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Transforming Food and Agri Supply Chain

18 February 2013

GLOBAL - The operating environment for food and agri companies is becoming increasingly complex as new external influences compound traditional pressures like rising agri commodity prices, according to a new report from Rabobank.

Now Rabobank has called for the industry to transform the way supply chains are organised, by adopting longer-term supply agreements and, cooperative relationships with upstream and downstream partners.

The report identifies the dedicated supply chain model as the best next step for food and agri companies.

This structure has the potential to revolutionize the food and agri industry by making it more productive, innovative, safe and sustainable; all of which will be vital if the sector is to deliver food security to a future global population of 9 billion.

Limitations of Current Structure

Traditional pressures on the food and agri industry (supply and demand dynamics, a burgeoning population and rising agri commodity prices) are being compounded by a new set of external influences.

The direct use of agri commodities for biofuel production and an increased awareness of the energy intensity of food production, for example, have embroiled food and agri companies in an ongoing food vs. fuel debate.

Similarly, speculation in agri commodity markets and the regulatory responses this has triggered from governments worldwide, has added to the complexity of the environment in which the sector operates.

These new pressures also serve to exacerbate the flaws in the current supply chain model.

The dominant supply chain model is currently structured in a linear fashion, in which suppliers, processors and retailers form short-term partnerships independent from the influence and interests of other members of the chain.

This model is highly inefficient, restricting food and agri companies' ability to respond to changes in supply and demand dynamics, whilst fleeting partnerships limit productivity and restrict innovation. This system also results in wasteful processes that cause more environmental degradation than is necessary.

Adding Value Through Closer Cooperation

Rabobank believes that switching to a new supply chain model has the potential to transform the food and agri industry.

In a dedicated supply chain structure, upstream suppliers and processors enter into long-term partnerships with each other and a downstream chain leader.

Crucially, information and insights are shared along the chain's length for the benefit of all members.

Justin Sherrard, Rabobank Global Strategist said: "Closer cooperation of this sort will transform the nature of food and agri partnerships from transactional ones that are centered around chasing price, to a system focused on creating value."

The advantages of dedicated supply chains over the current system are manifold. Companies embracing this thinking will benefit in the following ways:

Reduced Risk

Longer term, more stable agreements reduce exposure to price volatility, whilst shared insights will enable players to better react to market risks

Improved Productivity

Better insights into chain requirements improve process efficiency and partners can also work together to finds ways to limit or reuse waste

Access to New Markets

Better insights into downstream needs and opportunities can better inform product innovation and help companies to grow footprints in new markets

Enhanced Brand and Reputation

Companies with ambitious CSR targets can help their partners on other product attributes, such as sustainability

Improved Access to Capital

In addition to better cash flows and stronger credit ratings, members can access new financing models that provide leverage from chain partners

Adopting the dedicated supply chain model positions food and agri companies for longer-term growth, as the sector rises to meet the over-arching challenge to feed the world in coming decades.

Making the Change

The report encourages the industry to abandon its preoccupation with short-term price spikes. Rabobank believes that a model based on chasing price is a narrow approach that will restrict the ability of food and agri companies to realize their growth objectives in this more complex and demanding environment.

The report calls for prominent food and agri brands to show leadership, through creating initiatives that will lead to closer cooperation between their upstream partners.

The report cites several examples of leading food and agri companies that are already active in this space, such as Mars' decision to release the cocoa genome sequence into the public domain as part of its broader commitment to sustainably sourcing all cocoa purchases by 2020. Furthermore, sector leaders undertaking such initiatives must become advocates for dedicated supply chains, by sharing their experiences with the wider industry.

Gilles Boumeester, Rabobank Global Head Food & Agri Coverage said: "Food and agri financing institutions also have a role to play in creating an environment that is conducive to adopting this new model. To this end Rabobank is developing new financing solutions that support and encourage companies embracing dedicated supply chain thinking."

TheCattleSite News Desk

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