Joyce Fassl
Every once in a while, I think it's a good idea to see where you have been in order to decide where you want to go. In today's world, food and beverage processors are focusing on the increased need for automation, pressing consumer demands, consumption changes due to diets and higher energy costs.

A decade ago, the burning issues on the pages of Food Engineering included packaging line efficiency, efficient consumer response (ECR), consolidation and cost cutting. It seems that some things never change; they just get different monikers such as supply chain management, continuous improvement and operational excellence. Things that were major improvement projects ten years ago are now standard operating procedures.

As they did in 1995, today's processors see the need for greater automation and feel the push from consumers. However, a few things have changed the way we do business. Increased security needs and regulatory requirements have come along since September 11. The high energy costs we see today are, according to some political pundits, closely connected to events surrounding 9-11 and the subsequent war. All in all, the food industry has made great strides with HACCP plans and CFR 21 part 11 compliance in most plants.

Back in the ‘90s, it seemed every food magazine wanted to write about the graying of America and the type of products the seniors would need. I believe today's food and beverage processors should be more concerned with the aging of workforce and the technology experts who will walk out the door as the baby boomers enter retirement. In addition, today's plant managers must deal with increasing automation and maintaining a workforce that can fully understand and use automation technology.

Can I predict the future for food operations? Not likely. However, if you look back at industry successes, the combination of innovation, automation and the best human resources has always been a winner.

Reminder: Is your plant a winner? The deadline for the 2006 Food Plant of the Year entries is December 1, 2005. Any new or highly renovated food or beverage plant that became fully operational during 2005 is eligible. Please e-mail me if you need an entry form or guidelines for submitting an entry. The Plant of the Year Award will be presented on April 11, 2006, at Food Engineering's Food Automation and Manufacturing Conference. Past Food Plant of the Year winners have included Pepperidge Farm, Coors, Hunt Wesson and Nabisco.

Food Engineering Editorial Advisory Board

David Watson
Vice President, Engineering
Pepperidge Farm, Inc.

Mike Shulman
Manager, Process Engineering
ConAgra Foods

Ron Yockey
Beef Products, Inc.

Scott Butler
Vice President Engineering and Technical Services
Del Monte Foods

Dave Gemellaro
Director, Sector Engineering
Kraft Foods

Peter Migchels
Director of Engineering, Fresh Bakeries
Maple Leaf Foods

Tom Wolters
Senior Manager Technology
Pepsico Beverages & Food

Sam Casey
Director of Engineering
H.J. Heinz