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Horizon Scanning: Step-by-Step Guide for the Food Industry

June 11 2024

Horizon scanning is an essential tool for companies in the food industry that aim to achieve and maintain market leadership and scale their operations. This comprehensive guide will explore the importance of horizon scanning for food...

Horizon scanning is an essential tool for companies in the food industry that aim to achieve and maintain market leadership and scale their operations. This comprehensive guide will explore the importance of horizon scanning for food safety and compliance, outline key concepts, and provide a detailed, step-by-step process to implement and monitor effective horizon scanning. By mastering these techniques, food industry professionals can enhance their strategic planning and stay ahead of emerging trends, risks, and opportunities in an ever-evolving market landscape.

What is Horizon Scanning?

Horizon scanning is a systematic process used to identify, analyze, and monitor emerging trends, risks, and opportunities that could impact an industry or organization. It involves looking beyond the immediate business environment to detect early signals of potential changes that could affect the future. In the food industry, horizon scanning is particularly critical due to the rapidly evolving nature of food safety regulations, consumer preferences, technological advancements, and environmental concerns.

Using horizon scanning, organizations can secure a strategic edge, allowing them to:

  • Anticipate and Prepare for Regulatory Changes: Stay ahead of new food safety laws and regulations to ensure compliance and avoid costly disruptions.
  • Identify Emerging Risks: Detect potential threats to food safety and supply chains early, allowing for proactive risk management.
  • Capitalize on Market Opportunities: Recognize and exploit new market trends and consumer preferences to drive innovation and growth.
  • Enhance Strategic Planning: Integrate foresight into strategic decision-making processes to build resilience and adaptability.
  • Improve Competitive Position: Maintain a competitive edge by being better prepared for industry shifts and emerging challenges.

Horizon Scanning Methods and Examples

Horizon scanning methods encompass a range of techniques designed to identify, monitor, and analyze emerging trends and potential risks. Here are some of the key methods used in horizon scanning:

  • Environmental Scanning: this method involves continuous and systematic monitoring of external sources such as news media, scientific journals, regulatory updates, industry reports, and social media. The goal is to gather information on emerging issues, trends, and events that could impact the organization.
    • Example: A food company might use environmental scanning to track news about food safety incidents worldwide, regulatory changes in different countries, and scientific discoveries related to food contaminants.
  • Trend Analysis: trend analysis involves identifying and interpreting patterns or shifts over time from collected data. This method helps in understanding the direction and potential future impact of certain trends.
    • Example: By analyzing trends in consumer behavior, such as the increasing demand for organic products, a company can adjust its product offerings to meet future market demands.
  • Scenario Planning: scenario planning is a strategic planning method used to create a set of plausible future scenarios based on current trends and potential developments. It helps organizations anticipate and prepare for various possible futures.
    • Example: A food manufacturer might develop scenarios for different regulatory environments, such as stricter food safety laws or changes in trade policies, to ensure they are prepared for any regulatory shifts.
  • Delphi Technique: the Delphi technique involves gathering insights from a panel of experts through iterative rounds of surveys. The experts provide their opinions on specific issues, and through multiple rounds, a consensus or clearer picture of future developments is achieved.
    • Example: To forecast the impact of new food safety technologies, a company might use the Delphi technique to gather expert opinions on the potential adoption and effectiveness of these technologies over the next decade.
  • Cross-Impact Analysis: this method evaluates the interactions between different trends or events to understand how they might influence each other. It helps in identifying complex relationships and potential cascading effects.
    • Example: A cross-impact analysis might examine how climate change and regulatory changes together could affect food production and supply chains.
  • SWOT Analysis: SWOT analysis assesses the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a particular trend or development. It helps organizations understand internal and external factors that could impact their strategic plans.
    • Example: A food company might conduct a SWOT analysis to evaluate the impact of adopting new sustainable packaging technologies, considering internal capabilities and external market conditions.
  • Weak Signals Detection: this method focuses on identifying weak signals or early indicators of potential changes. Weak signals are often subtle and not immediately obvious but can precede significant trends or events.
    • Example: By monitoring minor shifts in regulatory discussions or initial scientific findings, a company can detect weak signals of future regulatory changes affecting food additives.

