Having braved the economic downturn in the recent years, the food industry is now gearing up to counter the recessionary forces and move ahead with new vigour. Changes in consumer habits and technological advances will lead the way in a dynamic and evolving 2011. Despite recent challenges, companies are now focusing on strengthening their brands and responding to consumer demand.
Increasing Brand Trust Through Product Quality
Brand building has always been key to a successful business. A strong, trusted brand name can not only improve shelf appeal but can also set producers apart. In the food packaging and processing industry, the make or break factor for brand trust is product quality. Due to a number of high-profile food quality issues, never has the importance of product safety been more important.
According to the PMMI Packaging Intelligence Brief on Packaging Trends, a brand’s reputation depends on quality control measures that prevent flawed products from disappointing the customer. To protect their brand equity, manufacturers must invest in reliable, high-quality processing and packaging equipment that can ensure product quality.
With the release of more stringent food industry regulations, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dairy standard, hygiene is also a growing focus, and obviously plays a role in product quality. To combat this, equipment suppliers are developing more advanced hygienic solutions for processing and packaging. Streamlined machine designs with fewer corners and crevices that can hide contaminants provide a more hygienic environment. For example, the DCI product distribution station by Bosch Packaging Technology ensures hygienic production by avoiding dirt trapping gaps and corners. Another example of this is the Delta Robot LDx series, which is one of the most hygienic Delta robot platforms on the market.
With the greater focus on brand trust, the machine cleaning process is also of importance as it directly affects product quality. This is of even greater importance for manufacturing lines handling several product varieties, especially products containing substances that can cause allergic reactions, such as nuts. To address this, manufacturers have turned increasingly to wash down versus dry wipe cleaning for a more thorough cleaning result. This affects equipment choice as machines need to be able to resist aggressive cleaning agents. In addition, Clean In Place (CIP) systems offer reliable and fast cleaning in hard-to-reach areas. Bosch Packaging Technology has developed automatic CIP solutions for its pasty food filling and capping lines as well for its production lines for candy bars and sugar confectionary products.
Another area essential to product quality is product handling. Recent developments in robotics, as well as product distribution and feeding have resulted in highly specialised solutions for gentle product handling. Cutting-edge technologies such as robots, grippers, feeding wheels and suction cups allow for the safe vertical and horizontal packaging of a wide variety of items. Ultrasonic sealing, rather than traditional hot sealing, also contributes to higher product quality of thermo-sensitive products such as fresh produce or chocolate confectionery items. Cold sealing can help avoid product damage issues such as melting chocolate and contamination of the sealing area.
Changing Consumer Demands
Consumers have the ultimate power over the success of a brand; hence product development and packaging must be tailored to consumer needs and wishes. In response to the ever-accelerating pace of life, demand has shifted towards more convenient, easy-to-eat products. Frozen and microwavable foods have seen a sharp increase in demand, with the frozen food sector predicted to experience a 3.7 per cent year-on-year growth over the next four years. According to a study conducted by Freedonia, worldwide demand for food containers such as bags, pouches and plastic containers is forecast to increase 3.8 per cent per year to $115 billion in 2013. Smaller households have also resulted in a shift towards the packaging of smaller portions and items in multipacks. This not only increases convenience for the consumer but can also reduce food waste.
These trends, along with the continued growth in ready meals and packages with smaller portions, have profound effects on food processing and packaging. Manufacturers require flexible equipment able to handle a larger variety of packaging and food formats. Also, items such as compartmental trays for ready meals and sushi require robotic equipment capable of handling several different components reliably and safely. In addition, grippers need to be tailored to product shapes and surfaces. For fruit, vegetables and other products that do not come in uniform shapes, this constitutes an even greater challenge and requires tailored equipment solutions. Products such as frozen food pose further demands due to the harsh production environment and special hygiene requirements, requiring specialized equipment.
Bosch Packaging Technology, based in Waiblingen (Germany), is one of the leading suppliers for complete systems for packaging and process technology. In 16 countries worldwide the company develops, produces and distributes modules and systems for the pharmaceutical, confectionery, and cosmetics industries, as well as other food and non-food industries. For more information, please visit www.boschpackaging.com.