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Could food processors face the same fate as automakers?

According to Hank Cardello, food industry expert and author of Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s REALLY Making America Fat, the same problems that have menaced the Detroit auto industry could soon plague the food industry. If food processors don’t wake up to the emerging trends of healthfulness in food and stop producing overweight foods, they could face a fate similar to auto manufacturers who continued to produce overweight cars with a focus on short-term profits and a lack of innovation.

Cardello, a former executive at Coca-Cola and other major food processors, compares gas guzzlers such as SUVs, big trucks and Hummers to “weapons of mass consumption.” He cites as examples: Hardee’s Monster Thickburgers, weighing in at 1,420 calories, and 7-11’s Double Big Gulps at more than 600 calories. While both industries pursued short-term profits in the name of “bigger is better,” the auto industry found itself behind the market trends, and the food industry may soon face the same problem as increasing numbers of consumers demand more healthy food.

Cardello says when gas prices rose to $4 per gallon, consumers quickly began to look for more efficient cars. The auto manufacturers missed the market signal that “smaller is better.” With the food industry supplying 29% more calories than in the 1950s, and more consumers favoring the healthy choice instead of the large portion, traditional best sellers are finding they are not in step with the changing consumer trend.

When resistance to change invited government intervention by way of the imposed CAFE standards to increase fuel efficiency, current actions and proposals to tax, ban and regulate certain high-calorie or unhealthy foods and beverages may be very realistic. Soon, says Cardello, the food industry may be caught flat-footed while being forced to change.

But it doesn’t have to happen this way. Some food processors already have jumped on the health bandwagon. Omega-3 fatty acids were first used in baby formulas, and Nestlé has been selling a strawberry-flavored children’s drink with omega-3s added. Both Tropicana and Minute Maid also have been marketing juices containing omega-3s, says Cardello.

But Cardello’s real excitement for omega-3s and new food technologies is in restaurant food. “Imagine you walk into a McDonald’s, perhaps sometime between 2010 and 2015. You check the familiar menu above the ordering counter, and you see next to the usual fare the ‘Omega Mac.’ It costs about the same as the Big Mac used to, and it looks and smells exactly like the Big Mac of your youth, but it now comes with an important additive-omega-3 fatty acids,” says Cardello. “And surprise! It tastes superb. The taste is in the fat, and it’s still in the burger, but now it’s mostly good fat,” adds Cardello.

Some major food processors have already begun new research programs to engineer and produce healthy food that will help reduce rampant obesity. And the future of food will most likely include nutragenomics, which will eventually allow food processors to customize diets for individual needs, says Cardello.

Email Cardello at

Six steps to improve food quality and safety

In the past year, food supply quality has sparked global safety concerns that must be addressed to regain consumer confidence. Unfortunately, when regulatory bodies demand effective systems and controls to ensure food safety and quality, efforts to meet these standards often are viewed as a detriment to bottom line success, says Mike Jovanis, vice president of product management, Sparta Systems.  

With several years of experience in creating best practices for quality management and compliance in the life sciences industry, Sparta’s quality experts recommend six critical steps to make the food production process safer. These suggestions will not only help protect consumers against tainted food, but also serve to streamline manufacturing processes, Jovanis says.

  1. Manage, track and report on non-conformances, investigations, corrective and preventive actions and other actions when requirements are not met. Food and beverage manufacturers need to quickly respond to supply quality issues and limit the impact of incidents.
  2. Track a multitude of suppliers with enterprise-wide supplier quality management tools. As processors source ingredients from more suppliers and locations around the globe, manufacturers need to monitor and manage risks across the supply chain to protect stakeholders and consumers alike.
  3. Improve safety and manage training, procedural changes and preventive maintenance schedules. By implementing end-to-end safety process tracking and workflow management, manufacturers can ensure greater control of the quality process, proactive identification of potential issues, increased team accountability and reduced costs in managing safety issues.
  4. Enforce standardized change control procedures, while also allowing for flexibility to meet specific workflow steps based on the type of change. Companies can reduce the need for costly recalls or wasted supplies by ensuring efficient and effective reconciliation of changes in the manufacturing process.
  5. Monitor critical processes, identify gaps and improve quality with audit management. While regulatory compliance questions are now being raised in light of recent food safety headlines, manufacturers should always implement proactive programs to manage supply quality issues and remove the potential for critical incidents.
  6. Ensure compliance with industry standards for employee and supervisor training on proper safety procedures with training management.
“There is a growing need for accountability within the food supply chain,” says Jovanis. “As the FDA and other governmental bodies accelerate levels of enforcement and oversight for food safety throughout the supply chain, food manufacturers will recognize the need for stronger processes, technology solutions and escalation procedures in the face of critical incidents to safeguard themselves and consumers from harmful quality issues.”

The GMA study lists eight components that define “green” products. Sources: GMA, Deloitte, NASA.

