I recently toured our 2022 Plant of the Year in preparation for next month’s announcement and cover story reveal of our winner. While there, I had our July cover story in my head and filtered everything I saw through this question: “What is the state of food manufacturing today?”

There are dozens of categories and sub-segments in the food processing industry, but it’s safe to say that what I saw touring our Plant of the Year reflected many of the latest trends and ideas defining the industry today. 

For example, automation was everywhere, from the entry of ingredients all the way through to packaging and palletizing. Because automation was strategically placed throughout this plant, overall labor volume was lower than what we might have seen a decade ago. The employees we did see had skilled positions and worked where machines and robotics can’t (yet.) 

As we all know, labor is scarce, so the brand that built this food facility went above and beyond to give staff every tool and advantage while doing their jobs, while providing a state-of-the-art cafeteria (really a small quick-serve restaurant with a modern foodservice kitchen) to eat meals or take a break. This of course, improves employee morale and retention.

Sustainability is another area where this plant was at the vanguard. While it’s good to be green and show consideration for the planet, businesses run on the bottom line, so the sustainable initiatives we saw, from extensive water-saving measures to recycling hot and cool air back into food processing tasks, all had one thing in common: They help this company save an enormous amount of money on energy consumption.  

I’m sure the trends fueling the innovations I saw while touring our Plant of the Year exist in a similar capacity at many other facilities, impacting daily operations and helping to shape the food processing industry today. Turn to this month’s cover story to see the results of our survey and find out what else is driving the state of food manufacturing in 2022.