• Digitalisation of the agrifood sector: what does Twitter tell us?

    catalanspanish

    Technology is advancing at a frenetic pace and offers the agrifood chain a large number of opportunities to make its production more efficient and sustainable. Moreover, the arrival of COVID-19 has shown that the most digitalised companies were able to continue their activities more readily than the rest. In this article we examine the degree of popularity of the different digital technologies used in the primary sector and agrifood industry based on a text analysis of over 2 million tweets on Twitter. All these technologies are essential to create a connected ecosystem that will make up the Food Chain 4.0 of the future.

    Plantilla

    plantilla_article_vs05

    Etiquetas
    Miniatura
    Área geográfica

    The unexpected arrival of the pandemic has shown that the most digitalised companies were more prepared to adapt to the new situation and were able to continue to operate much more smoothly than the rest. There is no doubt that, in this new environment, the digital transformation of companies is now unavoidable in order to boost their competitiveness.

    Big data, robotics, the internet of things and blockchain are just some examples of the new digital technologies gradually being adapted by firms, particularly in the agrifood sector. Technology is advancing at a frenetic pace and is offering the agrifood chain a large number of opportunities to produce more efficiently and sustainably. However, statistical information on the degree to which such technologies have been taken up, and the most comprehensive official statistical source1, does not provide information on the primary sector. Below we present a novel analysis of the «popularity»  of new digital technologies in the agrifood sector based on data from Twitter.

    • 1. Survey on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and e-commerce in companies, compiled by the National Statistics Institute.
    Twitter as a source of information to detect future trends

    Data from Twitter can be extremely valuable in detecting new trends as it allows us to analyse the popularity of certain terms according to how frequently they appear in tweets. However, it is true that «talking about something» is not the same as successfully implementing the various digital technologies in a company's recurring operations. For this reason the results presented below should be interpreted simply as an indication of new trends that may be taking root in agrifood companies.

    Data from Twitter allow us to analyse how popular the different digital technologies

    are in the agrifood sector according to how often they are mentioned in tweets.

    For this study, data was processed from over 24 million tweets sent by individual users and digital media during the period 2017-2019. Among these, 2 million corresponded to the agrifood sector. Using natural language processing techniques, the tweets were categorised according to mentions of different digital technologies and to the business sector.2 The key to obtaining relevant data from social media is to first define «seed» words or phrases to identify texts corresponding to each of the business sectors, as well as «seed» words or phrases related to the different digital technologies of interest.3 Using a machine-learning algorithm, other words and phrases related to the concept in question that were not initially included were also identified, thus broadening the spectrum of texts analysed. At this stage, it is important to carefully screen for polysemous words (i.e. those that have more than one meaning, such as the word «reserva» in Spanish, which can be used to refer to a hotel booking as well as an aged wine).

    • 2. This analysis was carried out in collaboration with Citibeats, a company specialising in unstructured natural language processing.
    • 3. For example, the «seed» woods and phrases used to identify big data were: analytics, arquitectura de sistemas (system architecture), data mining, database, inteligencia empresarial (business intelligence), Python and SQL, among others (as well as the term big data per se).
    What is the degree of digitalisation of the agrifood sector according to Twitter?

    To assess the agrifood sector's degree of digitalisation according to data from Twitter, we first need to know how common tweets about digitalisation are in other business sectors. The most digitalised industry according to our analysis is the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector: 3.2% of the sector's tweets contain terms related to digitalisation, a result that is not surprising given the very nature of the industry. Next comes finance and insurance with 2.7% of the tweets.

    This percentage is obviously lower in the primary sector at 0.6% but it is similar to the 0.7% for professional, scientific and technical activities. In the case of the agrifood industry, the percentage of tweets on digitalisation is only 0.3%, very close to the basic manufacturing sector (which includes the textile, wood, paper and graphic arts industries), with the lowest percentage among the sectors analysed, 0.2%.

    p 26
    Which digital technologies are most popular in the agrifood sector according to Twitter?

    The wealth of data obtained from Twitter allow us to identify the most popular digital tools in each business sector according to how frequently they are mentioned in the tweets examined. According to our analysis, a large proportion of the primary sector's tweets about digitalisation tend to include issues related to big data (45% of all tweets about digitalisation). One clear example of the application of big data in the sector can be found in «precision agriculture» techniques which require large amounts of data to be analysed to optimise decisions and thereby increase production and, in turn, ensure sustainability. These techniques are used, for instance, to calculate the irrigation requirements of crops by taking into account climatic conditions (sunlight, wind, temperature and relative humidity) and crop characteristics (species, state of development, planting density, etc.). To carry out this calculation, real-time updated meteorological data, a large computing capacity and fast data transmission speeds are all required for an automatic irrigation system to be properly adjusted. This technology helps to use water more efficiently, a highly relevant aspect in areas with a Mediterranean climate that are extremely vulnerable to climate change and where water is in short supply.

