Managing data and the supply chain, from soup to nuts

Campbell Soup is about to start disclosing its GMO ingredients on labels. Believe it or not, there's a technology lesson here

ww blogillustration supplychain

What the manufacturing industry can teach everyone about the necessity of effectively managing data

Credit: Jeff Monahan, Proper Villains

Campbell Soup, the food manufacturing giant behind brands like Pepperidge Farms, Prego, and V8, made national headlines and gained praise in January when it announced intentions to become the first major food company to start disclosing GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients in its products.

This has been a hot topic with consumers in recent years, and represents a major shift for the company which, as The New York Times points out, risks "alienating consumers averse to genetically modified organisms." While only time will tell if a move like this will impact sales, there's no question that it will mean major changes for a very complex supply chain that is managing thousands of products under a large portfolio of brands using ingredients from suppliers all over the world.

This doesn't just present a labeling problem; it presents a data problem that will require the integration of many systems. So what should other companies considering a similar move think about before making such a major shift in operations?

  • Understand the scope of the project and the downstream impacts: While the crux of the project is creating new labels, that's really the last step in a very long process. Before reaching that point each ingredient and every source for every product in the company's massive product portfolio will need to be identified as GMO and non-GMO, which is a huge undertaking. Even if your company isn't dealing with such a large data set, you need to be clear on what parts of the business will be impacted, and integrate systems accordingly.
  • Recognize the effects of mislabeled information: It could be intentional as in the case of the Volkswagen "defeat device" or unintentional data mistake, but the effect of mislabeling an ingredient can have a huge negative impact on the brand and bottom line. Make sure there are procedures in place to safeguard the data and guarantee its integrity. Because after all you don't want a single bit to cost you incalculable amounts of money and goodwill.
  • Establish clear lines of communication: In order to ensure success you'll need your systems to "talk" to each other, but you'll need to make sure that your teams do, too. The more systems that need to be integrated, the more teams that will be impacted, so make sure that everyone has a clear vision for the process and what the ultimate goal is.

Whatever your business -- whether it's making soup, or making technology that supports inventory management for pharmacies -- it's important to remember that today almost every operational change that you make can have major implications to your existing systems, and you'll need to mitigate any fall out with the appropriate planning and procedures.

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