2006 Manufacturing Survey

Once again, food safety is manufacturers’ No. 1 concern - but Osama, Katrina and Reddy Kilowatt are out there, too.

By David Feder, Managing Editor

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Food allergies are a serious concern. (The survey was closing just as new agencies reported a teenage girl died of anaphylaxis after being kissed by her peanut butter-eating boyfriend.) When asked how concerned they are about food allergens, more than 82 percent answered at least "somewhat concerned." (The breakdown was evenly divided among "somewhat," "very" and "extremely" concerned.)

How to control for allergens? More than half (53 percent) are opting for improved washdown/clean in place and nearly one-fourth are devoting dedicated lines. From the other direction, 38 percent are going to improved labeling.

For food safety and allergen control, as well as overall security, track and trace is important. It comes as no surprise, then, that more than three-quarters of respondents have such a program in place. Other solutions include timing operations so that allergenic ingredients are processed only at the end of the day or on a dedicated day of the week.

Whether due to dedication or plain old fear of litigation, one manufacturer is taking allergen control to an extreme: "[We] plan to move our nut production to an isolated area outside the main plant." In light of the tragedy of the aforementioned teen, this might not be a bad idea. Even immediate countermeasures (an epinephrine injection) and rapid medical intervention failed to save the girl from succumbing to this secondary contact with peanuts.

Shocked by energy costs

Energy placed second in this year's survey, moving up from fifth place last year. Labor, last year's second place, dropped to fourth, and automation, although still in third place, came in within little more than a point on labor issues (15 and 14 percent, respectively).

Energy could have been more of a concern than it was. Oil prices doubling over the past year meant across-the-board impact on costs of manufacturing, packaging and shipping. While this may have netted Exxon-Mobil humongous jumps in profit, the jump in importance to manufacturers from last year's survey was just 2 percentage points (we expected more).

METHODOLOGY

Our fifth annual Manufacturing Trends Survey was an e-mail survey taken during the month of November. There were 465 respondents in the following food categories: bakery (11 percent), beverages (9 percent), confectionery (4 percent), dairy (7 percent), fruits and vegetables (6 percent), frozen products (5 percent), further-processed foods and specialties (8 percent), meats and poultry (14 percent), snack foods (4 percent) and companies producing several of these product types in equal amounts, or making other products, comprised the remaining 32 percent. Included within these groups, 48 percent manufacture at least some type of wellness food.
This was probably just a case of "We thought things were bad last year, but…" because nearly 97 percent of respondents were at least somewhat worried about the high price of energy and 87 percent claimed to have been moderately to severely impacted by the leap in costs. One can only confess curiosity over the 3.2 percent who claimed to be "not worried at all" about energy costs.

So how is energy management to be approached? With more than two-thirds of manufacturers taking steps in energy conservation, energy audits (33 percent) will be used as a control with recycling/redirecting energy and seeking alternate energy sources (such as biogas) making up almost another third. Co-generation and inside-the-fence generation complete much of the remaining picture at about 12 percent.

Automation, consolidation, expansion

Beginning last year, production edged out packaging when it comes to automation. The margin is still narrow, but this year's 3 percent gap is twice as wide as last year's. Fewer than 6 percent of manufacturers surveyed have their entire plant automated.

The best news this year is that - in spite of safety and energy concerns plus economic woes - more than three-quarters of manufacturers plan on expanding production this year. About 77 percent -- a 10 percent increase over last year's survey -- anticipate production increases of at least 5 percent, with figures divided somewhat evenly among increases of 5, 10 and 20 percent ore more. Twelve percent will consolidate, while 24 percent foresee a flat year.

The above translates into prospective capital spending figure increases for nearly 40 percent of companies responding. Another third will try to maintain status quo and less than 10 percent intend to reduce capital spending.

One soup manufacturing facility in Washington state expects to increase capital spending by more than 10 percent to cover a planned 20 percent increase in production. Not only does the company have a $100 million facility under construction, it's also allocating funds to make this new facility "as ‘green' as it can be." Said a company executive, "We're very proactive in conservation and recycling, including plastics, clean water and water reclamation - any conservation that works to help the economy and the ecology. We're conscious of the fact that resources are in short supply, and we take every effort to recycle, reuse and generate awareness of the limited nature of our resources."

Mother Earth vs. Mother Nature

Fewer than expected were impacted even indirectly by the hurricanes, floods and tornadoes tormenting the U.S. last year. All told, 14 percent were directly affected and 26 percent indirectly. Still, once burned - or drenched - twice shy: Manufacturers who are hoping to avoid future disruptions of the "nature" nature, plan to divvy up production among their facilities, stockpile back-up supplies and engage secondary sourcing. "We are looking to expand alternative raw material sources. Disruptive weather primarily hurts our ability to procure raw materials," went one reply.

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