Sustainable Food Supply Chains
Supply chain design attempts to identify the supply chain configuration that enables maximization of long-term economic performance. Typically, supply chain design decisions cover
strategic decisions on sourcing, production, distribution, and markets,
tactical decisions regarding the flow of goods through the network.
Nowadays, given the constraints on the (long-term) availability of nonrenewableresources, organizations are forced to rethink their strategies to ensure the sustainability of their operations. Sustainable supply chain design is a new emerging research area aimed at embedding environmental and societal considerations as well as economic considerations in supply chain design.
One such consideration is greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. Many countries are implementing mechanisms to reduce GHG emissions, e.g., incentives or mandatory targets to reduce carbon footprint. Carbon taxes and carbon markets (emissions trading) are currently considered as the most effective mechanisms. Compliance with the environmental regulation of carbon emissions in a cost-effective manner is challenging. Supply chain designs may have to be revised as a result of the additional cost due to GHG emissions at all levels of the supply chain.
Two possible strategies to reduce GHG emissions that will be investigated are: improving cold storage, e.g., decreasing electricity consumption while maintaining conditions that avoid rapid product deterioration, for example, with the aid of innovative post-harvest treatments or as a result of new information from research on the effects of handling and packaging technologies, and reducing fuel consumption,e.g., reducing total miles travelled during transport and using alternate modes of transport. The latter
relates to the “Food Miles” concept that centres on the environmental friendliness of foods on the basis of the transportation distances required to bring products to consumers from the farm/grower.
This research project focuses on developing optimisation models to assist in the design and evaluation of adaptive, sustainable food supply chains that can deliver different final product quality and specifications to different markets (both domestic and export markets). Such supply chains will be able to trade-off significant energy savings to minor changes in product quality. Developing models of product quality changes over time through different supply chains will be essential.
Post-Harvest Science and Technology
Both quantitative and qualitative losses occur in horticultural commodities along the supply chain between harvest and consumption. Qualitative losses, such as loss in edibility, nutritional quality, caloric value, and consumer acceptability of fresh produce, are much more difficult to assess than are
quantitative losses. Postharvest losses vary greatly across commodity types, with production areas and the season of production. Losses of fresh fruits and vegetables in developed countries are estimated to range from 2% in potatoes to 23% strawberries, with an overall average of 12% losses between production and consumption sites. A reduction of postharvest losses through the supply chain can increase food availability to the growing world population, decrease the area needed for production, and conserve natural resources. Roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. This inevitably also means that huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain. Current and innovative postharvest horticulture treatments such as controlled and modified atmosphere storage, 1-methyl cyclopropene, nitric oxide and other storage and packaging techniques will be investigated.
Cold Food Supply Chains
Transportation and storage of fresh products, such as live seafood, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables, are challenging due to the highly perishable nature of such products. Both the producer and the distributor can suffer substantial losses. Supply chains in which products are kept at low temperature are referred to as “cold chains”. However, all fresh products deteriorate with time, even under optimum handling and transport conditions, and thus spoilage may occur even in cold chains. Preventing the
spoilage of perishable products is an important priority for both the producer and the distributor, especially when the supply chain involves long distance transportation (e.g., when fresh products are exported overseas). Investing more resources in preservative efforts, by using better packaging or more
powerful cooling facilities or by a faster transportation mode, helps to keep spoilage to a minimum, but imposes a considerable cost on the producer or distributor. Determining the best trade-off between the associated costs and the benefits so as to optimize the total profit is therefore a critical problem facing fresh-product producers and distributors.
Employing more efficient and more cost-effective cold chains will further enhance the ability of the Australian food and beverage industry to be competitive in the growing Asian markets (in addition to the natural advantage provided by proximity).
This research project focuses on developing optimisation models to assist in the design and evaluation of cost-effective cold chains.
The current set of research projects of interest to the Food & Beverage Supply Chain ITTC are outlined here.