Evolving food safety rules, competition and continuous consumer demands for greater product diversity are just a few of the challenges facing today’s manufacturers. However, advances in processing and packaging technologies can ensure compliance and advance efficiency. For a glimpse of this year’s advances and challenges in the food industry, Food Engineering spoke with Tom Egan, vice president, industry services, PMMI (The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies), which owns and produces the PACK EXPO family of trade shows.
FE: Can you shed more light on the issues and trends driving change in the food and beverage industries over the next year?
Egan: Globalization continues to invite potential growth for food and beverage brand owners. However, today’s consumers are very knowledgeable about the food supply chain and increasingly vocal, prompting regulatory changes that can have an impact worldwide. Future regulations stemming from legislation such as the Food Safety Modernization Act and FDA labeling guidelines in the US will apply not to just domestic manufacturers, but any international companies producing food and beverage products for consumption in the US. As a result, these manufacturers must plan to comply with these provisions, including the proposed Preventative Controls rule that mandates new requirements for hazard analysis and changes to the Current Good Manufacturing Practices [cGMPs]. Putting these resources in place will be a challenge—especially for companies that must comply with multiple market regulations. Existing production facilities, future technology investments, reporting structures and employee training all must be evaluated and verified. So much of a brand’s success involves compliance that if a company’s operations do not meet the required standards, it does not have a marketable product.
Globalization has also opened up opportunities for small manufacturers to grow rapidly, thanks to the assortment of advanced technologies available to them. However, this advantage also creates a more competitive landscape. Consumers have access to a wide variety of products— some tailored to regional preferences, age brackets, gender, etc. And consumers demand even more, with social media providing a platform for their voices to be heard quickly and by a wide audience.
FE: What are some notable technologies food manufacturers will continue to adopt to meet these challenges and capitalize on opportunities in 2014?
Egan: Companies must continue to seek technologies that optimize efficiency and enhance food safety. Innovative, non-thermal techniques that use UV light and ultrasound to sterilize food products will be used to ensure food quality isn’t lost throughout the supply chain. These methods sterilize food without affecting consistency and taste. Additionally, high-pressure processing [HPP] is rising in popularity as a non-thermal method. It eliminates potentially harmful microorganisms and is viewed as an effective method against bacteria that may cause foodborne illnesses.
FE: What advice would you give product manufacturers looking to grow in 2014 and beyond?
Egan: Investing in new technologies and workforce training are critical steps to success for any company, large or small. To grow, companies must identify the equipment, material and educational resources that fit their current needs and facilitate their future goals.
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