Unlike the effects of global warming, which are still invisible to many, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage and forced many people to change their habits and companies to rethink their business strategies. The connectedness and inherent complexity of the global food system has become a matter of public conversation as consumers and producers have started to question the resilience of many aspects of food systems. Due to the supply-and-demand shocks during the first stages of the pandemic, the food sector had to face the challenge of acknowledging its own vulnerabilities and promoting adaptive actions across the supply chains.
In this sense, the sensitivity to change and resilience of Finnish food companies has been good, and especially South Ostrobothnia has proved to be able to recover well from structural changes.
Still, food producers, micro companies – which are the majority in South Ostrobothnia – and restaurants had to rethink about their ways of doing business to survive and make some profits. Food companies were not only asked to be or to become sustainable, but they were also required to enhance their resilience levels and to adapt. Being most of them family run companies with limited financial resources, the challenge seemed – and still is- enormous.
In this framework, we aim to develop groundbreaking digital tools that can support the regional food ecosystem. University of Vaasa, Ruralia Institute and Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (SeAMK) have joined forces and given place to an ambitious project called YDIRE to enhance cooperation and digitalization towards resilience in short food supply chains.
YDIRE is expected to start a dialogue with local food companies, specifically food producers, processors and restaurants, to find out what their needs are and to develop tailored solutions mostly based on cooperation and digitalization. YDIRE will create an action model and a platform that will enable companies to easily connect with one another, start new collaboration, enhance their digital level and find new ways to be responsive in case of emergencies.
The emphasis will be on helping companies to develop digital strategies and embed digital tools in most parts of their business. By using technology to improve supply chains, companies can continue to serve their customers, employ their staff and grow their business. The solutions that will be offered will be tailored made and will keep into consideration both the needs and strengths of the food companies. As Deloitte (2021) has assessed, companies which are digitally mature have more chances to be successful in the global economy.
As we shift from response to recovery, there’s a huge opportunity for South Ostrobothnia to prioritize a digital transformation underpinned by sustainability to future-proof its regional economy. Every government and industry should have a vested interest in strengthening their infrastructure and economy to be ready for the next disruption. This requires more than just allocating funds and resources or buying new hardware; it’s ensuring the right programmes and digital infrastructure are in place to mature the economies as the world continues to evolve.
YDIRE is expected to provide a little contribution in its sense. It will impact not only companies but also regional decision-making so to generally improve corporate resilience in crisis situations and will create new job opportunities in the region.
Author works as a Senior Researcher in Ruralia Institute in the field of Entrepreneurship in the Sustainability Transformation of the Food System.
The project has been recently launched and will last until July 2023. The funding agency is the Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia in the framework of the Finnish Structural Funds Programme.
Nayla Bezares, Gabriela Fretes, Elena M Martinez, (2021), The Role of Food and Beverage Companies in Transforming Food Systems: Building Resilience at Multiple Scales, Current Developments in Nutrition, Volume 5, Issue 9.
Deloitte, (2021), COVID-19Accelerate digitization to increase resilience. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/dl/Documents/legal/POV%20COVID-19%20Resilience%20through%20Digitization%20(englisch).pdf