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INDUSTRY FOCUS Food & Beveragey


Securing the future of the food and drink industry


The Covid-19-induced situation in the consumer and retail sectors is making the future of food and beverage manufacturing unpredictable, says Tatjana Milenovic, Global Head for Food & Beverage Industries at ABB


P


opulation growth, calls for sustainability, and uncertainties on economies and supply chains created by lockdowns are changing consumer tastes and demand, shaping the food and beverage (F&B) industry. With less certainty around, cutting-edge technologies such as artifi cial intelligence (AI) and automation promise to provide the essential elements for future continuity and fl exibility in this industry. Among the main trends infl uencing the way we consume and manufacture products globally are population growth and urbanisation, the pursuit of a Circular Economy, and digitalisation, with the consumer remaining fi rmly at the heart of all of them. For the F&B industry, there are three major trends seen from the consumer side: the move away from meat and toward meat alternatives, the ‘rich-in’ revolution, where functional foods off er consumers an additional nutritional boost, and authenticity and experience. Addressing the fi rst of these, Euromonitor


has reported that, in 2018, the market for meat alternatives grew at eleven times the rate of the market for meat. Looking forward, Barclays forecasts that revenues from meat alternatives will take up to 10% of the global meat market. Meanwhile, supplementary nutrition in the functional food segment includes prebiotics, probiotics, omega-3 and fi bre, as well as protein enrichment for dairy and other products.


Authenticity and experience The story around authenticity and consumer experience is multi-faceted – there are overlapping concerns about the origins, healthiness and quality of ingredients with ethical considerations and a widespread distrust of ‘Big Food’. These consumer priorities will often favour start-ups and SMEs, sometimes triggering viral online excitement about brands that may not be large enough to cope with a sudden surge in demand. For example: To increase output, UK marshmallow specialist Boomf, which prints its products with messages for gifting, supplemented its all-manual production with a robot arm equipped with ultrasonic cutting and a vision system. This automation approach also reduced wastage and improved safety. Following the installation, Boomf reported 600% growth over a single year. However, SMEs are not alone in feeding the consumer hunger for authenticity and


30 July/August 2020 | Automation Lupin Foods


experience. Today, these diverse issues are being addressed by other innovations, such as, for example, dense codes that can eff ectively cover a pack yet are barely visible to the naked eye. They are machine-readable, which means that smartphone-enabled brand interaction and content for point-of-sale and the home, including recycling information, can co-exist with production-line signposting, faster retail checkouts and more detailed sorting in a recycling plant. Major brands such as Procter & Gamble, Danone, Nestlé and PepsiCo are part of a European consortium developing this tagging technology.


Innovation springboards ABB has prepared a white paper called “A taste of the future: Understanding what’s driving Food & Beverage in 2020 and beyond” on these mega trends and the future of the F&B industry. In it, ABB singles out four industry drivers: novelty, sustainability, transparency and convenience that could present future opportunities for F&B manufacturers.


At its simplest level, novelty can be seen as embracing the opportunity of greater complexity outlined above. But novelty can also mean pursuing unfamiliar business models, as healthy-snack brand Graze did a few years ago with direct-to-consumer online sales. Interestingly, the last couple of years have seen the brand turn to traditional retail, too. Brands can bridge the gap between manufacturing and bricks-and-mortar retailing in other ways. Australian ice-cream brand Niska opened a Melbourne store staff ed by robots – a type novelty that ties into a more complete consumer experience rather than simple product innovation.


As we have seen with marshmallow brand Boomf, personalisation is also an increasingly important element within novelty. For larger-scale manufacturers, the advent of adaptive machinery, with its small batch- size capabilities, down to the hypothetical ‘batch-size one’, makes high-level product customisation equally feasible. When it comes to sustainability, new opportunities for bulk instore dispensing may open up, as is already the case with food- service drinks dispensing, as consumers turn increasingly against pre-packed food and drink, especially where it involves plastics. This will also dictate new fi lling and logistics needs in the factory. Refi lls in general will take on greater importance.


Futureproofing


Digitalisation on the consumer side means that brands with a great carbon-footprint or packaging sustainability story to tell can increasingly get their message across. For larger businesses and multinationals, sustainability themes can mesh with wider transparency. In this way, Big Data can help restore trust in Big Food, where that trust has been eroded. Blockchain is just one of the pieces within this jigsaw, verifi ably monitoring food at every stage in the chain and contributing to a picture of increased consumer confi dence and reassurance. Naturally, however, a story a brand


presents about itself – however transparent – will count for nothing with the consumer if the company can’t deliver convenience. This means supplying the right range of product, in the right sizes and formats, in the right types of palletised loads, for the right sales channels – at the right time. Futureproofi ng is never easy, especially when that future takes the completely unforeseeable shape of the present, for example. But AI, automation and robotics can maximise fl exibility at a range of pinch- points in the production and distribution process, opening up opportunities and minimising risks to security of supply. There are many ways in which F&B businesses and the consumer will benefi t from the speeding up of this process.


CONTACT:


ABB www.abb.com


automationmagazine.co.uk


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