The Role Of Technology In Retail Food Sustainability

Joerg Koesters

You know your business. You’re an expert in what to expect from your customers, marketing campaigns, supply chain logistics, and IT developments within your field. But there are a lot of new concepts and technologies out there that impact the retail market and food sustainability. Let’s take a quick look at how technology is shaping each of these areas.

Social media and the generation gap

Social media is a hot buzzword right now, but many people in business leadership fail to appreciate the role social media plays in building their brand and their business. We have social media marketing, but it can also be a tool for gathering intelligence on potential issues that arise due to a recall or disease outbreak. However, the data gathered still needs to be handled logically. Gone are the days when a business would hire a couple college kids to respond to queries on social media. Instead, having your social media profiles connected to analytics helps you more quickly determine when you’re dealing with business as usual versus a serious PR nightmare.

But beyond social media, the focus consumers have on food is changing as the generations pass the torch to the next generation. Though we’re often focused on Generation X consumers, due to their position at the top of their earning potential, Generation Z consumers have a radically different view of food retail. In Switzerland, the dairy industry that has remained unchanged for centuries is now facing digitalization, transparency and traceability, potentially to the point of which region, farm, or even cow from which the consumer’s milk comes.

Digital transformation

Another hot trend is digital transformation or digitization of businesses. From farmers in developing countries who use mobile devices to verify the weather conditions for the next few days to utilities that are able to better expand and invest in their infrastructure to power farms, digitization has the opportunity to revolutionize our world.

Imagine a supply chain that starts with a connected farmer in a developing country. Digitization allows for mobile device connectivity, so the farmer can determine what needs to be done about a pest in the field. Sensors allow a grain elevator to estimate what the season’s yield will be, allowing for better distribution of bulk food ingredients around the globe. A manufacturer can use analytics to determine points of peak demand, giving them flexibility with just-in-time supply chain management. A store can use connectivity to determine exactly where produce or meats have come from during a recall. Consumers know they’re getting the best food for their families.

Personalization and 3D printing

Another driving trend in food is personalization. Whether it’s food that meets a hot new diet or doesn’t have allergens that cause health problems for much of the developed world, today’s consumer wants their food their way. As the Internet is bringing people together from across the globe, families with children who face the challenges of ADHD, for example, spoke out and demanded equal food quality to that being developed in Europe. Many children with ADHD have problems with hyperactivity caused by artificial food dyes. In Europe, these dyes have fallen under strict regulation, requiring foods that contain the dyes to be labeled similar to how alcohol and tobacco is in the U.S. Upon learning this, U.S. families demanded through a petition that a particular candy manufacturer stop using artificial food dyes in its candy.

Another trend in personalization is the advent of the 3D printer. No longer a simple gimmick to experiment with, the 3D printer has become an essential shop-floor tool in large and small businesses worldwide. Why? Because it makes it much more feasible for the average customer to afford the exact specifications they want in their food. Imagine a supermarket where a customer can simply walk up to a kiosk, request a pound of gluten-free, garlic-parmesan flavored pasta that is fortified with vitamins and is available in a number of child-friendly shapes. Instead of having an entire row of pastas, the kiosk only takes up a few square feet while still delivering a wide range of options, from economical to gourmet.


You’ve probably heard plenty about sustainability over the past few years. As a hot new buzzword, it’s regularly thrown into conversations whether it’s really understood or not. You know that climate change is turning into a problem for your suppliers as the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable, making it difficult to forecast potential crop yields in the long term, but what about in the short term? With your customers’ access to and interest in sustainability initiatives, your company needs to provide the information they need on what you’re doing to keep our world running. But can sustainability be good for your business? The answer is a resounding yes!

Many retailers may be unaware of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This initiative among member nations is focused on ending hunger, improving nutrition, improving food security, and promoting sustainable agriculture across the world. Currently, half a billion small farms provide 80% of the food for developing nations. Rural development will help increase the output of small farms to meet some of the world’s rising demand. It’s estimated that today, 795 million people are undernourished, and projections show that our world’s population will grow by another two billion by 2050. How will we feed everyone? Sustainability feeds not only today’s generation, but it ensures that the capability remains to feed tomorrow’s generations as well.

Adapting to the latest trends

Though many companies are currently holding their own, how much longer will that option be viable? Food delivery, better convenience store foods, and healthy fast-food chains are all gaining ground in the market. To remain competitive, you need to understand that these seemingly esoteric, theoretical concepts can and will make a tangible impact on how food is grown, transported, personalized, and delivered in the future.

For example, let’s look at online grocery shopping. This trend has been growing wildly in the past few years, with the percentage of U.S. households that have purchased groceries online increasing from 11% in 2013 to 21% in 2015. These households are also shopping differently online compared to in-store shopping, and busy households are increasingly shopping for specific products or setting up subscription-based shopping. How does a traditional grocery store keep customers coming to a brick-and-mortar store when faced with these competitors?

I know you’re busy running your business on a day to day basis, but you can see the additional levels of complexity in these topics that you need to understand to drive future revenue. To remain competitive, you need to improve your customers’ brand loyalty and grow your companys’ market share. By getting a better grip on these topics’ complexity, you’ll be able to address those concerns with a deeper understanding of the latest trends.

