Top Food Trends: How Retail And Foodservice Companies Can Stay Ahead
Wednesday, July 27th, 2022
As the world moves from pandemic to endemic, what are the trends and challenges that are affecting food processing for F&B companies? To gain some insights into the top food trends, APFI Magazine speaks to Greg Bulluss, Regional Director for Retail and Food Service at Marel.
The food industry is evolving rapidly. Shifting consumer desires, urgent calls for sustainability, stricter food safety standards, technological advancements, and, of course, COVID-19 — these forces and more are driving massive changes in how we process food.
Growing Demand For Yield Accuracy, Fixed-Weight Packaging And Overall Flexibility
“The need for accurate yield measurement is the biggest trend we’re seeing right now,” says Bulluss. Amidst ongoing supply chain issues and calls for sustainable practices, it’s more important than ever to make every ounce of meat count. “We can’t afford to waste the protein. There’s an enormous push to utilise the raw product as much as we can to maximise the value from it.”
Among other key trends, Bulluss says that increasing e-commerce and supermarket shopping due to urbanisation have driven demand for convenient dining outside of restaurants. The pandemic has only accelerated these trends, and it appears that this change will be long-lasting.
Bulluss explains, “There is a paradigm shift in channels as consumption has moved from restaurants, hotels, airlines and into retail during the pandemic. Consumers are looking for easy-to-prepare home meals, and home deliveries have also grown quickly. At Marel, we’ve seen that this has translated into a greater demand for fixed-weight packaging and pricing solutions for retail and foodservice companies trying to keep up with these trends.”
In addition to this immediate need for more fixed-weight products, Bulluss says that an overarching theme is the importance of adaptability. “During the pandemic, production lines around the world had to be modified almost overnight to respond to this massive shift in requirements. Increasingly, processing customers value flexibility — they need to respond rapidly to changing markets. This is driving accelerated adoption of robotic packing to increase flexibility and reduce giveaway.”
As Automation Transforms Food Processing, A Measured Approach Is Key
Though the food industry has historically been slow to adopt new technology, Bulluss believes that accelerating automation is vital. “Having automated solutions helps manufacturers to manage the uncertainty within the labour market and thereby maintain reliable output. This is important not only for profitability, but also to meet growing global demand.”
Bulluss emphasises that any step toward increased automation must also account for the needs and contributions of human workers. “The industry needs to find a balance between labour and automation. At Marel, we believe that they can coexist. Food manufacturing companies have to review their production capacity and keep a close eye on market changes to assess where greater automation is needed, and where employees’ skills can be used better elsewhere.”
Indeed, automating processes creates opportunities to improve working conditions and make better use of human talent. “As repetitive and strenuous tasks become increasingly automated, companies have the opportunity to upskill staff to perform the tasks that machines can’t,” says Bulluss.
However, automating a factory is not a change that needs to happen all at once. “Food manufacturers can take baby steps to transforming their facilities,” says Bulluss. “The first step can be as easy as starting with a standalone machine to cover one process. Then as they get more comfortable with the automated configuration and start seeing the benefits, they can slowly upgrade to a full line.”
Technology Is Needed To Meet Food Safety Regulations
While it’s no mystery that automation can help address the lack of workers, Bulluss points out that it also plays a key role in reducing the risk of contamination. “More automation means less human contact, and less human contact means less contamination.”
Marel designs all its solutions with hygiene as a priority, investing heavily in innovation to improve food safety while simultaneously utilising raw materials to the highest degree. Bulluss says a good example of this is Marel’s SensorX Magna X-ray inspection system. “It is a total solution,” Bulluss explains. “It can detect and reject bone and other hard contaminants while keeping chemical lean on target and without compromising yield or throughput.”
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