Food industry retains its resiliency in times of turmoil

For many people and most corporations around the world, 2009 has been one for the record books. Business downturns, huge unemployment rolls and the banking market mess are just a few of the economic headaches we all endured.

While business may be lackluster in nearly all sectors, the food and beverage industry has much to be happy about. For example, take a look at the PACK EXPO/PROCESS EXPO trade show held in Las Vegas last month. More than half of the attendees were buyers of food and beverage machinery, materials and services. During a financially disastrous year, attendance at this show was down slightly compared to 2007. In my book, that’s a triumph.

Food Engineering research shows that average capital budget increases for food and beverage processing, packaging and process control equipment and automation software and hardware are up about one percent. That’s another cause for celebration.  While far from the five to eight percent budget increases the average processing plant enjoyed in recent years, at least our industry has not experienced massive cuts in manufacturing operations.

Another reason our industry can be proud is the renewed interest in reducing national obesity levels. Last month, Kellogg’s announced a $20 million commitment to help fight obesity via the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. Other participants include Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, Coca-Cola and Unilever. In addition, major processors such as Campbell Soup, PepsiCo, General Mills and Sara Lee are working to make their products more health-conscious as well.

As the obesity battle rages on, is it fair to put a tax on soda and junk foods? I think not. A renewed commitment to healthier formulations and increased consumer education on nutrition and exercise is the right thing to do.

Yes, it has been a tough year on many levels. But because of the hallmark operational modes of food and beverage processing-innovation, continuous improvement and lean manufacturing-it continues to maintain resiliency in times of turmoil.  

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