MRO Magazine

Food and beverage industry trends: transparency, sustainability, and new consumer demands

Adapting to a new normal can be challenging.

December 1, 2021 | By Mario Cywinski

Photo: Rittal.

If there’s one thing food and beverage producers have learned during the last 18 months, it’s that today’s food and beverage consumers are more informed, concerned, and curious about how the products they consume are produced, packaged, and delivered.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to heighten consumer awareness on the safety and sanitation practices of food plant production, the degree of eco-friendly processes used in production, and the desire for healthier food and beverage products. In fact, a recent report signaled the primary concerns for consumers going forward are:
-Where food and beverage products come from
-Ingredients used in production
-Environmental impacts of production, storage, and delivery

What’s even more interesting about the current state of the food and beverage landscape is that research indicates over 4,000 early-stage technology companies are making their entry into the market via the food and beverage industry. For food and beverage producers, this could signal opportunities to adopt new technologies that help automate tasks or streamline operations. Whether it’s transparency, sustainability, or developing new products, today’s food and beverage producers will need an industrial automation partner to help them adapt to changes in a very competitive marketplace.

On creating transparency
Eighty per cent. That’s how many consumers, recently surveyed by the Food Industry Association (FMI), reported that transparency in food and beverage shopping is of the utmost importance to them. In addition, another recent study indicated that 56 per cent of consumers actively look for and seek information on the working and production conditions of food plants.


Tie these two statistics together and the question that looms large is: What can producers do to increase levels of transparency and ensure that the necessary plant conditions, equipment, and technology are in place to foster the highest degrees of safety and sanitation?

A focus on sustainability
The concept of sustainability has transcended that of an industry buzzword and arrived as a top consideration for food and beverage producers, as they work to unlock and leverage operational efficiency. Yet, so many producers still lack the visibility and insight into their internal architecture to identify areas of inefficiency and improvement.

Rittal recently conducted a climate analysis for a major North American automotive manufacturer that discovered 25 cooling units out of 225 deployed in one facility were defective. This deficiency significantly reduced overall cooling efficiency, increased the burden on the rest of the cooling units, and resulted in sizable increases in energy consumption and cooling costs.

This should be a cautionary tale to the food and beverage industry, where control of and optimal cooling outputs is not merely a matter of energy consumption and cost but also the mission-critical task of combating food spoilage.

As food and beverage producers align more closely with IoT and Industry 4.0 principles, companies will require more robust IT networking structures in order to gather and process data nearest the edge. This IT network may also require the deployment of modular data centers housing sensitive IT racks that require precise, sustainable cooling.

Demand for alternative products
Consumers drive demand. The needs and desires of consumers shape the products companies create, and the food and beverage space is certainly no different, especially when it comes to something as personal and unique as food and beverage choices. As with our discussion of sustainability relative to energy consumption, today’s consumer is also looking for sustainability in terms of holistic food systems.

Enter the rise of plant-based meat products such as Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger, or dairy-free alternatives to milk and cheese such as Silk and Daiya. The end result is a plant-based food revolution that is grabbing notable market share on a global stage. There are several factors that account for the rise in plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products:
-Human health;
-Climate change;
-Preservation of natural resources; and,
-Animal welfare.

Each of these variables signals a major shift in what consumers want from food and beverage production. What this means for food and beverage producers is that they must now be agile enough to operate multiple production streams at multiple sites with the same safety, sanitation, and production standards to which their consumers have grown accustomed.

This kind of maneuverability requires innovative panel and enclosure design and engineering.
Article provided by Rittal.


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