These horizon scanning methods enable organizations to gather comprehensive insights, anticipate future developments, and make informed strategic decisions. By combining these methods, businesses can create a robust horizon scanning framework that addresses a wide range of potential risks and opportunities.

Horizon Scanning Meaning in the Food Industry

Horizon scanning holds significant importance in the food industry due to its dynamic nature and the multitude of factors that can impact it. From regulatory changes to technological advancements, and shifts in consumer behavior to environmental issues, the food industry must navigate a complex landscape. Here’s how horizon scanning is particularly relevant to this sector:

Ensuring Food Safety and Compliance

Food safety is paramount, and regulatory standards are continually evolving. Horizon scanning helps organizations stay ahead of these changes by:

  • Monitoring Regulatory Changes: Keeping track of upcoming regulations and standards across different regions to ensure compliance and avoid potential legal issues.
  • Identifying Emerging Contaminants: Detecting new contaminants or foodborne pathogens early, allowing companies to adapt their safety protocols and prevent outbreaks.
  • Predicting Inspection Trends: Understanding the focus areas of future regulatory inspections to better prepare and mitigate risks.

Anticipating Consumer Trends

Consumer preferences are rapidly changing, influenced by factors such as health trends, sustainability concerns, and technological advancements. Horizon scanning allows companies to:

  • Track Dietary Trends: Identifying shifts in consumer diets, such as the rise in plant-based eating, gluten-free products, or low-sugar alternatives.
  • Monitor Sustainability Movements: Understanding the growing demand for sustainable and ethically sourced products, enabling companies to adapt their practices and product lines.
  • Gauge Technological Acceptance: Evaluating consumer receptiveness to new food technologies, such as lab-grown meat or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Enhancing Supply Chain Resilience

The food supply chain is susceptible to various disruptions, from natural disasters to geopolitical events. Horizon scanning aids in:

  • Forecasting Supply Chain Disruptions: Predicting potential disruptions due to climate change, political instability, or economic shifts, and developing contingency plans.
  • Assessing Supplier Stability: Evaluating the reliability and resilience of suppliers, ensuring a robust and secure supply chain.
  • Identifying Alternative Sources: Finding alternative suppliers or raw material sources to maintain continuity in production.

Driving Innovation and Competitive Advantage

In a highly competitive market, innovation is crucial for staying ahead. Horizon scanning facilitates:

  • Spotting Technological Advances: Keeping abreast of breakthroughs in food processing, packaging, and preservation technologies that can improve efficiency and product quality.
  • Identifying Market Gaps: Recognizing unmet consumer needs or emerging markets that present new business opportunities.
  • Benchmarking Competitors: Analyzing competitors’ strategies and innovations to inform and refine one's own business approach.

Addressing Environmental and Ethical Concerns

Environmental sustainability and ethical practices are increasingly important to consumers and regulators. Horizon scanning supports:

  • Monitoring Environmental Regulations: Staying informed about changes in environmental laws and standards that affect production processes and supply chains.
  • Evaluating Ethical Trends: Understanding the rising importance of ethical sourcing and labor practices in consumer purchasing decisions.
  • Anticipating Climate Change Impacts: Preparing for the effects of climate change on agriculture and food production, such as shifts in growing seasons or increased incidence of pests.

By effectively implementing horizon scanning, food industry professionals can navigate the complexities of their environment, ensuring they are proactive rather than reactive to changes. This strategic foresight not only enhances operational resilience but also positions companies to capitalize on emerging opportunities and maintain a competitive edge.

How to Do Horizon Scanning:

Getting Started Process

Conducting horizon scanning effectively can be challenging without a clear framework. Although there is no single universally accepted approach, a robust process generally includes several essential steps:

  1. Define Your Focus: Start by precisely outlining the area or scope of interest that will direct your scanning activities.

  2. Expand Your Horizons: Implement a structured framework that encourages you to consider perspectives beyond your immediate environment.

  3. Analyze the Landscape: Systematically identify emerging trends, subtle indicators, and unpredictable events that could impact your area of focus.