    Big data, the internet of things and robotics are the most popular technologies in the primary sector,

    indispensable for advancing the application of precision agriculture techniques and smart automated farming.

    Other popular technologies in the primary sector are the internet of things (16% of tweets) and robotics, including drones (10% of tweets). The new digital technologies promise to revolutionise the field of agriculture and stockbreeding by the middle of this century, the same as the mechanisation of farming in the xxi century. Agricultural Machinery 4.0 (which is closer to the robots in science fiction films than to the tractors we are used to seeing on all farms in the country) helps to increase productivity whilst also improving working conditions in the field. This trend towards more automated agricultural tasks has become stronger in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as the difficulty in recruiting seasonal workers due to international mobility restrictions has led to increased interest in robotics and agricultural automation. In fact, companies that manufacture robots for agriculture have seen a sharp increase in orders, such as robots that pick strawberries while removing mould with ultraviolet light.14 

    The use of drones warrants particular attention as this has grown exponentially in recent years and applications are increasingly widespread: from the early detection of pests and the aerial inspection of large areas of crops to locating wild boar with heat-sensitive cameras to prevent the spread of African swine fever to domestic pigs.5

    • 4. See Financial Times Agritech «Farm robots given Covid-19 boost», 30 August 2020.
    • 5. See http://www.catedragrobank.udl.cat/es/actualidad/drones-contra-jabalies

    The popularity of various digital technologies in the agrifood sector

    p 28

    Blockchain is the technology that stands out most in the food sector (30% of the total number of tweets on the sector's digitalisation) and this comes as no surprise as it has many different applications for the food and beverage industry. Producing a chain of unalterable, reliable records, blockchain makes it possible to guarantee the complete traceability of products throughout all the links in the food chain. Simply scanning a QR code provides access to all the data regarding the origin, production method, veterinary treatments received, ingredients used, etc. A large number of agrifood companies are already experimenting with blockchain as it offers clear benefits in terms of transparency regarding origin, product quality and food safety, aspects that are increasingly valued by consumers. Blockchain technology is also being used to limit food waste, another essential challenge for the sector.

    Blockchain enables the digital verification of food products,

    making them traceable throughout the links in the food chain.

    Compared with other sectors, which tools are particularly significant for the agrifood industry?

    There are some digital technologies that are not very popular across all economic sectors, perhaps because they have a more limited or specific range of application. These are technologies that, despite having a low percentage of tweets in absolute terms according to our study, may be relatively popular for a particular sector compared with the rest.

    To detect such cases, we have calculated a new metric, namely a concentration index which takes into account the relative popularity of technologies in a sector compared with the rest of the sectors.6 By using this methodology, we have found that the primary sector continues to stand out in terms of big data. Specifically, the primary sector concentrates 9.2% of the total number of tweets mentioning big data made by all sectors, a much larger proportion than the 3.1% share of primary sector tweets out of the total number of tweets analysed (as can be seen in the following table, in this case the concentration index is 3). We have also determined that the sector is particularly interested in the internet of things, as already mentioned, but have discovered that nanotechnology is also a relatively popular technology in the primary sector. In other words, although only 3.8% of the tweets in the primary sector deal with nanotechnology, this percentage is high compared with the 1.7% share of nanotechnology tweets out of the total (in other words, this technology is not very popular in general across all sectors but is slightly more popular in the primary sector than the others). This find is not surprising since genetic engineering is one of the fields in which technology has advanced most in order to boost crop yields. For example, by optimising the yield of vines it is possible to develop plants that are much more resistant to extreme weather conditions and pests.

    • 6. The concentration index is calculated as the ratio between (1) the percentage of tweets related to a particular technology and sector out of the total tweets for this technology, and (2) the percentage of tweets by a sector out of the total tweets of all sectors. Values above 1 indicate the technology is relatively more popular in that sector.

