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Analyze This: How Technology Delivers Fine Wines and Fresh Fruits From Vine to Table

10/22/2012 09:27 am ET | Updated Dec 22, 2012

Imagine yourself at the helm of a global winery. You make a bet on promoting a lesser-known Chardonnay in a new market -- let's say Barcelona -- and the locals love it, prompting a demand spike from customers that requires shipping more bottles to Spain than planned.

Good news, right?

Not if your plans didn't factor in the risk of selling too much wine in one region, causing a supply shortfall in another.

In the winemaking business, a change in one area can impact your ability to serve customers in another. And to make matters more urgent, highly specific growing and harvest seasons give winemakers only a brief window to find and fix supply problems at the vineyards.

Several years ago, leading New Zealand wine producer Delegat's Wine Estates decided its existing technology for business planning -- a tangled vine of spreadsheets -- could not help the winery meet the demands of its growing global customer base. What the winemaker needed was a system that could provide real-time data from its vineyards, yielding faster reporting and better decision-making.

Food, wine and analytics: The perfect order

Delegat's, whose popular Oyster Bay Wines can be found at shops and grocers across the U.S., now uses predictive analytics to gauge vineyard activity, wine production and market intelligence. The winery has reduced the time it takes to produce reports by 90 percent and shortened its planning cycles to six weeks; leaving more time for strategic planning (and strategic planting!).

Wineries aren't the only businesses using analytics to harvest success.

Food and beverage producers are increasingly turning to predictive analytics to better understand and reduce the resources they use to meet spikes in supply and demand.

It takes roughly 80 percent of U.S. freshwater sources to get food from farms to forks, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council. And we've all seen the results of the past summer's drought in the form of rising food prices in grocery stores.

But what if we could be smarter about how we use water?

Sun World International LLC grows fruits and vegetables on 12,000 acres of farmland in California. The company uses analytics to harvest their peaches, peppers and citrus fruits more efficiently. Water is the most precious resource in California's farmlands where Sun World grows its crops.

By using analytics and diverse irrigation techniques, Sun World decreased its water usage by 8.5 percent over a four-year period. By analyzing how it used farm equipment, the food producer was also able to match equipment size to the chore, and decrease fuel usage by 20 percent.

So Sun World, the company that brought us seedless watermelons, is showing food growers around the world how predictive analytics can help create the best conditions for producing tasty fruit and vegetables while reducing labor costs, and water and energy usage.

They're not alone.

Use of paper checklists and questionnaires is common in the food industry, even though the task of having employees manually transfer data from paper to PC is ripe for human error. And the risks are high. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses each year.

Cherry Central, a leading cooperative of hundreds of fruit and vegetable growers in North and South America, decided there had to be a better way. The company's workers use mobile devices to record food safety compliance data, including the date, location and temperature of the produce.

The company can also keep tabs on incoming fruit from growers, track food items through their operations, and monitor critical control points, such as refrigeration temperatures. Decisions can be made immediately instead of waiting days to analyze data that was previously stored on paper. Better understanding its data in real-time helped Cherry Central deliver food to tables safely and improve productivity by 50 percent.

From winemakers that crush grapes into vintage blends to farms that harvest grapes for school lunches, food and beverage producers around the world are using analytics and technology to guarantee that their products will reach consumers' tables without hazards in a safe and sustainable fashion.

To learn more about IBM's consumer products solutions, click here.