At SAP, we believe in helping our clients get the tools they need to stay ahead of the latest trends in their industries. Our upcoming SAP Future of Food Forum is an online series of virtual live discussions, with the first session on October 18. Among the topics we’ll cover during these discussions is the role being played by technology in terms of food sustainability.

To learn more about food sustainability and topics around the future of food, please join our virtual forum.



About Joerg Koesters

Joerg Koesters is the Head of Retail Marketing and Communication at SAP. He is a Technology Marketing executive with 20 years of experience in Marketing, Sales and Consulting, Joerg has deep knowledge in retail and consumer products having worked both in the industry and in the technology sector.

Digitalist Flash Briefing: Dulux Moves Beyond EDI

Bonnie D. Graham

Today’s briefing looks at how a business that decided to go paperless reaped an even greater benefit when it went to the cloud to digitally transform its supplier ecosystem. Bye bye, EDI!

  • Amazon Echo or Dot: Enable the “Digitalist” flash briefing skill, and ask Alexa to “play my flash briefings” on every business day.
  • Alexa on a mobile device:
    • Download the Amazon Alexa app: Select Skills, and search “Digitalist”. Then, select Digitalist, and click on the Enable button.
    • Download the Amazon app: Click on the microphone icon and say “Play my flash briefing.”

Find and listen to previous Flash Briefings on

Read more on today’s topic



About Bonnie D. Graham

Bonnie D. Graham is the creator, producer and host/moderator of 29 Game-Changers Radio series presented by SAP, bringing technology and business strategy thought leadership panel discussions to a global audience via the Business Channel on World Talk Radio. A broadcast journalist with nearly 20 years in media production and hosting, Bonnie has held marketing communications management roles in the business software, financial services, and real estate industries. She calls SAP Radio her “dream job”. Listen to Coffee Break with Game-Changers.

Blockchain To The Rescue: We Can Be Much Better At Weathering Natural Disasters

Susan Galer

As a massive hurricane devastates a city, first responders immediately bring life-saving medical attention, food, water, fuel, and other resources to victims in real-time, hiring suppliers with the best prices to deliver items to the exact locations where people need it most.

Contrary to real-life events in the news lately, this is not wishful thinking. It’s a humanitarian relief scenario made entirely possible by a blockchain technology demo I saw at the recent SAP TechEd event in this video interview with Torsten Zube, blockchain lead at the SAP Innovation Center Network.

Bringing help where it’s needed most

Called the “pooling and sharing” scenario, this blockchain example offers a fundamentally disruptive approach to quickly mobilize public and private organizations when disaster strikes. Often the problem lies not so much in the lack of resources available to help, but in the logistics to efficiently direct and deliver that support to the right places.

“Blockchain’s trusted, decentralized transparency across numerous parties – government officials, community organizers, vendors, utilities, healthcare providers ­– makes it perfectly suited to help align citizen demands for relief with the most readily available supplies,” said Zube. “It’s a very simple way to bring help to where it’s needed most. Giving everyone involved the ability to write and read data on an open source platform speeds up disaster relief to a whole new level.”

“During natural disasters, blockchain can bring life-saving transparency to humanitarian relief missions”

Essentially operating as an ad hoc supply chain network on a mobile app, this blockchain example connected suppliers of clean drinking water with helicopter pilots to schedule deliveries at specific locations within certain time frames. Smart contract technology determined which offer was the best one based on community needs, triggering acceptance of the offer, and setting in motion the delivery through confirmation.

“We end up with a system of record, built from scratch and outside of any existing application, that everyone can use right away to help alleviate problems faster,” said Zube.

Blockchain can’t prevent natural disasters, but it’s top of mind as a solution right now when millions of people are struggling with this season’s record breaking natural disasters.

Distributed ledgers, smart contracts, and other blockchain technologies embed integrity and provenance in every digital asset and transaction. Learn more about the benefits of Running Future Cities on Blockchain.

Follow me: @smgaler

This article originally appeared on SAP News Center.


Human Skills for the Digital Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

Technology Evolves.
So Must We.

Technology replacing human effort is as old as the first stone axe, and so is the disruption it creates.
Thanks to deep learning and other advances in AI, machine learning is catching up to the human mind faster than expected.
How do we maintain our value in a world in which AI can perform many high-value tasks?

Uniquely Human Abilities

AI is excellent at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data — but humans know what they don’t know.

We’re driven to explore, try new and risky things, and make a difference.
We deduce the existence of information we don’t yet know about.
We imagine radical new business models, products, and opportunities.
We have creativity, imagination, humor, ethics, persistence, and critical thinking.

There’s Nothing Soft About “Soft Skills”

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level. There’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

We must revamp how and what we teach to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and persistence. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, and most people will need help acquiring and improving them.

Anything artificial intelligence does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique abilities into account. While we help AI get more powerful, we need to get better at being human.

Download the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.

Read the full article The Human Factor in an AI Future.


