It's no longer a good idea to operate in a business-as-usual mode.

About six weeks ago, thought leaders in the food and beverage manufacturing industry attended the Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference in Sarasota, FL. Each year, the event is a chance for many in our industry to compare notes on the state of the industry, discuss how processing companies are faring, learn about new technologies and exchange ideas on manufacturing innovation.

While new methods of innovation and lean manufacturing always are important topics of discussion among attendees, this year’s FA&M conference had a different feel. The economic crisis in the US has many believing the food industry will undergo major changes in the next few years, but the jury is still out on how those changes will take form. More business interactions through online social networks, a new generation of workers with out-of- the-box ideas about current manufacturing and operations practices, limitations on consumer product choices and a major shift toward providing plentiful, healthy food alternatives all will likely play a role.

The consensus was, for the food industry, it’s no longer a good idea to operate in a business-as-usual mode. In the coming years, success will be measured and attained in a much different way.

When workers across America can no longer depend on pay raises or bonuses each year, the question for consumer goods manufacturers is how to capture the smaller amounts spent by each household. Consumers already have switched to preparing more meals at home and are shopping at value chains more frequently. In response, food manufacturers are slowing new product launches and are in a back-to-basics mode.

Will our industry see a major paradigm shift? Maybe, maybe not. The key to success is being able to change courses quickly. In other words, manufacturers truly need to embrace flexible manufacturing. After all is said and done, isn’t that what the food industry has been striving for over the past two decades?