologies, what are actually the needs that drive the industries in the sector today to apply – or think about doing so – digital solutions to their processes? What are the benefits found by those who have already experimented, and what are the barriers to innovation?

To clarify the issue, the Smart AgriFood Observatory has launched a survey aimed at all Italian food processing companies. To fully understand the needs that innovation is called to satisfy, the barriers that have not allowed a greater diffusion of digital to the processing companies and, above all, the benefits encountered by those who have begun to apply innovative solutions to their processes : these are the main questions to which this survey, characterized by a strong focus on typical products of the Italian agri-food sector, intends to answer. Particular attention will in fact be dedicated to the specific supply chains and the differences (in terms of needs, benefits, etc.) that distinguish them.

Greater clarity on the state of digitalization of the Italian food industry is, moreover, indispensable in order to define public policies that help companies to seize the opportunities offered by digital, as well as to guide technological companies in offering products that meet the needs of businesses.

For further information contact our subject matter experts.

Ing. Chimico e Alimentare Camila Schiavinatto Godoy

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