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Healthy-Eating Trends Challenge How Food Manufacturers Do Business

Food manufacturers are modifying their processes and investing in new technologies in order to meet rapidly evolving consumer trends.

2018 Food Processing
Healthy eating is on the rise. Consumer concerns about gluten, dairy, sugar, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) drive this trend. Also, with their busy lifestyles, consumers seek out healthy snacks and ready-to-go meals. According to a recent study, 49 percent of respondents indicate they seek “mindful eating vs dieting.” The International Food Information Council Foundation found the majority of consumers prefer foods they perceive are healthier and safer for the environment. In addition, organic food sales are increasing, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 14.8 percent from 2018 to 2022.

Key Consumer Trends Include:
  • Clean foods — This includes natural ingredients, including “free-from” claims and comprehensive labeling of products for ingredients, nutritional values, and artificial/synthetic additives.
  • Non-dairy — Increased occurrences of lactose intolerance and the growing vegan population are driving the market for plant-based milk products such as almond milk, soymilk, rice milk, and coconut milk.
  • Gluten-free — Gluten sensitivity has opened markets for a wider assortment of alternative “flours” and foods made from non-wheat ingredients, such as pastas made from quinoa and lentils as well as flours made from nuts, rice, and oats.
  • Healthier snack foods — These include a wider variety of ingredients such as toasted kale chips, roasted chickpeas, toasted coconut chips, crackers made from nuts and beans, simple-ingredient snack bars, and seaweed snacks.
  • Plant-based meat alternatives — More people are eating plant-based meat alternatives, not only for health and ethical reasons but also because these substitutes can taste like real meat, particularly in texture.
    “Texture is the next facet of formulation that can be leveraged to provide consumers with opportunities for multisensory food and drink experiences,” says Jenny Zegler, a food and drink analyst with Mintel, a market intelligence agency.
  • Food sustainability — An increasing number of consumers, particularly millennials, demand that their food is grown, harvested, and prepared using sustainable farming and manufacturing processes that minimize environmental impacts.
    To meet these challenging demands, food and beverage manufacturers must improve operational efficiencies and update their processes so they can respond quickly to market trends and better compete with new food startups that specialize in these offerings.
Automation and Food Safety Lead the Way
Manufacturers are modifying their processes, or investing in new equipment, to produce clean labels, non-GMO ingredients, and other “free-from” categories. According to Food Processing’s 2018 manufacturing survey, “Almost one in five manufacturers are adding lines or new plants to produce minimally processed products.” Improvements include automation and robotics, which maximize operational efficiencies and customer order fulfillment as well as increase throughput and quality.

Food Safety is a critical concern for consumers and food manufacturers; many are investing in new sanitary equipment or improving hazard analysis, critical control points. “Factors such as increased demand for fresh and clean food ingredients, the growing processed food industry, rising health consciousness among consumers, and increased instances of food contamination and accidents during processing through human contact call for automation and robotics in the food processing industry,” says Suraj Nagvenkar, senior research analyst at Markets and Markets. Automation and robots also help food processors build in flexibility — for example, the ability to switch from one product, package or label to another, as well as real-time traceability in the food production line due to frequent changeovers in consumer preferences, he notes.

Food safety is a top concern for consumers and food manufacturers. “Food safety failures are costly, both in financial terms and in lost public and customer confidence,” comments Food Processing. “Some observers put the average direct cost of a recall at $10 million. Almost half are investing in more equipment for cleaning and sanitation.” Other manufacturers are investing in new sanitary equipment or improving hazard analysis, critical control points (HACCP) plans.

The food safety testing services market is booming, thanks to advances in the speed and precision of testing technologies, as well as the portability of equipment. Chromatography- and spectroscopy-based testing methods, such as high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, are in high demand.

Cloud-based tracking of production and quality practices (including food safety systems), combined with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, help companies be more transparent about their manufacturing processes and safety and quality controls — “a level of visibility that consumers have now come to expect,” says Jack Payne, vice president of Product Management and Solutions Consulting for Aptean, a provider of enterprise business software.

Moving Forward
Food-processing technologies will continue to innovate to meet rapidly evolving consumer trends. Although these may seem like daunting challenges to many food and beverage manufacturers, to others they represent opportunities for growth and increased market share.

“There are a variety of opportunities for growing food and beverage businesses in 2018,” states John Nicolopoulos, retail sector leader for RSM US LLP, a tax consulting firm. “However, staying on top of changing customer needs, understanding millennial preferences, leveraging new packaging, and employing key technologies and acquisition strategies will all be essential for success in this competitive marketplace.”

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Gray Construction’s blog on Nov. 14, 2018.

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