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December 6, 2021

How digitalisation is growing in importance for food companies – data

References to the term ‘digitalisation’ in the public filings of food companies jumped by nearly two-thirds year-on-year in the second quarter of 2021, according to GlobalData research.

Between Q1 and Q2 this year, there was a 32% decline but, year-on-year, the trend appears robust.

In total, the frequency of sentences related to digitalisation between July 2020 and June 2021 was 267% higher than in 2016 when GlobalData, from whom our data for this article is taken, first began to track the key issues referred to in company filings.

When food manufacturers publish annual and quarterly reports, ESG reports and other filings, GlobalData analyses the text and identifies individual sentences that relate to disruptive forces facing companies in the coming years. Digitalisation is one of these topics – companies that excel and invest in these areas are thought to be better prepared for the future business landscape and better equipped to survive unforeseen challenges.

To assess whether digitalisation is featuring more in the summaries and strategies of food manufacturers, two measures were calculated. Firstly, there's the percentage of companies that have referenced the term at least once in filings during the past 12 months – this was 73% compared to 33% in 2016. Secondly, GlobalData calculated the percentage of total analysed sentences that used the term.

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Of the 50 biggest employers among food manufacturers, Nestle was the company that referred to digitalisation the most between July 2020 and June 2021. GlobalData identified 84 digitalisation-related sentences in the Switzerland-based company's filings – 1.3% of all sentences. India's ITC mentioned digitalisation the second most - the issue was referred to in 0.8% of sentences in the company's filings. Other top employers with high digitalisation mentions included two Japan-based majors – Mitsubishi Corp. and Ajinomoto – plus Mexican bakery giant Grupo Bimbo.

Across all food manufacturers, the filing published in the second quarter of 2021 which exhibited the greatest focus on digitalisation came from Bimbo. Of the document's 2,200 sentences, 21 (1%) referred to digitalization.

In the last quarter, food manufacturing companies based in Western Europe were most likely to mention digitalization with 0.25% of sentences in company filings referring to the issue. In contrast, companies with their headquarters in the United States mentioned digitalization in just 0.11% of sentences.

This analysis provides an approximate indication of which companies are focusing on digitalisation and how important the issue is considered within the food manufacturing industry, but it also has limitations and should be interpreted carefully. For example, a company mentioning digitalisation more regularly is not necessarily proof that they are utilising new techniques or prioritising the issue, nor does it indicate whether the company's ventures into digitalization have been successes or failures.

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