As food safety continues to make big headlines—and consumers increase their standards for how their food is made—manufacturers are leaning more on technology than ever before to balance consumer demand with regulatory and quality standards.
Here are five food processing industry trends to watch in 2020.
Safety is a top priority
Not surprisingly, safety is top of mind this year for food processing companies, a priority that comes with an increase in publicity around recalls and alerts. Food Processing’s recent 2020 Manufacturing Survey cited statistics from the Public Interest Research Group that show that recalls grew 10% from 2013 to 2018. Whether that’s due to increased vigilance or actual growing danger, food manufacturers responding to the survey are prioritizing employee training, as well as increased focus on sanitary equipment and standards in their facilities.
Companies face ongoing trade uncertainty and tariffs
The withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had a short-term negative effect on the industry until an agreement was reached to keep access to Canadian and Mexican agricultural markets, and even improve access to the Canadian dairy market. On the other hand, tariffs on steel and aluminum have hit processors hard, increasing costs for those that use those materials for packaging.
Food processors are doing more with less
The 2020 survey by Food Processing magazine found that companies are planning to increase production—but not with the aid of more equipment or labor. Instead, they are focused on improving efficiencies and spending “longer hours on existing lines.”
Interestingly, automation was fifth on the list of priorities for food processors in the same survey. One industry leader suggested it was because automation wasn’t always synonymous with flexibility in many manufacturing companies’ minds, despite low employment numbers. Companies were also concerned about the skills needed to maintain more sophisticated machinery. That’s leading to more companies investing in training in-house and recruiting technicians.
Manufacturers are making sustainability the standard
Because consumers want more sustainable options in food and beverage, manufacturers are responding. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, consumers’ focus on sustainability and climate change will lead manufacturers to look closely at agricultural production practices, how food waste is managed and how they transport their product.
Manufacturers are easing into digital
More food processing manufacturers are moving toward a digital future, starting with replacing paper records with electronic records—a strong recommendation from the Food Safety Modernization Act, according to the Food Processing survey. Consumers are also demanding more transparency leading to changes in labeling and packaging, as well as product traceability technology.
Other manufacturers are looking at replacing analog devices with sensors and meters, providing remote access to machine controls, and shifting to cloud computing.
The impact of these kinds of investments can be great. One food processing manufacturer that is working with Columbus is using Advanced Analytics in Microsoft Azure AI to automate production decisions, which is forecast to increase revenue by 1 cent/pound on an annual processing volume of 75 million pounds.