“By nature, the produce industry is mobile,” points out iFood’s chief executive officer Diane Wetherington. “We move from field to field as we change the crops we produce. Because operations change, software must be flexible in terms of functionality, time to implement, and cost to manage and change.
“Mobile applications today,” continues Wetherington, “whether they’re in the field capturing production data or in the facility validating food safety systems, offer data collection efficiencies, real-time results, and insight into potential problems. In the near term, those applications will provide on-the-spot risk assessments based on real-time circumstances.”
With new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementations on the horizon, such applications could be a critical tool, capturing data for use by grower-shippers, foodservice, distributors, and shipping companies. Working on tablets, personal computers, and in some cases smartphones, iFood tools can streamline food safety operations and provide real-time electronic alerts to support customer and FSMA requirements.
Food safety can also be addressed to varying degrees in ripening rooms, pack houses, and storage facilities with mobile apps. As mentioned earlier, Cotton and Mountain View use one of Fresno, CA-based Lotpath, Inc.’s services, but there are several available to meet the needs of growers and distributors large and small.
Lotpath Quality, a web-based program, has an accompanying mobile app called Lotpath Inspector. “Lotpath Inspector allows people to inspect fresh produce; users can record quality data and take photos,” shares Mike Dodson, company president. Inspections are customized, he says, based on the type of commodity and the point in the supply chain where the inspections are taking place.
Lotpath Quality is sold as a monthly subscription, with pricing based on the number of account users and devices using the Inspector app. For Dodson, using such technology is a no brainer: “Almost everyone working in the produce industry carries a smartphone; using a smartphone to do your daily work is transformative.”
“In general, we feel this area is exploding right now,” agrees Dave Donat, president and produce manager for Produce Pro of Woodridge, IL. “The produce industry has unique needs centered around the just-in-time nature of the business—mobile fits this perfectly.”
In or Out of the Office
Indeed, Produce Pro offers a number of mobile apps for the perishables supply chain, including a driver app that tracks both trucks and deliveries in real time (it also allows customers to sign on a tablet, eliminating paper and emailing receipts); a ‘checkout’ app for mobile ordering from websites; a quality control app to perform product inspections in the warehouse; and a customer management app for outside sales reps to supply information about existing customers and prospects.
“All of our apps are designed with a common purpose: to untether users from their desks, in the very spots where it makes the most sense. Our user base is increasingly demanding on-the-go information; they also want to be able to record data in real time,” says Donat.