Companies within the food and beverage industry have become experts at predicting and adapting to consumer demands. However, with the global pandemic consumer perceptions and priorities around food change faster than ever before. At first glance, this might seem like a challenge. But it actually presents a major opportunity for businesses to become market leaders by developing automated and remote technologies to meet their customers’ needs!
Consumers' change in attitude towards advanced technologies
Today’s consumers have a more nuanced take on the old false dilemma of “natural vs processed” food. Especially following the crossover of dangerous new pathogens (like Covid-19) from “the natural world” into our own. Safety is now without a doubt the consumer’s top priority. And this radically redraws how consumers frame and perceive technology in food production in the deepest, most instinctual sense. At the core of the trend is the growing demand to prioritize safety above all else. Backed up by increased consumer sophistication and knowledge of new technologies.
Take pizza. Until recently, the idea of a robotic arm spreading tomato sauce onto a pizza on a busy manufacturing line would have been for many a sad image of a cold, sterile robot replacing the “human touch”. Today, that “human touch” is a far riskier prospect. Most consumers would now understand this as robotics protecting the worker and the product from infection.
For food producers, this shift in mindset is a major opportunity. They need to clearly show their customers how their technology investments are increasing safety, reducing potentially infectious touch points, and increasing product traceability and transparency. This will be a major, defining competitive advantage throughout the 2020s.
“In the next 10 years, consumers will become more
accepting of and trusting in the essential roles science and technology have in guaranteeing access to
affordable, safe, and nutritious food and drink" (1)
How meat met the challenge
One industry that really stepped up to the challenge is the hard-pressed US meat industry. Despite an overall fall in meat consumption in the global north in 2020, major firms won the praise of regulators, peers and, most importantly, consumers for swift and innovative uptake of new automated technologies to counter the virus (2).
Tyson Foods acted fast following the closedown of a dozen major meatpacking plants in spring 2020 (3), building a new multi-million-dollar facility that applied automation, robotics and machine learning to every aspect of meat manufacturing.
The implementation not only led to safer food. It also meant safer work conditions and further enabled the production of local meat and processing – another key trend for consumers. The head of the new facility, Marty Linn, quoted in Industry Week, said “We’re not going to outsource these tasks, we’re going to produce them here in this country, so automation is a key strategy for us going forward.”
With more sophisticated automated systems comes the need for a service and maintenance model to help single technicians service and fix assets fast - remotely. After all, what is the point of installing advanced, sterile automated systems to reduce touch points, if we need large teams of service engineers on-site to maintain them? Remote Guidance allows manufacturers to service automated lines remotely, using minimal staff to be guided onsite by experienced experts. It reduces touch points and decreases the risk of infection in processing and production plants.
With travel restrictions set to increase, shared-screen and AR-enabled remote tools have moved from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have solution. They are a powerful weapon in the arsenal of automated technologies that producers will need to maintain volume and competitiveness. Especially in an industry operating in a global pandemic with just-in-time supply chains, razor-thin margins and unpredictable labor supplies.
- Consumers embrace advanced technology
For food procurers the acceptance of advanced technology in food manufacturing presents a major opportunity. To show customers how their technology investments are increasing safety, reducing potentially infectious touch points as well as increasing product traceability and transparency is a major competitive advantage.
- Increased safety for food and workers
The implementation of advanced technology not only led to safer food, it also meant safer work conditions and further enabled the production of local food and processing – another key trend for consumers.
- Remote Guidance is a need-to-have solution
With travel restrictions set to increase, shared-screen and AR-enabled remote tools have moved from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have solution. They present a powerful weapon in the arsenal of automated technologies that producers will need to maintain volume and competitiveness.
- Improved traceability increasingly important
As regulation across borders and in every aspect of food production becomes more stringent, improved traceability of food will be one of the decade’s most urgent safety priorities