2013 Manufacturing Trends Survey: Labor, not Energy, the Concern in 2013

While economic uncertainty remains, respondents expect more growth.

By David Phillips, Plant Operations Editor

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This year's respondents listed a variety of project types they hope to tackle in 2013, including warehouses, production and packaging expansions, a new plant in Kentucky, updated manufacturing software and adding automation in warehousing, production and throughout the plant.

Knowing that food safety is the top priority among food companies, we also asked some questions about what steps processors are taking to protect against incidents and to verify compliance with food safety regulations.

Of those surveyed, 72 percent indicate they implemented new food safety measures in 2012. That reflects a slight up-tick in implementation compared to the year prior when 70 percent said they had taken food safety measures in 2011. Nearly 70 percent say they will launch new food safety initiatives this year, up 2 points from last year.

Employee training and third-party certification remain the two top steps food processors are taking to improve food safety. Those two also topped the list in 2012.

Respondents were allowed to list multiple approaches, and 69 percent mentioned employee training this year, while 47 percent planned for third-party certification. HACCP plans are in use or in the works for 39 percent of survey-takers this year, compared to 46 percent of those who answered the question last year – that's kind of odd.

Speaking of certification, we asked participants to name which certifications they were involved with. The top answer remains Safe Quality Food, which was noted by 49 percent of respondents this year, up from 40 percent in the 2012 survey. The British Retail Consortium program was second this year with 22 percent, 1 point down from last year.

Automation has changed food manufacturing substantially in recent years. This year, nearly 18 percent say the entire plant is automated, 48 percent say production is highly automated (less than the 54 percent answering that way in the year prior) and 35 percent indicate their packaging areas were stocked with robotics. Nearly 16 percent of survey respondents say they still have no automation in their food plants.

Energy and green initiatives

Green initiatives, which can help both the bottom line and a company's reputation with consumers, have been important for some time. Our survey shows that for as much as 82 percent of food manufacturers surveyed, those programs continue to be important heading into 2013.

However, 6.6 percent said that in light of the economy, green initiatives are "becoming less important" to them. That's up from the 5.6 percent who gave that answer in 2012. The number who said the importance of green initiatives was "about the same" also increased from 46 percent going into 2012 to about 53 percent of those surveyed for our 2013 report.

Asked what initiatives they are pursuing, food processors had a variety of responses reflecting a range of actions from simple common sense steps to comprehensive programs. They included "increasing use of recycled content materials," "water reuse in the process" and "motion control lights and sky lights in the warehouse." One respondent indicated his or her company was "already on track," and had "reached goals and (would) continue monitoring towards a zero-landfill facility."

Energy consumption can certainly be considered in concert with other green initiatives, but energy can also be a simple bottom-line issue. When the latter is the case, energy concerns enter and leave the spotlight as prices fluctuate. With energy prices somewhat at a plateau, this year's respondents put less emphasis on energy consumption than we have seen in the past.

When asked "how are you approaching energy management?" 53 percent of those surveyed did say they are "taking steps in energy conservation" but 29 percent said it is "not a burning issue right now" – up from 24 percent last year. 27 percent are conducting energy audits and 22 percent recycling or redirecting energy throughout the plant. 5.3 percent of respondents are looking at cogeneration and nearly 11 percent are looking for alternative energy sources (down from 16 percent a year ago); 5 percent are installing solar panels.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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