    Concentration index for tweets related to each technology in comparison with the other sectors

    p 29

    Finally, virtual and augmented reality is also a relatively popular technology in
    the agrifood industry.
    Specifically, the agrifood industry concentrates 6.2% of the total virtual and augmented reality tweets made by all sectors, a percentage that more than doubles the 2.5% share of primary sector tweets out of the total number of tweets analysed (the concentration index is equal to 2.5 in this case). This technology uses virtual environments (virtual reality) or incorporates virtual elements into reality (augmented reality) that provide additional knowledge and data that can be used to optimise processes. At first it may be surprising that this technology is relatively popular in the agrifood industry but its uses are spreading as the industry implements digital technologies in its production processes, in the so-called Industry 4.0. One specific example of how this technology is used is in repairing breakdowns. When a fault occurs, operators can use augmented reality goggles to follow the steps contained in virtual instruction manuals that are projected onto the lens to help resolve the incident. The glasses recognise the different parts of the machine and visually indicate to operators where they should act to solve the specific problem.

    There are numerous examples of new digital technologies being applied in the agrifood sector. We are witnessing a revolution that is destined to transform the different links in the food chain: from the exploitation of data and the use of drones to make harvesting more efficient to implementing blockchain technology to improve the traceability of the final products that reach our homes. In short, the future will bring us the Food Chain 4.0, a totally connected ecosystem from the field to the table.

    Monograficos
    Destacado Economia y Mercados
    Desactivado
    Destacado Analisis Sectorial
    Desactivado
    Destacado Área Geográfica
    Desactivado
  • e-commerce: several year’s progress made in just a few months

    catalanspanish

    The pandemic has inevitably brought about major changes in our consumption habits. Faced with the impossibility of going to a store in person, online shopping channels have gained a lot of share in 2020. According to an analysis of CaixaBank’s internal data, this growth has not only been significant but also widespread among companies of different sizes and sectors, and has encouraged many of them to use e-commerce as a sales channel for the very first time.

    Plantilla

    plantilla_article_vs05

    Temática
    Etiquetas
    Miniatura
    Área geográfica
    The huge growth in e-commerce after the outbreak of the pandemic

    The harsh mobility restrictions imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19 have undoubtedly dealt a severe blow to the Spanish economy but they have also speeded up some of the changes we had already been observing. One of the changes seeing the greatest growth, and also which we have been monitoring the most, is the adoption of e-commerce by retailers. Given the mobility restrictions and social distancing, online sales are providing a boost for the retail sector that has helped to avoid an even more complex economic situation during the pandemic.

    To analyse the progress of online sales, we have used the consumption indicator compiled from CaixaBank’s internal data, evaluating the trend in retail without the trade in essential goods, which perform very differently to the rest of retail trade.11 As can be seen in the chart below, e-commerce sales have performed very well since the start of the pandemic. Between the months of April and May 2020, when mobility was restricted the most, e-commerce spending achieved triple-digit growth, reaching spending volumes only surpassed in the week of Black Friday in recent years. This growth rate moderated as restrictions were eased and people could once again make face-to-face purchases. Nevertheless, the growth rates have consistently remained above 50% compared to 2019, except at very specific moments.

    • 11. We have excluded food and pharmacy sales from the analysis since the effect of the restrictions on the consumption of these types of goods was the opposite of that observed for trade in non-essential goods during the early part of the pandemic.

    CaixaBank retail consumption indicator1

    Variation compared to the baseline (%)2

    CaixaBank retail consumption indicator

    The trend described for e-commerce is in clear contrast to the performance of face-to-face sales which, as can be seen from the chart, fell sharply during the first state of emergency and, to a lesser extent, during the second and third waves of COVID-19 in November 2020 and February 2021, respectively. In 2020 as a whole, face-to-face retail spending fell by 23% compared to 2019, while e-commerce grew by 69% year-on-year. As a result, the growth in online sales cushioned the impact on the sector’s turnover, down by 15%.

    Democratic growth in internet sales

    One question that should be asked is what type of commerce has been able to benefit from this growth in online sales. Switching to selling online or expanding existing e-commerce channels entails significant investment in digitisation, representing a barrier for smaller businesses, especially those having to adopt this channel for the very first time. Nevertheless, according to an analysis of CaixaBank’s internal data, the growth in e-commerce has been widespread, observed in both large and small companies, as well as in companies with e-commerce experience and also new entrants.

    According to an analysis of CaixaBank’s internal data,

    the growth in e-commerce has been widespread, observed in both large and small companies, as well as in experienced companies and new entrants

    As the following chart shows, as of May 2020 the contribution made by new entrants to the growth in e-commerce sales increased steadily, reaching 30% of the total. However, after the second state of emergency was announced on 25 October 2020, this upward trend ended. This is probably because, in events such as Black Friday and the Christmas season, the most consolidated e-commerce retailers once again captured the bulk of online sales. However, the contribution made to e-commerce growth by new entrants was very high in 2020 as a whole, revealing that this shift to internet sales has also occurred in stores that were not previously online.