About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu


The Human Factor In An AI Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and its ability to perform human tasks accelerates exponentially, we’re finally seeing some attempts to wrestle with what that means, not just for business, but for humanity as a whole.

From the first stone ax to the printing press to the latest ERP solution, technology that reduces or even eliminates physical and mental effort is as old as the human race itself. However, that doesn’t make each step forward any less uncomfortable for the people whose work is directly affected – and the rise of AI is qualitatively different from past developments.

Until now, we developed technology to handle specific routine tasks. A human needed to break down complex processes into their component tasks, determine how to automate each of those tasks, and finally create and refine the automation process. AI is different. Because AI can evaluate, select, act, and learn from its actions, it can be independent and self-sustaining.

Some people, like investor/inventor Elon Musk and Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma, are focusing intently on how AI will impact the labor market. It’s going to do far more than eliminate repetitive manual jobs like warehouse picking. Any job that involves routine problem-solving within existing structures, processes, and knowledge is ripe for handing over to a machine. Indeed, jobs like customer service, travel planning, medical diagnostics, stock trading, real estate, and even clothing design are already increasingly automated.

As for more complex problem-solving, we used to think it would take computers decades or even centuries to catch up to the nimble human mind, but we underestimated the exponential explosion of deep learning. IBM’s Watson trounced past Jeopardy champions in 2011 – and just last year, Google’s DeepMind AI beat the reigning European champion at Go, a game once thought too complex for even the most sophisticated computer.

Where does AI leave human?

This raises an urgent question for the future: How do human beings maintain our economic value in a world in which AI will keep getting better than us at more and more things?

The concept of the technological singularity – the point at which machines attain superhuman intelligence and permanently outpace the human mind – is based on the idea that human thinking can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with technology. However, the limits of human performance have yet to be found. It’s possible that people are only at risk of lagging behind machines because nothing has forced us to test ourselves at scale.

Other than a handful of notable individual thinkers, scientists, and artists, most of humanity has met survival-level needs through mostly repetitive tasks. Most people don’t have the time or energy for higher-level activities. But as the human race faces the unique challenge of imminent obsolescence, we need to think of those activities not as luxuries, but as necessities. As technology replaces our traditional economic value, the economic system may stop attaching value to us entirely unless we determine the unique value humanity offers – and what we can and must do to cultivate the uniquely human skills that deliver that value.

Honing the human advantage

As a species, humans are driven to push past boundaries, to try new things, to build something worthwhile, and to make a difference. We have strong instincts to explore and enjoy novelty and risk – but according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, these instincts crumble if we don’t cultivate them.

AI is brilliant at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data. What it can’t do is deduce the existence, or even the possibility, of information it isn’t already aware of. It can’t imagine radical new products and business models. Or ask previously unconceptualized questions. Or envision unimagined opportunities and achievements. AI doesn’t even have common sense! As theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says, a robot doesn’t know that water is wet or that strings can pull but not push. Nor can robots engage in what Kaku calls “intellectual capitalism” – activities that involve creativity, imagination, leadership, analysis, humor, and original thought.

At the moment, though, we don’t generally value these so-called “soft skills” enough to prioritize them. We expect people to develop their competency in emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, curiosity, critical thinking, and persistence organically, as if these skills simply emerge on their own given enough time. But there’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

Lessons in being human

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level – and to do so not just as soon as possible, but as early as possible.

Singularity University chairman Peter Diamandis, for example, advocates revamping the elementary school curriculum to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and persistence. He envisions a curriculum that, among other things, teaches kids to communicate, ask questions, solve problems with creativity, empathy, and ethics, and accept failure as an opportunity to try again. These concepts aren’t necessarily new – Waldorf and Montessori schools have been encouraging similar approaches for decades – but increasing automation and digitization make them newly relevant and urgent.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium is approaching the same problem from the opposite side, by starting with outcomes. This organization is pushing to redesign the secondary school transcript to better reflect whether and how high school students are acquiring the necessary combination of creative, critical, and analytical abilities. By measuring student achievement in a more nuanced way than through letter grades and test scores, the consortium’s approach would inherently require schools to reverse-engineer their curricula to emphasize those abilities.

Most critically, this isn’t simply a concern of high-tuition private schools and “good school districts” intended to create tomorrow’s executives and high-level knowledge workers. One critical aspect of the challenge we face is the assumption that the vast majority of people are inevitably destined for lives that don’t require creativity or critical thinking – that either they will somehow be able to thrive anyway or their inability to thrive isn’t a cause for concern. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, which means that everyone will need help acquiring them. For humanitarian, political, and economic reasons, we cannot just write off a large percentage of the population as disposable.

In the end, anything an AI does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique human abilities into account. Why would we want to give up our humanity in favor of letting machines determine whether or not an action or idea is valuable? Instead, while we let artificial intelligence get better at being what it is, we need to get better at being human. That’s how we’ll keep coming up with groundbreaking new ideas like jazz music, graphic novels, self-driving cars, blockchain, machine learning – and AI itself.

Read the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.

Build an intelligent enterprise with AI and machine learning to unite human expertise and computer insights. Run live with SAP Leonardo.


About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu