Farewell Typewriter

End Flap: A Farewell to Food

Dec. 21, 2022
An editor on the brink of retirement looks back at 30 years of covering the food & beverage industry.

Dear food & beverage industry:

It’s been quite a ride, but now I’m getting off.

After 30 years of covering you, it’s time for me to retire. I will no longer be chronicling, to the best of my ability, the twists and turns, ins and outs and ups and downs of this sometimes inspiring, sometimes exasperating, but always fascinating and undeniably vital industry.

I got my first job covering you by answering a newspaper want ad (remember those?) for Packaging, a now-defunct publication that covered exactly what it said. That introduced me to a bewildering world of monomer films and pressure-sensitive labels and induction seals and who knows what else. Just when I was starting to feel comfortable with all that, I got hired by Food Processing, plunging me into a new world of processing and making me learn about things like programmable logic controllers and steam-jacketed vessels and four-way sanitary valves.

The best part of the job was visiting food & beverage plants. I always tell people that it was like getting paid to go on the most fun school field trip you ever took. In the course of more than a hundred plant visits, I got to see huge operations like the then-H.J. Heinz Co. facility in Ohio that processes most of their ketchup, the Hormel plant in Little Rock, Ark., that produces the world’s supply of Skippy peanut butter and the main Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis. I also got to see tiny enterprises like the pet food company whose mascot, a poodle with a poof of curls on top named Kramer (“Seinfeld” fans will get the reference), hung around for all the interviews.

The main lesson I learned, from the plant visits and from my interactions with industry people in general, is that the CEO cliché is true: Good performance does start with good people. And good people abound, from the plant floor to the C-suite. There are exceptions – many of whom are appalling – but in the main, these are people who work as hard as they can just to make an honest buck feeding the rest of us.

That provides a good segue into my other favorite part of the job: Giving unsolicited advice. Here are the prescriptions I’m going to leave you with:

Take care of those good people. Labor relations lately have not been great, between the pandemic and the Great Resignation that followed. Wages in food & beverage plants chronically lag other manufacturing jobs, which makes little sense when you consider the onerous nature of the work. If your company emerged from the pandemic flush with cash, you really should consider spending some of it on the people who made your success possible.

Keep up the commitment to DEI. It’s good to see major food companies place so much emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. I have two wishes in this regard: 1. follow through by adding more non-white faces to the C-suite and 2. don’t get distracted or deflected by opportunistic politicians railing against “woke corporations.” Along those lines:

Enough with the pledges. If every flack who ever sent me a press release about how some company “pledged” to reduce or eliminate something years in the future had been obliged to include a dime with it, I could have retired long ago. Here’s an idea: If you want to reduce or eliminate virgin plastic or sugar or some other highly utilitarian but frowned-up substance from your products, just do it, and then take credit for it. Finally:

Take pride in yourselves. Ignore carping (except for mine) and remember that you do a tough, vital job and do it well. You might get picked on by some critics, but you keep America fed, and that’s no joke.

Thank you for a wonderful 30 years. It has been, literally, a slice.

About the Author

Pan Demetrakakes | Senior Editor

Pan has written about the food and beverage industry for more than 25 years. His areas of coverage have included formulations, processing, packaging, marketing and retailing. Pan worked for Food Processing Magazine for six years in the 1990s, where he was operations editor (his current role), touring dozens of food plants of every description. He has also worked for Packaging and Food & Beverage Packaging magazines, the latter as chief editor, during which he won three ASBPE awards. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in communications.

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