Food manufacturing finally responds to consumers right to choice

We are in the middle of a food revolution; our knowledge of nutrition and dietary health is increasing at an alarming rate and what we knew about the impact of our food on our well being is far removed from what we knew 20 years ago.

In my view, social media has had an interesting impact on the food and drink industry. It has given the consumer a stronger voice in the market place. They have been able to shout about what they want and what they don’t want, whether its sugar, gluten, salt or bacon and egg crisps… The crowd certainly has a voice. This has given a community to those wanting to challenge the way things are done and what is accepted as the norm.

The consumer is informed through wide social comment and a steady stream of media coverage, some science based and some more opinion led. Whatever the tools, it has made food more than a perfunctory commodity. In these public debates the way food is made is being repeatedly challenged.

We, as consumers want answers! Why are certain ingredients used? Why don’t they recognise the ingredients? Why are 1 in 4 lorries on the road delivering food and yet prices are constantly reported as affected by fuel costs? Why is it travelling so far in the first place?

The simple answer is that food factories are specialised factories with huge foot prints designed to deliver large volumes of cheap food. This was the need of the post war generation; a reliable supply of cheap convenient food and drink. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s simply that things are different now.

Choice is increasingly becoming amongst the demand of the millennials who have grown up with an interconnected and truly global view of the world.

Choice, however, is limited within the scope of the current food processing landscape, and it is hoped that the flexible modular systems offered by Food Manufacturing 4.0 may address this. If this vision is to be realised it will also lead to de-centralised but interconnected facilities requiring smaller footprints. Such flexible factories would allow for regional variations of products and could deliver a much wider range of choice.

The shift to modular systems creates an avenue for continuous batch processing, which should in turn allow the utilisation of processes such as batch or kitchen cooking. This would then reduce the degree of processing, opening up opportunities for product variation not previously thought possible for main stream production, due to aggressive processing techniques. Such modularity would also allow for the inclusion of batch processes such as high pressure processing and optimised blast freezing; desirable processes that typically create bottle necks in continuous production environments.

With a reduced processing demand on a food product, the opportunity to reformulate products is increased. Products can be produced without the previously necessary additives or salt levels, which opens up as well as paving the way for new (or old) tastes, textures and colours. If Food Manufacturing 4.0 can achieve this then it is certainly a journey worth taking.