A recent survey conducted by FoodProcessing.com helps shed some light on what the food and beverage industry landscape might look like in the near future. The survey polled 200 plant operations professionals from various food and beverage backgrounds including dairy, non-dairy beverages, meats and poultry, snack foods, and frozen foods, amongst others.
The survey shows a great deal of optimism with a tinge of uncertainty. It also gives indications of goals, market drivers, and challenges facing the industry. While the survey is certainly not a crystal ball, it does highlight key trends, uncover the drivers behind the trends, and give insight into what the industry is working on.
The first piece of information is the challenges the industry expects to face in 2012. The majority of respondents saw their top five challenges as:
- Food Safety (53% of respondents ranked this the top challenge or concern)
- Cost Control (29.5%)
- Inspections/Regulations (20.5%)
- Automation (12.5%)
- Sourcing and Materials (12.5%)
That food safety is the highest priority on the list for food and beverage manufacturers should come as no surprise. With growing consumer awareness, tighter governmental regulations, and competitive pressure, food safety is one aspect no company can afford to miss on. In 2011, one small cantaloupe farm in Colorado sparked a nationwide listeriosis outbreak, causing 15 deaths, the most lives lost by a U.S. food borne outbreak in nearly 15 years. In response, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is targeted at reforming food safety laws in our country. Woodard & Curran is equipped to provide preventative solutions for the industry such as inspection and compliance assistance, prevention-based controls, and response programs.
Another survey result was that a staggering 94.5% of the respondents said they expected their plant’s production to either increase or stay the same. This is good news for the industry, indicating that the economic strain felt in the last few years may have loosened a bit, opening the opportunity for more capital projects because increased production can equate to a need for updated processes and equipment.
Nearly half of the survey respondents (47.2%) said their company's capital budget was due for an increase in 2012 from the previous year. This echoes the sentiment that the food and beverage industry is poised to spend on production facilities.
When asked what portion of their facility is automated, 53.8% of respondents said sections of their production line were fully automatic. This was the highest number followed by 37.2% of packaging sections. Only 8% said their entire production line was automated. Perhaps the most interesting take away from this is the general lack of automation across a variety of food and beverage manufacturing facilities. This indicates that there is a substantial opportunity for automation upgrades.
Energy management is undeniably a huge part of any industry, and food and beverage is no exception. Whether it’s sustainable buildings, water efficiency, emissions reduction, or using alternative energy, energy management is interwoven with the industry. The majority of respondents mirrored this sentiment, with 76.1% indicating their company would be conducting some degree of energy management in 2012.
The largest portion of respondents who said they expected energy improvements indicated they were going to focus on taking steps towards energy conservation. A wide array of energy initiatives were noted in the survey including recycling energy through redirection systems, conducting energy audits, seeking alternate energy solutions such as co-generation, and installing solar panels.
While answers from a survey should not be considered definitive, it offers valuable insight. After analyzing the survey and the market conditions we can pull a few key thoughts out – food safety, increased production, and energy management are going to be large focus points for the industry this year. Understanding what drives food and beverage manufacturers and bridging the connections with outside influences such as consumer demand, governmental regulation, and economic factors will give the best possible insight to the trends of 2012.
Contributed by Lloyd Snyder, PE