The farewell we bid to 2011 truly was a fond one. As the past year closed, much of the financial news was good. The Dow Jones Industrial Index closed the past year above 12,000 and shot up 180 points on its first trading day of 2012 (and I promised in past columns to stop watching this barometer!). The unemployment rate for November fell to 8.6 percent (and was projected to close even lower for December). Housing starts in November increased 9.3 percent from the previous month and 24 percent above November 2010. New orders, shipments and inventories for manufactured goods all rose in November, too.
A little closer to home, the U.S. Census Bureau's "Advance monthly sales for retail and food services" also showed a nice upward trend. While up only 0.2 percent in November, the most recent reporting period, over the previous month, the number ($399 billion, if you're curious) was up 6.7 percent over November 2010, and the 11-month total was running 7.8 percent above the same period of 2010.
(By the way, we'll have the full-year 2011 Census Bureau report in time for our February issue.)
Sorry for all the numbers, but they're the kind of concrete evidence that shows the economy is improving. While that's news for the country's bigger economic picture, it's probably old news for the food & beverage industry. In all our surveys of last year – manufacturing survey, capital spending report, R&D survey, salary survey -- we picked up signs, many of them quantitative, that the industry was having a good year.
And back in August, when we revealed our annual Top 100 © list of the largest food & beverage manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada, I thought the biggest news was that only one company – one out of all 100 – recorded a loss (Dole Food Co.). Many had phenomenal years. That list was based largely on 2010 figures, but all indications were that 2011 was going along just as nicely. I guess we'll see this coming August when we do it again.
These messages are validated by our 11th Annual Manufacturing Trends Survey . The numbers are forward-looking – what do you think your company or plant will do with production capacity, employment, salaries, capital spending, etc. in the new year? And this is a conservative bunch. So while the numbers did not increase by that much, the very fact they are increasing, on the heels of a very good year, is enough sunshine for me.
(I'm troubled a little by the "Are you optimistic going into 2012?" question. Its 63 percent rating is 3 points below that of the two previous years.)
Maybe 2011 will be a tough act to follow. I hope not.
We at Food Processing had a surprisingly good 2011 as well. I hope you noticed the growth in the size of the magazine. We increased our pages every month last year -- 136 additional pages for the full year, a 17 percent increase -- and had our first 100-page issue in quite a while. That enabled us to add stories as well as several regular features, including an MRO-focused plant story, Flavor of the Month, Focus on Health and Functional Ingredients.
This year, this month, we add one more: a monthly column on food safety, everybody's main concern. We'd like to make that column as interactive as possible, so email me if you have suggestions for us to cover and especially if you'd like to write a column yourself.
We're also adding more products to our digital/web-based lineup. Food safety becomes both a new monthly e-newsletter and the subject of three webinars this year (out of nine total webinars). Kantha Shelke, our former technical editor and longtime advisory board member, will be writing a weekly column, Ingredient Insights, only on our web site.
So it has been a good year, for all of us. But we cannot continue to grow without your help. Read on, log on, continue to answer our pesky surveys (the R&D survey will be hitting those of you in that department in about a month). Be a little more communicative than you have in the past – let me know by emails what you think about the magazine and the issues you're facing in your job. But thank you for your continued devotion to Food Processing.