We picked a heck of a time to have our first Innovation Issue.

We plan topics for a calendar year in the previous year, and last year we decided the time was right for an Innovation Issue. Like most people, we were under the assumption that things would be back to normal by now, and it would be a good opportunity to turn the spotlight on some of the new and exciting things being done in the food industry.

While there are definite signs of normalcy returning, we’re not there just yet. But that doesn’t mean that food and beverage processors are not innovating; it’s just been more of a challenge due to surges in retail demand, drop-offs in food service demand and the balancing act required to meet production goals while keeping employees safe. 

We found some great examples of innovative technology and solutions, and I’m excited to share them with you. Our cover story examines the visualization of production, and how processors are using real-time data and to oversee, plan and execute their production processes. Speed and accuracy are more important than ever, and empowering production employees by providing them with data helps ensure both.

The food and beverage industry has been behind others when it comes to automation and robotics, but it’s quickly catching up. It’s doing so by adopting some of the lessons learned by other industries and evaluating where those strategies can and can’t be implemented. One example of this that you’ll see in the article is Ken’s Foods, whose CIO, Art Sebastiano, joined the company from a different industry and is leading a massive digital transformation. 

When it comes to cybersecurity, staying one step ahead of the bad guys is critical, and there are new tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning available to give processors the tools they need to fight against cyberattacks. As we’ve seen all too often, ransomware or other attacks can be devastating to a business, and being prepared for them isn’t optional anymore.

Through these articles and others (including a look at food safety innovations, which you’ll also find in this issue, as well as our ongoing coverage of innovation on our website), our goal is to share with you the best ideas from the industry and insights on how you can adapt them to your own operation. The pace of change is only going to continue to speed up, and it’s crucial to make sure you aren’t left behind.