I had the opportunity to tour the 2021 Food Engineering Plant of the Year and Sustainable Plant of the Year over the last couple months. 

They are very different plants making very different things; Keurig Dr Pepper’s Plant of the Year is a beverage plant, while Cuisine Solutions won Sustainable Plant of the Year for its sous vide facility. So you can’t really do an apples-to-apples comparison on how they approached each aspect of the plants and what they needed to do.

But what they—and the other submissions we received for this year’s award—do have in common is the level of innovation and creative solutions present throughout the plants. I was curious to learn about how the challenges of the last couple years had affected design and construction decisions and whether they had led to ideas having to be abandoned or modified due to trying to bring plants online during the pandemic.

I’m happy to report that’s not the case. You’ll see the Plant of the Year in this month’s cover story, and you’ll get a look at the Sustainable Plant of the Year in October. Both had challenges, and both had to figure out solutions under far from normal circumstances. But both were able to develop and implement those solutions in ways that continue to push the envelope of innovation in food and beverage plants.

That’s a very good sign. It shows that even though we’re all working under conditions we never would’ve expected, we’re still finding the best ways to do things. In both plants, I saw something I’d never seen before. I saw solutions and innovations that blew me away with their elegance and creativity.

Both of the winning companies are extremely proud of their plants, and they should be. Because they show that it’s possible to design, build and bring online a world-class production facility through shutdowns, labor shortages, strict safety protocols, material shortages, travel restrictions and the million other things plants have had to deal with over the last couple years.

They’re both staggering achievements, and I’m looking forward to sharing their stories with all of you. Because there are a lot of lessons to be learned, and the most prominent one is this: No matter how challenging an obstacle may seem, there’s always a solution. Always.