Below, we outline the SGS Digicomply methodology for horizon scanning, which utilizes the SGS Digicomply Horizon Scanning tool. This tool is employed by professionals from top companies worldwide to closely monitor supply chain dynamics across a vast array of data points. It helps pinpoint ingredient and supplier risks, identify biological, chemical, and physical hazards, track emerging threats, evolving regulations, and technological advancements. This comprehensive approach ensures that companies remain compliant with changing regulations and can uncover new business opportunities in the food industry.

Step 1: Defining the Scope 

Defining the scope is the first crucial step in the horizon scanning process. It sets the boundaries for your scanning activities and ensures that your efforts are focused and relevant. To illustrate this step, let's consider that we are interested in trends related to sustainable food production over the next few years.

Clarify the Focus Area

Begin by precisely outlining the specific area or topic of interest. In this case, the focus is on sustainable food production. This involves understanding various aspects such as sustainable farming practices, eco-friendly packaging, waste reduction strategies, and renewable energy usage in food production.

Determine the Scope

  1. Geographic Boundaries: Decide whether your focus will be local, regional, national, or global. Sustainable practices and regulations can vary significantly across different regions. For example, European Union countries may have different sustainability standards compared to the United States or Asia.

  2. Sectoral Focus: Define which segments of the food industry you will concentrate on. This could include:

    • Agriculture: Sustainable farming methods, organic farming, regenerative agriculture.
    • Processing: Eco-friendly processing technologies, energy-efficient machinery.
    • Packaging: Biodegradable or recyclable packaging materials, innovations in packaging to reduce waste.
    • Distribution and Retail: Sustainable logistics, reducing carbon footprint in transportation, green retail practices.
  3. Time Frame: Establish the temporal horizon for your scanning activities. In this example, we are interested in trends over the next few years, which could be defined as the short to medium term (1-5 years). This time frame will help in identifying both immediate and upcoming trends and developments.

  4. Thematic Boundaries: Identify specific themes within the broader topic of sustainable food production. These could include:

    • Technological Advancements: Innovations in sustainable agriculture technology, advancements in food processing for sustainability.
    • Regulatory Changes: New and upcoming regulations related to sustainability in different regions.
    • Market Trends: Consumer preferences towards sustainable products, market demand for eco-friendly food products.
    • Environmental Impact: Measures and practices aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of food production.

Formulate Research Questions

To guide your horizon scanning efforts, formulate clear and specific research questions. These questions will focus your data collection and analysis activities. Examples of research questions for this scope might include:

  • What are the emerging technologies in sustainable agriculture that can be adopted in the next 1-3 years?
  • How are consumer preferences evolving towards sustainable food products, and what impact will this have on market demand?
  • What new regulations related to sustainable food production are expected to be implemented in key markets such as the EU and the US over the next 2-5 years?
  • How can food companies reduce their environmental footprint through innovations in packaging and logistics?

By defining the scope in detail, you set a clear direction for your horizon scanning activities, ensuring that your efforts are targeted, relevant, and effective in addressing the specific needs of your organization. This foundational step helps in aligning all subsequent steps with your overall strategic goals related to sustainable food production.

Step 2: Broaden Your View

Broadening your perspective is essential in horizon scanning to ensure you capture all relevant factors that could impact your focus area. This step helps you consider a wide range of influences and trends that might not be immediately obvious.

To broaden your view, utilize structured frameworks like PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental).

Sustainability Trends in 2030

These frameworks help ensure you systematically evaluate all external factors.

  • Political: New regulations on sustainability.
  • Economic: Market demand for sustainable products.
  • Social: Changing consumer preferences towards sustainable food.
  • Technological: Innovations in sustainable farming and packaging.
  • Legal: Compliance with new environmental laws.
  • Environmental: Impact of climate change on agriculture.

Step 3: Conducting a Horizon Scanning

To effectively conduct horizon scanning, focus on identifying relevant trends and signals within each sector defined in your scope. Aim to uncover 5-10 significant phenomena. Here are some methods to achieve this:

  1. Analyze Recent Publications: Delve into the latest industry publications, including market studies, governmental and NGO reports, as well as academic journals, to spot early indicators and statistical insights.

