The impacts of the global pandemic can be felt across industries, and there are many new and ongoing trends we can expect to see in the coming year and beyond. Consumer demand and ESG requirements will drive new commitments to sustainability and a rise in demand for plant-based products, and solutions are needed to address labor shortages and the imbalance between food service and retail. Despite the challenges, the food manufacturing industry is well positioned to help its customers and consumers adapt through specialized and innovative technological solutions.

Increased IoT Connectivity and Automation

The food manufacturing industry has historically been conservative in adopting new technology solutions, but all sectors are different. Industry 4.0 tools ultimately help companies access the data and efficiency gains needed to improve ease of operations within their supply chain. One of the biggest trends we can expect to see in the near term is increased automation.

“A renewed focus on automation, like robotics, is a trend that we can expect to address the shortage of human labor and enhance food producers’ end-products”

Food manufacturing is one of many industries grappling with labor shortages due to the pandemic. There is pressure on technology solutions providers to help customers continue to meet their goals, but with less people. A renewed focus on automation, like robotics, is a trend that we can expect to address the shortage of human labor and enhance food producers’ end-products

Balance Between Food Service and Retail

In the wake of COVID-19, the food industry as a whole is still reckoning with the changes in consumer behavior. At the outset of the pandemic, the food service sector took a dive and retail shot up in many cases. There was little demand for food that typically supplied restaurants, but high demand for grocery stores due to enforced lockdown and quarantine periods. While the balance between these two markets continues to find a resting place, this will be an ongoing challenge for the food manufacturing industry.

Commitment to Sustainability

Sustainability has been on the rise as an industry and consumer trend for many years, and this is certain to continue into next year and beyond. As positive climate action becomes increasingly urgent, manufacturers are eager to shift their focus to renewable, electricity-based energy and away from fossil fuel-based energy sources. For the past 150 years, the food manufacturing industry has used steam to heat food. From a manufacturing standpoint, JBT is developing solutions for clients that will help them meet their ESG requirements. Other sustainability trends include reducing water consumption in food processing, supporting recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging alternatives, and developing more sustainable detergent and cleaning solutions for end-products and equipment.

The Rise of Plant-Based

Another trend that will continue to rise are plant-based alternatives. As health and nutrition continue to influence the decisions of consumers, manufacturing technologies will need to adapt. There are many solutions already in place that are proven in the production of these products. For food manufacturers, it will be important to adapt to companies’ individual processes, the type of product being developed and the means of processing it. As these new processes scale up, specialists will work with customers to transform existing batch processes and bring their well-established food science expertise for conventional foods to this new technology.