    Contribution to retail e-commerce growth by new entrants

    Last actualization: 07 July 2021 - 15:47

    If we look at the dynamics of e-commerce by company size, we can observe two different stages. First, during the months of the first state of emergency, large companies made up the bulk of e-commerce growth. Small businesses found it more difficult to react immediately and many had to wait until they were able to open in person in order to start adapting to e-commerce sales.

    During the months of the first state of emergency,

    large companies made up the bulk of e-commerce growth. Small businesses have taken longer to react

    25

    From the end of June, coinciding with the end of the state of emergency, the dynamics of e-commerce began to change in favour of smaller businesses. Specifically, from that moment on, the possibility of opening their doors made it easier for many small businesses to adapt to the online sales channel. As a result, in July and August online sales by smaller companies generated about half the sector’s total growth in e-commerce.

    CaixaBank retail e-commerce indicator1

    Contribution to year-on-year change (pp)

    CaixaBank retail e-commerce indicator
    Structural change

    Internal CaixaBank data also suggest that the increase in online sales is not concentrated within a few types of trade; in fact quite the opposite. All retail categories have posted appreciable growth during 2020, although we expect to see e-commerce growth moderating in favour of greater on-site spending following the lifting of restrictions.

    It is therefore interesting to estimate to what extent the growth in e-commerce is here to stay. To this end, the chart below shows the trend in the share of online purchases as a percentage of total purchases in the different branches of retail activity. As can be seen, the share of e-commerce picked up strongly in 2020 in all branches. However, if we compare the trend of recent years with the record of March 2021, a month with notable restrictions but not particularly hard on retail trade, we can see there are some branches of activity (bookshops and stationers, as well as textiles) where the share of face-to-face consumption has returned to normal. On the other hand, for the rest of the branches of activity, part of the extraordinary gains made in 2020 was still visible in March 2021, to some extent suggesting a possible change in consumption patterns.

    Share of e-commerce in total sales

    Last actualization: 07 July 2021 - 15:48
    It is too early to judge how much of this change will be structural and how much will dissipate once we get over the health crisis.

     Face-to-face consumption is sure to remain one of the main supports for retail trade

    In conclusion, e-commerce has grown considerably after the emergence of COVID-19. This growth, moreover, has been «democratic» since both large and small companies (although the latter took a little longer) have taken advantage of the boost provided by the mobility restrictions to online consumption. It has also been a very steep learning curve, so that new entrants to e-commerce were behind much of the growth in 2020.

    However, it is too early to judge how much of this change will be structural and how much will dissipate once we get over the health crisis. Face-to-face consumption is sure to remain one of the main supports for retail trade. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see a future for retail without the sector committing clearly and strongly to digitising its sales channels, enabling many small businesses to access a much larger and more diversified market and consumers to access a market with a much wider range on offer.

    27
    Monograficos
    Destacado Economia y Mercados
    Desactivado
    Destacado Analisis Sectorial
    Desactivado
    Destacado Área Geográfica
    Activado

The global chip supply: disruptions and new trends

In 2021, supply problems have dominated the financial headlines. One of the most prominent problems has been the lack of chips, or semiconductors, which has caused many headaches across a range of sectors, including the automotive industry that is so key to European industry. In the face of increased structural demand for technological goods, is the supply ready for it?

Content available in
IM02-2022 imagen de la cubierta (detalle)

In the previous articles of this same Dossier, we have analysed the high demand for technological goods at the height of the pandemic, as well as various factors which could favour the persistence of this trend in the medium term. However, in the face of increased structural demand for technological goods, is the supply ready for it? This is precisely what we ask ourselves in this final article, in which we focus on the case of chips.

Supply: the efforts of the last two years... insufficient

In 2021, supply problems (or bottlenecks) have dominated the financial headlines. One of the most prominent problems has been the lack of chips (or semiconductors), which has caused many headaches across a range of sectors, including the automotive industry that is so key to European industry.

However, producers of semiconductors and other technological goods have not rested on their laurels in the face of the rise in demand since 2020 and the evident shortage since 2021. Indeed, they have done quite the opposite. For instance, Taiwan, one of the world’s leading chip producers, has greatly increased its production in 2020 and 2021: its chip exports grew by an average annual rate of 20%, compared to an annual rate of 10% in the previous 20 years (see first chart).1 In the same vein, Chinese exports of high-tech goods also grew in the last two years at well above the average rate of the previous 10 years (16.4% on average in 2020-2021, compared to 4.6% on average in the period 2010-2019).2

  • 1. Exports of technological goods from the main producing countries serve as a good proxy for the global supply of this type of goods. Similarly, in the first article of this same Dossier, the imports of the main consuming countries of these goods serve as a proxy for global demand.
  • 2. According to monthly data from the Chinese customs statistics. The World Bank also provides data on high-tech Chinese exports up to 2020 and the results are in line with those reported by the national statistics.
Taiwan: exports of manufactured goods

Despite these efforts by the main producing economies to boost the supply of technological goods, it has proven insufficient to close the gap with the buoyant demand. In addition, transport and logistics problems have arisen in the face of high levels of freight traffic in this pandemic environment.