  2. Monitor News Outlets: Keep an eye on both global and local news sources, editorial pieces, and business features to catch emerging issues that may affect your industry.

  3. Seek Expert Insights: Engage with professionals and thought leaders in the industry to gain their perspectives on upcoming trends and potential challenges.

  4. Explore Online Discussions: Track conversations on social media platforms and in online communities to identify early signs of change and shifting trends.

  5. Utilize Trend Analysis Tools: Leverage digital tools and databases, such as trend analysis reports, patent records, and financial analytics, to detect subtle patterns and emerging trends.

  6. Conduct Team Brainstorming: Facilitate brainstorming sessions with your team, encouraging diverse viewpoints and experiences to surface potential phenomena that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Sustainability Trends in 2030 horizon scanning

While you can perform this process manually, we recommend using SGS Digicomply. This tool scans millions of different sources, including regulatory documents, government publications, news articles, social media, scientific journals, expert insights, and more. Given the vast amount of data, we utilize AI to classify, analyze, and summarize the information for you. This makes horizon scanning more manageable and, most importantly, allows you to focus on critical decision-making rather than the headache of monitoring.

Sustainability food chart

With SGS Digicomply Horizon Scanning, you can easily select topics, subtopics, timeframes, sources, products, markets (locations), and even specific ingredients for your research. Save and track the topics that interest you and use predictive tools to prepare for future actions.

Step 4: Assess and Prioritize Identified Phenomena

Once you have identified relevant phenomena, the next step is to assess and prioritize them based on their potential impact and likelihood. This process ensures that you focus your resources on the most critical issues. Here are key steps for assessing and prioritizing phenomena:

  • Evaluate Impact: Determine the potential impact of each phenomenon on your organization or industry. Categorize impacts as high, medium, or low based on factors such as financial implications, regulatory compliance, and operational disruptions.
  • Assess Likelihood: Estimate the likelihood of each phenomenon occurring within the defined time frame. Use historical data, expert opinions, and predictive models to gauge likelihood.
  • Create a Prioritization Matrix: Develop a matrix that plots impact against likelihood. Prioritize phenomena that fall into the high-impact, high-likelihood quadrant.
  • Engage Stakeholders: Involve key stakeholders in the assessment process to gain diverse perspectives and ensure alignment with strategic goals. Conduct workshops or meetings to discuss and refine priorities.
  • Develop a Scoring System: Assign scores to each phenomenon based on impact and likelihood. Use these scores to rank phenomena and determine which ones require immediate attention.

At this stage, the focus shifts to removing phenomena with insufficient support, allowing attention to be concentrated on the most significant trends.

Sustainability Trends in 2031 - review

Now, evaluate each phenomenon from your shortlist through the lens of your research question. Consider the following aspects:

  1. What insights can you gain from this phenomenon?
  2. How does this phenomenon impact your business, team, or products?
  3. What preparations should you make, and what opportunities can your organization capitalize on?

Involve your team in this stage by evaluating each phenomenon based on two critical criteria, such as urgency and scope, or the relevance of technology and global/local significance. This collaborative assessment will help you gauge the potential impact and strategic importance of each phenomenon.

This collaborative evaluation will help you assess the potential impact and strategic importance of each phenomenon.

Step 5: Formulating Strategic Responses

After prioritizing phenomena, formulate strategic responses to address them effectively. This involves developing action plans, allocating resources, and setting timelines. Here’s how to approach this step:

  • Develop Action Plans: Create detailed action plans for each prioritized phenomenon. Outline specific steps, responsible parties, and required resources.
  • Allocate Resources: Ensure that adequate resources (financial, human, and technological) are allocated to implement the action plans. Consider reallocating resources from lower-priority areas if necessary.
  • Set Timelines: Establish clear timelines for implementing the action plans. Include milestones and deadlines to track progress and ensure timely execution.
  • Monitor and Adapt: Implement mechanisms to monitor the progress of your strategic responses. Be prepared to adapt plans based on changing circumstances or new information.
  • Communicate Plans: Clearly communicate the strategic responses and action plans to all relevant stakeholders. Ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

SGS Digicomply's AI-powered Horizon Scanning Tools

Identifying drivers of change that may impact your business involves processing large amounts of information from sources such as media, authorities, academic institutions, and industry organizations.