"Green" products not enough

Fifty-four percent of shoppers consider sustainability characteristics in their buying decisions, according to a study from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Deloitte. But, according to the study entitled Finding the Green in Today’s Shoppers: Sustainability Trends and New Shopper Insights, even while the majority of shoppers think “green,” they actually bought green products on just 22% of their shopping trips. The study cites both communication issues and lack of embedding “green” principles in the complete manufacturing/supply chain as reasons for consumers’ reluctance to buy green. More than 6,400 shopper intercept interviews were conducted for the joint survey.

“Sustainable product characteristics are emerging as an important brand differentiator, but to capture the potential market value of green shoppers, retailers and manufacturers must do a better job of communicating the sustainable attributes behind the products to show the value of buying green to the shopper,” said Scott Bearse, director and retail leader of Deloitte LLP’s Enterprise Sustainability group.

According to the study, sometimes concerns about product performance and credibility of the environmental claims are the reasons shoppers opt not to buy green products, but more often, communication and product education are the biggest obstacles. Manufacturers need to develop a detailed understanding of how sustainability maps to their existing consumer base. There is a considerable difference between a processor that chooses to offer a few sustainable products in its portfolio and a company that positions sustainability as key to all products and categories, says the study.

Companies should embed sustainability not only throughout the value chain, but also throughout the organization, according to the study. Sustainability should be more than just the name of a department; it should be applied cross-functionally into each area of an organization including operations, supply chain and procurement. Focusing on green as an embedded issue should include a manufacturer’s entire value chain-from sourcing, production and distribution through consumption and disposal.

For more information, the study may be downloaded from GMA’s Web site.

Automation News

Dynamite VP Callie Novak

ERP lets processor focus on nutrients, not software

Dynamite Marketing (Meridian, ID) has more than 70 years of experience in animal and human health research, which the company combines with new technology to provide high quality, natural ingredients for animal feed and supplement products and human vitamin/mineral supplements. Dynamite uses no chemical additives and produces supplements formulated to maintain mineral and amino acid balance to maximize bioavailability and efficacy, says Callie Novak, Dynamite VP.

Dynamite offers seven product lines that are manufactured at five manufacturing centers in Idaho and Iowa. The company also operates three feed mills and manufactures private label products. The majority of its distribution is accomplished through a national network of independent distributors, or multi-level marketers (MLMs). In total, Dynamite distributes around 100 products to about 4,000 customers, filling nearly 1,700 orders per month.

Dynamite had been using accounting software and was conducting a search for an additional software solution that could manage its MLM business. But MLM was only one aspect of the business. The company lacked a strong back end to control its manufacturing operations. As a processor in its second decade of steady growth, Dynamite needed a solution that could help tighten up operations.

Novak says she wanted to better track inventory in real-time. In addition, with more than 100 unique products subject to ingredient changes, inventory control was mandatory. After reviewing several ERP solutions, Dynamite narrowed the choices to SYSPRO and another company. “SYSPRO was the best fit for us, and it made the most sense,” says Novak. Dynamite now runs the ERP system on Windows 2003 with a 16-user license.

Since installing the software in 2004, Novak says Dynamite realized many benefits from its decision. “Previously we didn’t have a way to track what we had. Each center had a different way of tracking ingredients and waste,” explains Novak. “We literally know at any given moment what inventory traces back to where. One of our main goals was to really know where the business stood. SYSPRO has definitely provided that.”

Regarding the company’s return on investment, Novak claims the software helped to increase turns and control the inventory, down to every ingredient. “We used to track our inventory on a macro level; we knew what we had in terms of finished products. We weren’t tracking losses or other things. Now we know exactly where we stand at all times,” she says. The same finite tracking applies to Dynamite’s financial data.

 “This business is run by people who are really concerned about [making nutrients for] animals, not software. Yet, our mill manager of 30 years has been able to pick it up and really use it,” says Novak.

In addition to lot tracking, accounting and inventory control, Dynamite uses the software’s forecasting functionality to enhance production planning. For example, if production of a certain product is outsourced to another factory, Dynamite can send the orders in intervals based on its forecasting data. This helps ensure that products are not overstocked and reinforces the mission that the customers are always receiving the freshest, highest quality products.

For more information, contact Morgan Gilman,, 714-437-1000.

Competency model for automation professionals

Leaders of the Automation Federation and representatives from the US Department of Labor (DOL) recently completed work on the Automation Competency Model. The formal federal document defines the skills needed by automation professionals and will help academic institutions prepare supporting course materials. DOL staff is working to finalize the model. Plans are under way to update the current information on the Automation Competency Model as it appears on the DOL Web site. A national Web seminar will take place discussing the final model and the importance it offers in building the next generation of automation professionals. The Model will be reviewed on a yearly basis by the Automation Federation and the DOL to insure it stays relevant.

