Food cooperative improves safety, productivity with IBM analytics

Michigan's Cherry Central Cooperative achieves 50 percent productivity improvement by mobilizing and automating collection of food quality and source data.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Analytics technology that has enabled a Michigan agricultural cooperative better account for the source of fruits and vegetables has helped reduce paper associated with ensuring food safety, improving productivity by 50 percent. The technology has also allowed the cooperative to better analyze its supply chain processes, allowing partners to address points of supply inefficiencies and make adjustments to business processes where necessary.

The technology platform, built by IBM business partner N2N Global, collects, stores and analyzes data about the food being handled by Cherry Central Cooperative from the time it is harvested and processed, to its journey through distribution warehouses, to its ultimate retail destination in grocery stores. From a compliance standpoint, that is mandated. But that information also happens to help the cooperative stay better on top of inventory needs and make projections about future harvest scenarios.

The information is collected throughout the harvest and distribution process using mobile devices. From there it is uploaded to a central database, where the information can be shared with Traverse City, Mich.-based Cherry Central's supply chain business partners as the food makes its way to grocery or market shelves. The process and solution are described in the video below.

Steve Eiseler, vice president of operations at Cherry Central Cooperative, said the IBM-based technology has allowed his organization to significantly reduce the amount of paperwork necessary to remain in compliance with government food traceability requirements -- which are critically important for tracking sources of contamination.

"We take our responsibility in the food supply chain seriously," Eiseler said. "We wanted to feel more comfortable in what we were doing."

The sheer volume of paperwork being handled by Cherry Central, originally started in 1973, prompted its evaluation of technologies that could help it grapple with data that is growing exponentially on a monthly basis. Back in October, Cherry Central reported that its database was growing at a rate of 1.6 million records per month. Its ability to pull up that information more quickly differentiates Cherry Central from other organization that have to weed through paperwork when there is a food safety concern. It turned to its longtime IT services partner, N2N Global, to help it evaluate different solutions.

"When we started analyzing with this program could do, it just seemed like a good fit, and there was a relatively short return on investment," Eiseler said.

The technology that Cherry Central is using includes IBM DB2 Web Query running on the Power System platform. The cooperative is using a custom IBM System x application from N2N Global called the Quality & Food Safety Manager.

"We have had solutions in the agribusiness space for some time. We though it would help advance the food industry by offering these components together," said Randy Odom, director of sales and marketing for N2N Global.

Cherry Central began using the technology about two years ago, and Eiseler reports that what began as a project concerned with compliance has turned into a serious operational advantage for Cherry Central Cooperative.

"This collaboration is helping us create a well-connected and visible food supply chain to make it easier and faster to track the food items we market while also allowing us to spot trends as they're occurring real time," Eiseler said in comments about the solution. "This visibility is enabling is to take proactive measures to ensure food safety and ultimately protecting the consumer."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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