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Q&A: Food Trends and Predictions For 2015

Looking back on the year, the food industry has seen changes to the FSMA proposed rules, a rising number of food safety issues across the supply chain, and an increasing adoption of technology. We spoke with Keri Dawson about what she predicts for 2015.

Looking back on the year, the food industry has seen changes to the FSMA proposed rules, a rising number of food safety issues across the supply chain, and an increasing adoption of technology.

As the end of 2014 draws near, consumers are beginning to gear up for the new year. Within the food industry especially, manufacturers are beginning to prepare for 2015 by taking what they learned this year and moving forward with ideas by implementing new strategies and initiatives.

Food Manufacturing spoke with Keri Dawson, vice president of Industry Solutions and Advisory Services at MetricStream, about what she predicts for the food and beverage industry in 2015. Let's take a look!

Q: Based on your predictions for 2015, food and beverage companies will increasingly focus their attention on complying with the new FSMA rules. What sort of investments do you believe food facilities will be making in their organizations?

A: With the FSMA final rules expected in August 2015 to early 2016, food and beverage companies are focusing on preparing for compliance with the requirements. Many organizations will be increasing their investments in risk-based preventive approaches to food safety and quality. We will also see organizations start to assemble their internal teams, hire external consultants and experts, and identify the associated risks. This will not only help them comply with FSMA requirements but also improve their quality and brand reputation. More broadly, we will see organizations work towards creating a more pervasive culture of food safety across the organization.

There will be an increase in investments in food quality and safety management solutions, as these solutions will help organizations to proactively and holistically manage supplier and product information, regulatory compliance, hazard and risk assessments, preventive controls, quality audits and inspections, record-keeping, and employee training.

Q: What about the year 2015 will prompt companies to integrate quality and safety compliance programs and how will these initiatives benefit their organization?

A: Looking ahead to year 2015, our rapidly changing risk and regulatory landscape will continue to prompt companies to integrate their quality and safety compliance programs with their broader GRC programs and oversight functions – such as enterprise risk, compliance and audit functions. In year 2015, more and more companies will look to integrate and align these functions and programs in order to gain a more unified view of their real-time risk and compliance profile, better understand the impact of quality risk on enterprise risk, and harmonize their enterprise-wide compliance management efforts.

Q: This year proved to hold a fair weight of food safety issues across the supply chain; one of the most notable being the McDonald’s meat scandal. How can food facilities learn from these incidents and move forward from the “tarnished reputations” that often leave consumers questioning the safety of their food?

A: We’ve seen food industry organizations around the world struggle with the rising incidence of food safety issues across their supply chain, from expired meat to salmonella contamination, and everything in between. With so many intermediaries between farm and fork, food supply chains have become increasingly vulnerable. Contamination can occur anywhere — be it in manufacturing, transportation, storage, or packaging and lack of appropriate controls, quality checks and audits at any point of the supply chain can tarnish their reputation and brand image. In our highly mobile, networked, and socially connected world, one incident can spread through the news and social media, with lasting impacts to brand and reputation.

Looking ahead to year 2015, food industry organizations will get smarter about adopting tools and technologies that can help them better manage and implement standardized quality, safety, and compliance requirements across their supply chain. It will also see them invest in programs for preventive controls management, hazard and risk management, audits and inspections, non-conformance and corrective actions, customer complaints, product recall, and training management.

Q: Do you have any predictions on how food companies will continue to utilize automation and other sophisticated technologies to streamline their operations?

A: Leveraging the power of technology can help food industry organizations achieve greater visibility, transparency and reliability across their supply chain. In the year ahead, food & beverage organizations of all sizes will continue to turn to advanced and sophisticated technology solutions to automate and streamline their quality, safety and compliance programs. Companies will invest in technology that will help them gather relevant business data that executives can use to make informed decisions. These include advanced decision support systems, business planning models, real-time inventory tracking among others.

Key areas that can be better managed and streamlined with technology include food quality audits, safety compliance, food specification management, complaints management, and corrective actions management. Adoption of technology will allow different parts of an organization to function in ways that are appropriately segregated and yet collaborative to ensure food safety and quality.

Q: Today’s consumers seem to be very tuned in to not only where their food is sourced from, but how it is manufactured. What can food companies do to help build and maintain a relationship with its customers?

A: Given the reputational and financial damage associated with food safety incidents and recalls in 2014, in year 2015 organizations will put a greater degree focus on improving their supplier quality and compliance management programs.

Consumers are now more aware of the food they eat than they used to be, and they want to know what is in their food. Food companies should take appropriate steps to make their practices more transparent. Organizations should declare basic information such as from where the raw materials are sourced, who is producing, how food is being produced, water consumption, and usage of pesticides and other chemicals, along with the nutrition and allergen information.

Consumers are also becoming more environmentally and ethically conscious. Organizations should adopt socially responsible and sustainable practices to improve their brand reputation and gain customer loyalty. Recent incidents of unethical labor practices to produce prawns for supermarkets in the US and UK has raised concerns about unethical practices in the supply chain. In the past, apparel chains have been critiqued for labor issues, and now food companies are also being targeted.  Organizations need to strictly monitor their supply chain and prohibit poor employee treatment, child labor, and other unethical practices.

Organizations can also improve transparency by providing innovative technology such as mobile apps, which can enable consumers to directly report complaints to regulators and the company. This approach will not only help organizations take appropriate action at the right time but will also act as an alert and notification system for consumers.