Food Engineering

Editor's Note: Lessons learned from an unusual year

December 1, 2009
The food industry learned that the public continues to be serious about sustainability, and not only in the packaging, energy and other waste reduction methods of the firms that produce the goods they buy.

You know it’s been a really bad year on the financial front when news reports focus on the fact that shoplifting is on the rise and more middle-class Americans are filing for bankruptcy. On the food industry front, not only are consumers eating more meals at home to battle the economic crisis, they are drinking more at home, too.

But most Americans have a short memory concerning food. The outrage earlier this year about one of the largest salmonella-related product recalls in our nation’s history has been long forgotten by most consumers.

As we get ready to enter the second decade of the 21st Century, our nation’s biggest fear is not terrorism or the safety of its food supply. It’s the worry over putting food on the table if more jobs are lost in a potential double-dip recession. 

What lessons have food and beverage manufacturers learned from such an unusual year? The first may be related to rapidly changing consumer behaviors. While the public says they want to eat healthier meals, the nation gets fatter. When the economic crisis hit, consumers held on to their wallets, clipped coupons and relearned how to cook at home.

The food industry also learned that the public continues to be serious about sustainability, and not only in the packaging, energy and other waste reduction methods of the firms that produce the goods they buy. The public’s interest in purchasing locally grown foods has grown and will only continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

To meet these changing demands, innovation at all levels of food manufacturing must be enhanced. One innovation tool, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software, is becoming an essential part of cost-effective manufacturing solutions, allowing collaboration from all parts of an organization to define and produce goods, while helping to foster company-wide innovation. PLM can also help get products to market more quickly and aid in food safety requirements.

While I can’t predict the failures and successes of food and beverage manufacturing for the next decade, only through innovation and simultaneous margin improvement will it continue to prosper.