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Q&A: Distribution Trends in Food Manufacturing

Food Manufacturing spoke with a pair of experts from Grainger to discuss the latest distribution trends and how they impact food manufacturing. Sean Foran and Elizabeth Bernhardt teamed up to provide the following answers.

This article originally appeared in the September print issue of Food Manufacturing.

Food Manufacturing spoke with a pair of experts from Grainger to discuss the latest distribution trends and how they impact food manufacturing. Sean Foran and Elizabeth Bernhardt teamed up to provide the following answers.

Q. What are the leading types of food and beverage processing solutions that manufacturers seek to safeguard their operations and increase efficiency?

A. Food manufacturers are focused on a couple key areas to ensure they are maintaining efficient operations and producing safe food for customers. The first is ensuring that their employees, facilities and processes are safe and compliant. Many manufacturers are asking distributors to help in conducting safety assessments and recommending solutions in order to ensure regulatory compliance.
The second main focus comes with ensuring their operations are as productive as possible. One of the most popular solutions in recent years is inventory management, which typically involves a partnership between a manufacturer and distributor to identify the most efficient solution to store and replenish inventory, while reducing the waste from slow-moving and inactive inventory. Additional productivity solutions include expanding preventive and predicative maintenance strategies, focusing on continuous improvement initiatives such as 5S and color-coding programs, and investing in sustainable solutions to save important resources like energy and water. 

Q. How can food manufacturers best assess possible risks and inefficiencies in their facility?

A. The best way to determine potential risks in a facility is through a comprehensive hazard assessment, in which every step of production is evaluated. The assessor should be looking for any potential hazards, including head, eye and face, respiratory, hearing, body, hand and foot. Minimizing safety risks is extremely important in food manufacturing. If an employee does get hurt, it can result in a number of inefficiencies including lost work time, workers’ compensation costs and high insurance costs. Grainger’s safety team provides an online checklist to use as a resource in conducting a safety assessment:

Q. How can distributors help food manufacturers identify solutions to these risks and inefficiencies?

A. Distributors provide a fresh eye and outside perspective in helping food manufacturers identify risks and potential solutions. Grainger categorizes food safety solutions in three key areas. 
The first is preventing contaminations caused by people, which includes providing personal protective equipment, enforcing employee hygiene, creating hygienic zoning, displaying appropriate signage in the facility, and using appropriate food handling and sanitation tools. The next is preventing contamination throughout the facility. Solutions include proper filtration, shatter-proof lighting, pest control, drainage and moisture control, and sealed floors and walls. 
The last major category is preventing contamination in the production area. Solutions include investing in stainless steel equipment that is moisture-, water- and chemical-resistant, as well as using metal detectable products and food-grade pipes, valves, fittings and lubricants.

Q. Which new technologies are changing food manufacturing?

A. There are many new technologies that help food manufacturers reduce costs and save time. One of the most common current trends is the move toward in-line and at-line inspection processes and tools that minimize wait time for lab testing. Technology has also helped minimize production line changeover times, a common source for operational inefficiency due to the time and labor involved to tear down, clean and rebuild equipment. To save time, manufacturers are investing in Clean in Place (CIP) compliant equipment, which reduces some of the equipment’s breakdown requirements. Manufacturers are also implementing comprehensive preventative maintenance plans to evaluate the health of the equipment and continuously ensure their production assets are running at maximum capacity.  In addition, there are a number of popular new commercial products – including Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA), laser technology and hyperspectral chemical imaging sensor-based systems, all of which help enhance sorting during production runs, eliminating human errors and increasing yield percentages.

Q. How are these changes best introduced and integrated into food production facilities? 

A. With any potential change, it is important to determine if the costs involved (including equipment, training and down-time during conversion) will be exceeded by the potential returns in a reasonable timeframe. For some companies, a five-year ROI may be acceptable, while others require a much shorter time frame. Once this is determined, an organization must clearly and consistently communicate the importance of the change and its impact to individual roles. An organization that fails to implement a communication strategy runs the risk of poor or inconsistent execution, additional costs and a missed ROI target. 

Sean Foran is a Senior Brand Strategy Manager focusing on the Food and Beverage Segment. His team’s mission is to ensure Grainger customers in the Manufacturing and Food Processing segment have the products, services, expertise and transaction channels to operate their business safely and efficiently. Sean is a University of Dayton graduate and has been a Grainger employee for 16 years. He has held various roles in Sales, Sales Management, eCommerce, Consulting and Brand.

Elizabeth Bernhardt has spent the last 16 years as a Grainger Technical Product Support Specialist, specializing in Safety and Laboratory Products. She has five years of food manufacturing experience as a Crew Trainer for Taco Bell’s food safety and OSHA processes. Elizabeth has a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry.



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