s we celebrate another holiday season, we can’t help but wonder what this time of year will look like moving forward. As the global population continues to grow, will we always have the resources to make a holiday meal for our friends and family? 

Food demand is expected to increase between 59 and 98 percent by 2050, but resources around the world — land, water and labor — are not as plentiful as they once were, especially as the world’s population continues to grow. 

Business leaders in the food and beverage industry, along with policymakers and consumers, have roles to play. Meeting growing demand and remaining profitable requires a more efficient food supply chain - we need to get more out of our food with the same, or even fewer, resources. 

To start, we waste too much. One-third of the food produced every year — 1.3 billion tons — is lost or wasted due to spoilage, consumer expectations and larger than necessary packaging sizes among other reasons. This amounts to losses of roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries alone.  

As we approach the precipice of food insecurity, we must Re-imagine our processes and adopt new technologies to become more efficient. The Thanksgiving meal is a perfect example of how a highly efficient supply chain has successfully met demand over the past few decades.

"Meeting the growing demand and remaining profitable requires a more efficient food supply chain."

Turkey consumption in the United States has more than doubled over the past four decades, jumping from 8.3 pounds per person in 1975 to 16.7 pounds in 2016. And 20 percent of the turkeys consumed last year — about 44 million in total — were eaten on one day: Thanksgiving.  Ensuring that those turkeys are ready for one specific day and avoiding waste and remaining profitable is no easy feat. To manage this, adopting new technology has been crucial. 

For instance, Cargill is helping producers boost profits through predictive data analysis. The company's predictive software tool simulates feeding and production management strategies to understand their impacts on profits. On average, farmers have improved margins by 3.5 percent by optimizing their production.  

Turkey consumption's effect on the food supply chain

At the same time, Cargill is also developing traceability strategies to reduce waste and improve resource usage. This year, the company is testing blockchain technology that will allow them to trace their turkeys from the farm to the table. These turkeys will have a code on their packaging that consumers can text or enter on their website to identify at which farm their turkeys were raised. This system has the potential to streamline the food supply chain and provide more precise inventory management and planning.  

Other areas where the food supply chain is seeing optimizations is in turkey processing when it comes to are cutting and deboning. While these tasks remain manual processes, automation and robotics are helping to improve production. For example, Butterball, which processes 1 billion pounds of turkey each year, captures digital imagery and performance analysis in real-time to increase yields.

"We need to continue investing in and evolving our food system to keep up with the food demand of the ever-growing world population."

Today’s technology advances in the food supply chain follow a long history of advances, including one key advance: cold storage. Before the 1940s, only fresh turkeys were available; frozen turkeys would lose their flavor due to oxidation. But researchers discovered that by changing a turkey's diet, the meat would be less prone to oxidation and could be cold stored for months without losing its taste or spoiling.

But the introduction of frozen turkeys led to another challenge: freezer burn. Packaging advances have helped prevent freezer burn and also extend shelf-life. For instance, Sealed Air’s Cryovac® Super L -bags incorporates proprietary material and packaging technologies that not only helps reduce freezer burn but also enhances freshness in both fresh and frozen products. Ninety million turkeys are packaged each year with Sealed Air’s packaging solutions, with more than 2 billion turkeys packaged in total to date. When properly packaged, frozen turkeys provide flexibility in the food supply chain and help suppliers keep up with demand. 

So as we continue to prepare for future food security needs, we must continue investing in our food system and transforming it to keep up with the food demand of the world’s ever-growing population. With the right ingenuity and resource management, we can ensure there is plenty for all in the coming holiday seasons.