Policies that promise a change in the supply of chips – but in the medium term and with question marks

Among many other aspects, the pandemic has highlighted the need to accelerate economies’ digital transformation. Those countries that are more digitalised and technologically advanced have managed to better weather the current economic and health crisis. In this regard, most major economies have already put forward plans to accelerate this digital change. The EU is no exception, and as we discussed in a recent article,3 much of the NGEU funds will precisely go towards this digital transition in Europe.

Among the various elements aimed at driving digital change, the European Chips Act will play a key role. This act aims to alleviate the problem of semiconductor scarcity in the European region (as a key input in technological goods), as well as foreign dependence for their supply. «Technological sovereignty» and «European strategic autonomy» are two of the most frequently heard slogans when discussing industrial and trade policy in Europe. In the case of chips, it should be mentioned that 75% of their production is concentrated in East Asia, with Taiwan and South Korea being the main producers, especially in the case of the most sophisticated semiconductors (see second chart).

  • 3. See the article «NGEU: an international comparison of the recovery plans and their investments in new technologies» in the Dossier of the MR09/2021.
Global: chip production

In this regard, in 2022 the EU will present a proposal for this semiconductors act. With a planned investment of between 20 and 30 billion euros up to 2030, it will double Europe’s share of the global chip production (from the current 9% up to 20%), especially in those more sophisticated variants. These are ambitious goals to achieve greater self-sufficiency and sophistication, which are shared by many other countries. In the US, we have the CHIPS for America Act and the FABS Act, which also aim to increase the US’ productive capacity and have a planned investment of 50 billion dollars over five years (around 44 billion euros); China has supported the semiconductor industry with investments of 180 billion dollars (some 160 billion euros) since 2015 and aims to produce 80% of its domestic chip needs by 2030, and even South Korea has announced an investment of 400 billion dollars (some 355 billion euros) up to 2030.

In the face of such a deployment of resources, a considerable increase in the global chip production capacity seems assured. But this will not be in the short term. Building a semiconductor manufacturing plant involves a multi-billion-dollar investment (around 20 billion dollars for the most sophisticated variants) and it typically takes around two years (if not longer) for it to become operational. On the other hand, there are various question marks regarding the chip policy that the EU seems intent on pursuing. Firstly, the planned investments within the Union are modest if we consider that South Korea, a leader in production alongside Taiwan, aims to invest up to 10 times more over the same period; or that China has invested up to five times more in the last six years.

Secondly, Europe has focused on the most complex types of chips, which require not only greater economic investment but also a know-how that can only be gained from experience, such as that which countries like South Korea or Taiwan have.4 In addition, the automotive sector, one of the European sectors that has been hardest hit by this semiconductor supply crisis, does not have a particularly high demand for these more complex types of chips. Perhaps a production strategy more coherent with the region’s domestic needs could yield more beneficial results in terms of providing some degree of autonomy in the medium term.5 And we say «some degree of autonomy» since, in such a technologically advanced sector which uses a wide range of commodities, involves highly sophisticated machinery and has constantly shifting specification, one cannot pretend to be detached from global supply chains. Decoupling from these global chains in chip production would result in their prices rising by between 35% to 65%, according to estimates by the Boston Consulting Group.6

Finally, in a world in which technology will continue to advance at a breakneck pace, and in which geopolitical tensions continue to escalate, empowering a workforce that is technologically prepared, as well as collaborating with regions that are at the cutting edge of technology and which play a central role in geopolitical terms, such as the US, are strategies that our region must also consider.

 

  • 4. See the article «Public policies for the diffusion of technology» in the Dossier of the MR09/2021 to obtain a better understanding of the importance of know-how in the acquisition and diffusion of technology.
  • 5. See (2021). «Semiconductor Strategy for Germany and Europe». ZVEI Discussion Paper.
  • 6. See (2021). «Strengthening the global semiconductor supply chain in an uncertain era». April. Boston Consulting Group and SIA.
Etiquetas
    Long-term trends

    Technology

    The keys to understanding how new technologies are substantially transforming the economy and how society works.