Carlos Fernandez, JBT Executive Vice President and President, Liquid Foods, outlines why he believes that in spite of some significant challenges and undoubted changes to the ways we live and work, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the future of the global food industry.
An abridged version of this article was published in Food Logistics Magazine.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact across most industries worldwide, and the food sector has not been immune to its consequences. In particular, for foodservice operators – and the restaurants, cafes and bars they supply – the spread of the Coronavirus has been quite challenging. Despite this – and although it is clear there will be important changes to the ways we live and work – I believe there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of the food industry. While impossible to say that it is 100% recession-proof, it is a critical, essential industry for everyone. But at the same time, the industry will change and evolve.
In the short-to-medium term, the pandemic will bring about significant changes to the food processing industry, the supply chain and consumption. On the consumer side, I think the trend towards cooking and eating at home will stay with us for the foreseeable future, along with consumer trends toward healthy food options. Health and nutrition will continue to grow in importance and will influence the decisions consumers make in choosing food and beverage products. On the retail front I also expect to see changes in packaging formats from larger bulk sizes to smaller packs.
“The trend towards cooking at home will continue for the foreseeable future”
Across the food supply chain, we are likely to see significant changes to the IT, sanitation, and automation infrastructures with the goal of creating greater efficiencies and improvements in hygiene and food safety. Uncertainty over short- and long-term sustainability issues is likely to lead to more replacement investment, and we at JBT believe this will take on the form of additional capital spend on new factories. Achieving efficiency is not just a question of generating more savings, it also has to do with finding the right balance of people and skills. If this was difficult before, it will become even more of a challenge as the levels of contagion in many food processing facilities are potentially very high.
And, of course, food safety will be of fundamental importance. There will be an even greater focus on traceability, while cleaning systems and hygiene will be critical. At JBT, we are focusing on all three areas with dedicated laboratories and scientists, as well as continuous testing verified by the FDA.
To reduce the amount of human contact with food products there are going to be a lot more individual packages and a large-scale shift from bulk packaging to grab-and-go. JBT is well positioned to participate in this trend with automated solutions from our Proseal branded tray sealing technology. Proseal is a leader and an innovator in environmentally friendly packaging systems manufacturing in Europe, the US and Australia.
“There will be an even greater focus on traceability. Cleaning systems will be critical.”
Other important trends can be seen when we look at product categories such as shelf-stable foods and orange juice. Both have experienced a widespread revival and I believe this is a trend which is here to stay. Shelf stable foods provide safe, processed products that can be stored at home for extended periods of time, while orange juice is benefiting from increased consumer awareness of its nutritional and health benefits. Orange juice, of course, also contains high levels of vitamin C, and consumers are becoming more aware of the fact that instead of taking a vitamin supplement, they can receive the same benefits through a natural product.
Related to all the above is the topic of sustainability. I believe we are going to see further movement towards improving energy-efficient technologies and decreasing water consumption in food processing, supporting more sustainable packaging alternatives, as well as developing more sustainable detergent and cleaning solutions for end-products and equipment.
At JBT we find ourselves at the center of this area in terms of equipment, solutions, and systems that support food processors’ ambitious environmental goals. Throughout the pandemic JBT’s product development and production facilities have continued to work continuously, with a particular focus on remote service and local assistance. This has included the launch of solutions such as our PRoSIGHT™ Augmented Remote Assistance platform which makes use of smart glasses and mobile devices to enable expert JBT technicians to inspect machinery and equipment from afar.
“At JBT, we find ourselves at the centre of sustainable alternatives in terms of solutions that support ambitious environmental goals.”
This is critical during pandemic-driven travel restrictions, but instrumental in driving greater travel-related emission reductions in the future. Remote support and operational efficiency are also the focus of JBT’s own Internet of Things solution, the iOPS® Gateway, and we expect to see a lot more demand for the iOPS solution and in the whole area of improving connectivity with customers moving forward.
Additionally, plant-based drinks and foods will continue to increase in market share, thanks to their perceived health and sustainability benefits, and JBT participates broadly with customers on meeting this growing consumer demand. There will also be more, smaller processing and packaging facilities focused on maximizing flexibility, lowering throughput and distributing local products within a particular region.
In summary, though our world has been rocked by the pandemic, people still need to eat! I still feel strongly that the food industry in general, and JBT, are well positioned to withstand the challenges we are faced with and will continue to weather the storm.”