This month’s cover story is our annual State of Food Manufacturing survey results, which is an article that I look forward to every year.
The survey is a useful tool for gauging where the industry is and where the experts—that would be you, the people who are on the front lines every day—expect it to go. While the cover story digs into it in depth, there’s a fair amount of information in there that serves more as a useful reference tool for us as we plan how to cover the industry in both its current state and looking forward.
We did something a little different with the article this year, in that we looked at the last three years’ worth of results and compared them. The reason for that is simple: The COVID-19 pandemic still dominates thinking and long-range planning, even as we have returned to something approaching normal. In 2019, it wasn’t on anybody’s radar; in 2020, the survey was conducted as it was throwing everything into upheaval; and this year, demand has somewhat normalized and processors have figured out ways to safely operate.
Most of you are all too aware of how processors suddenly learned they had weaknesses in their supply chains as countries or regions were hit hard by the pandemic, and had to scramble to shore up or replace elements of supply chains.
But there was one recurring theme throughout this year’s survey that I can’t stop thinking about, because the potential long-term ramifications are huge. The number of respondents reporting changes to or challenges within their supply chains spiked. Most of you are all too aware of how processors suddenly learned they had weaknesses in their supply chains as countries or regions were hit hard by the pandemic, and had to scramble to shore up or replace elements of supply chains.
Supply chain management has come a long way in the food and beverage industry, and many processors have focused on efficiency and just-in-time deliveries. That’s all great under normal circumstances, but when something causes a widespread disruption, it doesn’t take much to turn a delay into a disaster.
It’s not just ingredients. It’s packaging materials, construction materials and everything else that processors need to maintain and expand their operations. Whatever it is, it’s probably harder to get than it was two years ago, and the industry has had to adjust.
That’s something we’ll be keeping a close eye on, and I’m sure you will too. Because the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and we’ve learned it may be weaker than we thought.
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