It’s rather indicative of the industry’s current zeitgeist that our Plant of the Year Award goes to one producing nutraceuticals. That’s not the only reason, of course—Abbott’s Tipp City, OH facility is an inspirational plant of the future that absolutely exudes the careful thought put into its goal of obtaining efficiency and excellence at every level. Our cover story profile on its operations will make that clear.

However, it’s also a reflection that health and food are becoming almost interchangeable. Consumers are looking for more personalized healthcare solutions, and one of the ways they are doing it is to actively choose more nutritional foods and beverages.

Further evidence is a wave of companies like Nestlé—long known for its chocolate chips and chocolate milk—re-branding as health and wellness companies. The same transition is happening at Mars, which has a factory on Chicago’s northwest side that I, as a kid, would frequently pass and envision its interior as the setting for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Moreover, a recent CPG sales report released by The Boston Consulting Group and IRI found companies that market convenient foods and “functional” beverages aimed at promoting nutrition or boosting energy were among the CPG growth leaders in 2016. In a year that was otherwise sluggish, companies such as Blue Diamond, Califia Farms, Bragg and The Wonderful Company outperformed expectations.

In a recent video, Jeff Hilton, co-founder and CMO at the marketing firm, BrandHive, made the statement that consumers are pushing this trend of clean labels, transparency and sustainability. The reason for this, in Hilton’s opinion, is that today’s consumer is “highly evolved” with not only numerous options available at the click of a button via the Internet, but also is increasingly wired through wearables or mobile device apps that measure health data.

So, more and more people know exactly what their health status is in real time, including how much they have walked and their quality of sleep over various periods of time. He says this has resulted in consumers becoming more empowered to take charge of their own lives.

It’s an interesting point. A frequent topic of many Food Engineering articles is using data to optimize plant performance, and so it seems this is also what consumers are doing within their own lives. They are collecting data and making decisions about what helps them feel, work and play the best. In a way, it’s the OEE of life.

So, it is up to the food and beverage manufacturers to recognize this change and listen to what consumers want. It’s a tremendous cultural shift, and quite frankly, some companies might not be able to do it. But as we can see in this industry, big data is not going away, so why would big data for consumers be just a passing trend?