Developments and challenges within the food industry with CEO Rob Kooijmans

This year, Notilyze is participating in the SAS Hackathon again, for the first time in the Manufacturing sector. The team is immersing itself in the IoT solutions of SAS to gain insights into business processes. The team does this in collaboration with HAI, with whom they also developed the hai-app. The aim is to gain insights into managing energy consumption in addition to management on efficiency and product specifications. There are still efficiency gains to be made in production processes, agrees Rob Kooijmans, CEO at Food Strategy Institute. We discuss with him the developments and challenges within the sector of his expertise, the food industry, and we also reflect on the use case of Notilyze's Hackathon team, which works with data from a semi-automated distillation process.  

What are the biggest challenges in the food industry right now?
"The challenges are multidimensional. On the one hand, the food industry in many countries is faced with a labor shortage – of course automation is the answer, but that requires major investments and also more skilled personnel. In addition, many issues that increase the price are currently at play, such as shortages in raw materials due to crop failures in 2021, the war in Ukraine, high transport costs and high energy costs."

About those high energy costs; In addition to costs, the business community seems to be increasingly concerned with their Carbon Footprint. An example is the normative regulation for work-related passenger mobility from 2023 in the Netherlands. Do you also see this is reflected in the interest from companies within Manufacturing and specifically within the food industry in monitoring and reducing emissions?
"The food industry has been aware of its Carbon Footprint for years. there has been a push for some time now, particularly from large retailers, who are a major force in the food market, to clearly map out the Corporate Social Responsibility of its suppliers in a broad sense. With underlying systems such as Sedex and Eco-vadis, the food industry is asked to share its efforts and goals in many CSR areas, including the Carbon Footprint." 

Do you think it is relevant that these types of companies are more involved in this?
"It is certainly relevant for the food industry to focus more on the carbon footprint and climate impact in a broader sense. Large parts of the food industry is convinced that we can only increase production if we do it in a responsible and environmentally friendly way. Sustainability touches the core of our food chain: if we go too far in depleting the natural resources we need for food production, we end up endangering our very existence."

Do you see great opportunities in this area for these types of industries?
"Opportunities abound in the food industry. In all areas, from sowing crops, farming fish, raising livestock, transport and of course production processes – everywhere there are opportunities to achieve a more circular approach and reduction of CO2 emissions and energy consumption. 

In my view, there are not only great opportunities in the food industry, but there is even a compelling, major task to make a transition to a more sustainable and, if possible, circular food industry from “farm to fork”. If we do not do this, we will eventually be confronted with the consequences in the sense that certain raw materials for the food industry will be missing and we can no longer adequately provide the world population with the correct and healthy food."

Do companies in this industry also use insights from their data for these kinds of issues? Do you see a trend in this, just like other sectors?
"In the food industry, just like elsewhere in our society, more and more data is being generated. The automation that is necessary to compensate for the labor shortage and the automation that is used to make processes more measurable and controllable (for example in the logistics sector) result into more and more data that is becoming available. 
Usually start-ups are the forerunners of what is to come in the next 5 to 10 years in the wider industry. At the moment there are start-ups in the food industry that base a large part of their business model on the use of data, which they often also generate themselves. Two examples I would like to mention here are NotCo and Twiga. 
NotCo has mapped all vegetable raw materials down to the molecular level and now also does this with animal products (such as milk). By mathematically connecting this data using AI, NotCo is able to imitate milk purely from vegetable raw materials. By modeling everything, NotCo is also able to indicate exactly what the Carbon Footprint is of its products and can even include this in the calculations. 
Twiga, active in Kenya and Tanzania, is a company that supplies the local street shops with high-quality and competitively priced food. The company uses an extensive online platform, where shop owners can simply indicate via WhatsApp what they want to have delivered that day. They are also kept informed via WhatsApp when Twiga will deliver the products. There is even an online option for microcredit, if the store owner is not yet able to pay at the time of delivery. Twiga is very successful because of its high use of data for forecasting both the purchase and sale of the food products."

From your experience: Is there still much to be gained within Manufacturing in reducing energy consumption? And more specifically on our use case this Hackathon, reducing energy consumption within a distillery installation?
"We are only at the beginning of the energy transition, and that also applies to the food industry and especially to manufacturing. 
By dealing much more consciously with losses in the sense of (heat) energy and including these in the design of an installation and the design of a complete factory, we can make great steps in reducing the total energy consumption of, for example, a distillery installation.  
Here we can think of linking different units on a site, where in one place heat is generated by the process (and must therefore be cooled there), while heat is needed in another place. By cleverly connecting different process components, significant savings on energy consumption can be achieved. 
In addition, there are also more recent studies in which the heat consumption and heat flows are also included in the modeling of distillation columns in the complete thermodynamic modelling. This leads to new insights and also to new designs of distillation installations in the near future. The estimate here is that more than 60% can be saved on energy consumption."

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