Food Safety News

Watermelons are labeled using PTI-compliant GS1-128 technology. Source: TraceGains.

Watermelon producer attacks traceability issues

Raymon J. Land Watermelon Sales operates at several owned and contracted grower locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Indiana, accommodating consumer demand for fresh watermelon throughout the year. Addressing the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) and additional retailer specifications became a priority as the producer found it necessary to perform instantaneous trace-back and trace-forward searches for its products packed or shipped from any of its locations.

The company implemented TraceGains’ Positively Assured Traceability system at its watermelon packing and shipping operations. Land Watermelon Sales now is fully compliant with the industry’s PTI, and the system allows the Branford, FL-based producer to perform trace-backs and trace-forwards.

As melons are picked at a particular location, attributes that identify farm, field location, pick date and an array of farming conditions are captured and recorded. PTI-compliant GS1-128 labels are generated in real time and applied to every bin shipped. Shipping load and destination records are automatically linked to each bin providing an immediate single source of consolidated information.

Using the software, Land Watermelon Sales can view the pedigree of any product from the farm field to the retailer in a matter of seconds, and prove what shipments may and may not be part of any issue. The software also will allow Land the option to grant access of selected information to its business partners, such as transporters and retailers.

“Raymon J. Land’s objective is to take a leadership role at addressing the PTI,” says Laura Land, head of quality and safety for the producer. “However, our goal as a business is to elevate our value-added service to our retailer customers. In turn, our information services enhance their ability to assure their customers-consumers-that they are buying a product that is safe and of the highest quality,” she adds.

“While the industry initiative will help reduce the scope of an outbreak, it will not by itself prove to the market that my products are safe and can remain on my customer’s shelves,” Land says. “If a quality problem ever occurs, our system will alert us to it and isolate the affected items, so that we can contact our retailers, and recall and replace it as fast as possible,” she concludes.

Besides the traceability aspects of the TraceGains’ software, an additional benefit for the watermelon producer is improved accountability and accuracy in inventory and shipping management. The system will allow for more complex identification to shipments and reduce labor as well.

For more information, contact TraceGains or call 800-287-8787.

FDA should take over produce safety standards

A side-by-side analysis of a variety of produce standards shows significant variations in guidance given to fruit and vegetable growers regarding what steps to take to minimize microbial contamination in light of federal rules, says a report from the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University.

Since FDA issued its voluntary produce safety guidance 11 years ago, a number of organizations have stepped into the regulatory void and adopted their own standards for the growth and harvest of fresh produce. Some standards are general in nature, and others are commodity specific, says the report.

The PSP analyzed six standards, including FDA’s 1998 Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) guidance document. The analysis revealed this guidance lacks many of the criteria found in newer standards. FDA announced late last year that it intends to update its GAP guidance, but it will remain voluntary, and no timetable for the update was announced.

“The failure of the past Administration to let FDA move toward mandatory and enforceable standards for produce has clearly created a void that others are trying to fill,” said Jim O’Hara, PSP director. “But FDA leadership is needed to determine sound science and make certain there is a level playing field,” he added.

In 1997, the Clinton Administration’s “Food Safety Initiative” identified the safety of fresh produce as a priority, and FDA followed up in 1998 with its guidance to minimize microbial contamination during the growing, harvesting and packing of fresh fruit and vegetables. In the wake of the 2007 E. coli outbreak associated with bagged spinach, FDA unsuccessfully sought permission from the Bush administration to develop mandatory produce safety standards.

The PSP analysis found the following criteria missing in the 1998 FDA guidance, but addressed in the other standards:

  • Microbial standards and sampling test protocols for irrigation water;
  • Consideration of prior use of growing land;
  • Microbial standards and sampling and testing protocol for manure;
  • Distance from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Differences among the standards discovered by PSP included the following:  

  • Three of the guides prohibit growing produce on flooded land without first taking steps to minimize contamination;
  • While all of the guides require sanitizing of equipment and tools, only one requires verification of the procures used;
  • Distances for toilets for field workers varies from general to specific;
  • Animal-control provisions vary, and one standard fails to address the issue at all.

The guidelines reviewed by PSP include the following:

  1. Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables issued by FDA in 1998.
  2. Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: adopted in 2003 by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  3. Food Safety Leadership Council On-Farm Produce Standards, finalized in 2007 by a group of large retailers/buyers.
  4. GLOBALGAP, a series of integrated standards, developed in 2007 and used by growers around the world.
  5. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Production and Harvest of Lettuce and Leafy Greens, initially issued in 2007 and followed by the growers who signed the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement.
  6. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Fresh Tomato Supply Chain (Edition 1.0) and the Tomato Best Practices Manual. These two documents were incorporated into the Florida Tomato Rule, which implements legislation passed in the State of Florida in 2008.
More information can be found at PSP’s Web site: