The COVID-19 pandemic exerted a lot of pressure on the food processing industry. Labor shortage triggered a wave of panic buying. At the same time, this surge in food demand happened amid restricted trade policies. As the pandemic worsens and new variants emerge, food retailers and suppliers can’t help but ask: How can we respond to these challenges?
Impact of COVID-19 in the Food Processing Industry
Food stocks remain at the top list of everyone’s grocery essentials, especially at the height of the pandemic. But along with this high demand for food comes a lengthy list of challenges among businesses engaged in the food processing industry. Among the biggest concerns in the sector brought by the coronavirus outbreak include the following:
There is currently no evidence showing COVID-19 is transmittable by food. Likewise, there’s no recorded case of anyone acquiring the virus by touching food containers or packaging. Still, most consumers are worried about possible food contamination. This resulted in higher food standards among shoppers. At the same time, workers engaged in the industry found themselves struggling with keeping a six feet distance from each other during their shifts.
All these issues added more pressure to the food processing sector. Some struggled to keep up with the changes in consumers’ preferences. Others are conflicted on how to continue operations amid strict health protocols.
The disruption in the global supply chain is another concern that is troubling the food processing industry. With most businesses closed, workers on leave, and travel restrictions implemented, access to raw materials and ingredients became limited. Those that rely on overseas suppliers were especially affected.
Refrigeration and Storage Concerns
Temperature and storage are essential elements in the food processing industry. Since trade and travel policies change more often, businesses are compelled to preserve their ingredients as long as possible. Temperature plays a vital role in keeping the food safe and fresh for consumption. Companies that have no cold facilities found themselves with higher costs and fewer stocks due to product delays and food spoilage.
Emerging Trends in the Food Processing Industry
From food security fears to storage concerns, many troubles await the food processing sector. Still, the industry has continued to demonstrate its resiliency. Below are the top emerging trends businesses are embracing to keep up with the demands and challenges brought by the pandemic.
Robots are the future.
In light of the safety concerns surrounding food products, businesses exert effort to minimize human-to-human and human-to-food contact in their production practices. To achieve this, many invest in technological innovations to automate food processing. Robots are especially gaining traction. From sorting to packaging, robotic technology is now used in every point of the food processing chain. Meat companies now have robot butchers. Agricultural food suppliers invest in robot harvesters.
Such development enabled food processing businesses to maintain their operations and product integrity in the market. With robots doing the essential tasks, companies can continue despite labor shortages and shutdowns. Automated systems also reduced the risk of contaminated foods, as these technologies are easy to sanitize and maintain.
Local production for food security.
To secure sufficient stocks, most food processing companies now turn to localized solutions. Instead of outsourcing abroad, many businesses now prefer to partner with small and local companies for their operational needs. Some invest in cold facilities and cryogenic tank maintenance services to store ingredients and keep them fresh over time. Others even create their own farms and gardens to ensure food security amid a constant surge of shutdowns and panic buying.
Plant-based foods are on the rise.
The COVID-19 pandemic is primarily a health crisis. Consequently, consumers are now more health-conscious than ever. Plant-based food products are especially gaining traction. In 2020 alone, food giant Nestle already reported that their sales of plant-based food soared by 40%. Plant-based beef and meat are especially favored.
Many reasons are attributed to this abrupt shift in consumer preference. Some say this is in line with the public demand for sustainable production. Others averred it’s a way for people to embrace healthier diets. There are also a few who say plant-based foods are simply good alternatives for families dealing with financial issues. Whatever the case may be, plant-based food products are making their way into the priority list of businesses engaged in the food processing industry.
As the impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold, the food processing industry continues to show resiliency. Consider embracing these top emerging trends that are redefining the sector during the pandemic and beyond.