Food safety Horizon Scanning

SGS Digicomply streamlines this process by monitoring, organizing, and interpreting millions of data records, and notifying you of critical updates.

  • Hazard Analysis and Preventive Control: SGS Digicomply leverages hazard analysis to provide preventive control, addressing food safety risk management comprehensively.
  • Review Regulations: Access to over 150,000 regulations from more than 150 countries, all translated into English, to stay ahead of regulatory changes and ensure compliance.
  • Monitor Incidents: Stay informed about alerts and recalls from over 70 governmental bodies, along with insights from news journals and industry associations.
  • Analyze Scientific Articles: Access to over 2 million documents from scientific, government, and industry-leading sources to stay updated on the latest research and technological advancements.
  • Track Social News: Monitor discussions in the media, on social networks like Twitter, and by NGO influencers to capture public sentiment and emerging trends.
  • Leverage SGS Labs Insights: Utilize insights from SGS Labs, which analyze billions of data points to provide real-time laboratory analysis and predictions.

Cover the Entire Process: From Horizon Scanning to Insights

SGS Digicomply's tools offer a seamless and integrated process that spans from initial horizon scanning to generating actionable insights. This comprehensive approach ensures that organizations can effectively monitor, analyze, and respond to emerging trends and risks in the food industry.

The process begins with extensive horizon scanning, capturing a wide range of data signals from various sources. This is followed by an early warning phase, where critical issues are identified and enriched with expert knowledge. Finally, the insights derived from this analysis enable organizations to make informed decisions and implement strategic actions promptly.

By utilizing SGS Digicomply's AI-powered solutions, businesses can stay ahead of regulatory changes, anticipate potential risks, and capitalize on new opportunities. This holistic approach not only enhances risk management but also drives innovation and ensures sustainable development.Group 1000003474-1

From Insights to Decisions with AI-Powered Insights Management

To transform data into actionable strategies, SGS Digicomply provides an AI-powered insights management system. This advanced solution facilitates the entire process from gathering insights to making informed decisions, ensuring that businesses can respond swiftly and effectively to emerging challenges and opportunities.

The insights management system helps organizations:

  • Analyze Changes: Monitor and evaluate changes in the regulatory landscape, market conditions, and emerging risks.
  • Collaborate Effectively: Coordinate efforts among stakeholders to address identified issues and implement strategic actions.
  • Make Informed Decisions: Use distilled insights to guide strategic planning, risk assessment, and proactive measures.

Insights Flow

Explore Our Horizon Scanning Demos:

To see these tools in action, we invite you to explore our quick 2-minute demos.

  • For the Regulatory Horizon Scanning and Compliance:

Watch demo

  • For the Food Safety Foresight, Risk Assessment, and Prediction:

Watch demo

For a comprehensive approach, we also recommend exploring demos from the Food Safety Intelligence Hub and Regulatory Intelligence Hub on our Explore Platform page.

By utilizing SGS Digicomply's AI-powered horizon scanning tools, you gain a competitive edge and ensure the sustainable development of your company.


Horizon scanning is a crucial tool for food industry professionals aiming to stay ahead of regulatory changes, emerging risks, and market opportunities. By systematically identifying, analyzing, and monitoring trends, organizations can enhance their strategic planning, ensure food safety compliance, and drive innovation. Leveraging advanced tools like SGS Digicomply can streamline this process, transforming vast amounts of data into actionable insights. This proactive approach not only mitigates risks but also provides a competitive edge, ensuring sustainable growth in an ever-evolving market landscape.

Tags: risk assessment, sustainability, horizon scanning, regulatory horizon scanning, horizon scanning tools, horizon scanning services, horizon scanning technology, horizon scanning definition, horizon scanning examples, horizon scanning research


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