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Amazing how much software is behind a turkey

What a day for turkeys. 52 millions of them end up in US American ovens.

According to SAP, as reported by Forbes, 52 million turkeys end up in US kitchens oven to cheer Thanksgiving festivity. I am impressed by the number and I should say I feel a little sad for turkeys (however, I do understand that every single day we collectively eat -worldwide- over 55 million chickens).

What interested me is the look at Thanksgiving from the point of view of the supply chain. Preparing and delivering 52 million turkeys is not a minor feat. According to USDA up to last week 189,556,000 turkeys have been slaughtered in the US in 2018, roughly 30% of them to end up on Thanksgiving dinner. They have been raised mostly in 6 US States, with Minnesota topping the list with 42 million, followed by North Carolina -31-, Arkansas -28.5-, Indiana -20,5-, Missouri -17.3- and Virginia -17-.

Organising the supply chain to deliver almost one third of the yearly production of turkeys in a single week requires some effort.

It is impossible, with current technologies and infrastructure, to deliver fresh turkeys to all consumers. Some 90% of turkeys consumed on Thanksgiving are frozen. This means that there should be a cold chain (the supply chain organised to transport goods at a specified -low- temperature) in place.

Nowadays the cold supply chain is managed, and monitored, using IoT, in warehouses, trucks, pallets and store shelves. Delivering frozen turkeys is more expensive than delivering fresh turkeys and to keep cost down the whole supply chain has been digitalised in the last ten years. There is much more computer and software related value in your Thanksgiving turkey than you would imagine. That is the MEIO, Multi-Echelon Inventory Optimisation, software.  MEIO looks at the whole supply chain controlling the distribution and inventory throughout the whole supply chain (this applies to turkeys as well as to any other goods). The software ensures you get the right number of turkeys at the right location at the right time with minimum cost. AI software takes into consideration traffic patterns and select the most efficient distribution route (which actually can be longer in terms of distance). It also includes predictive maintenance to avoid the potential break down of trucks affecting the cold chain integrity. Blockchain has also kicked in to ensure the traceability of the whole process.

Would you have imagined so much software and processing behind your turkey?

So what’s next? Well, it may surely take few more decades but the trend is towards a shift to fresh turkey consumption. However that will not be achieved by changing the production (it is basically unfeasible for economic reasons since it would require to upscale production to target one week consumption thus resulting in under utilisation over the remaining 51 weeks, hence leading to increased cost), but through a radical change of the concept of turkey. Instead of raising a turkey we will end up in printing it at home (or at a department store). Industry will produce turkey “ink” (cells cultured in industrial plants) that will be distributed for printing turkeys in 3D.

We are still far from having this technology, particularly from the point of view of performance and economics, but it is no longer science fiction. Industrial production of steaks and hamburgers (without a cow producing them) will start next year. Printing turkeys is just a bit more down the lane.

Happy Thanksgiving!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.