Browse through the latest news stories and you’ll certainly come across a business in the food and beverage industry fighting an uphill battle against COVID-19. Such companies are facing shut-downs, financial losses, damage to their reputations and brands, and some have even had employees pass away from COVID-19 infections likely acquired in their processing facilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave Americans and American businesses very little warning of the hurdles it would bring. With such little time to prepare, experts predict the unavoidable economic downfall will likely take. COVID-19 has taught us we can’t always predict the next challenge our businesses will face.
This doesn’t mean we can’t respond appropriately and effectively, while also doing our best to prepare for the next challenge. Awe’re dedicated to helping our partners within the industry take hold of the unique opportunities brought forth by this crisis and come through with unwavering strength and control. Stay tuned to learn more about automation in the food and beverage industry and how it can help you address consumer concerns and become a leading brand known for its dedication to health and safety.
Consumers Are More Aware & Cautious Due to COVID-19
Social distancing is currently the best weapon we have against the spread of COVID-19. This means that a simple errand, like grocery shopping, looks much different for consumers than it did in the earlier months of 2020.
It’s important to note that the says there is no evidence that food or food packaging has been linked to the spread of COVID-19. Nevertheless, some experts are still recommending that shoppers allow their non-perishables to sit in a garage or secured space away from the kitchen for 72 hours to allow the virus to become inactive.
While this “sterile technique” is mainly recommended for those considered high-risk for the virus, a recenfound that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to a day on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
This knowledge is important for food and beverage processing plants for two reasons. First, it explains how quickly and easily an outbreak can spread within their facilities. Secondly, it helps to explain why consumers are paying more attention to the processes their favorite brands take when producing, packaging, and shipping their products.
We’re learning more about this virus every day, which means your business is being provided with plenty of opportunity to make smart choices and adapt your processing and packaging to instill confidence in both consumers and employees.
What Is Automation in the Food and Beverage Industry?
Automation, or the use of largely automatic equipment in packaging and processing systems in the food and beverage industry, isn’t a universal practice. Whether it’s because they feel their food is too delicate to be handled by machinery or they don’t believe they have the space or budget for automation equipment, not all processing plants use automation in every step of their process. But what is the cost of favoring manpower over machinery?
The most obvious benefit of automation is speed. If a company doesn’t struggle to keep up with demand, they may downplay the benefits of an automated process. But there are plenty of other advantages to consider.
Automation can lower the risk of employee injuries while improving sanitation efforts and cleanliness, both of which can boost your brand’s reputation and bottom line.
At K2 Kinetics, we’re experts at developing automated processes that improve CPG businesses on multiple levels. We’ve worked one-on-one with companies like Hershey, Wolfgang Confectioners, Starbucks, and Gatorade, showing them how automation can eliminate nearly every pain point of their processes.
To say that the threat of COVID-19 is a pain point is an understatement. But if you’ve put off learning more about automation because of budget concerns, a perceived lack of space, or fear of employee cuts, keep reading to learn more about automation and how it can help you keep the threats of invisible enemies like COVID-19 at bay.
5 Benefits of Automation in the Food, Beverage, Dairy & Confectionary Industries
If you believe the only benefit of automation for food processing is speed, we invite you to learn about several other benefits the process offers, all which can help your business overcome the unique challenges brought on by COVID-19 and come out of the pandemic with a stronger foundation for the future.
Benefit #1: Less Contact & More Space Between Employees
Current social distancing guidelines for businesses suggest a minimum of six feet between others at all times. In a food processing setting, this may be difficult for some departments.
Automation makes it easier to keep enough distance between employees, which is beneficial as such guidelines are likely to remain in place until the threat of COVID-19 is eliminated. Even then, maintaining social distances could become normal practice during a typical flu season or if a new threat is suspected.
Because automation allows for more space between quality checkpoints, you can spread employees more evenly throughout departments and develop rotating schedules that minimize contact. Workers are also sure to appreciate the reduced risk in injury that comes along with automation.
Take Tyson Fresh Meats in Waterloo, Iowa as an example. The plant succumbed to public pressure and suspended operations for its pork processing plant, impacting all 2,800 of its employees. But workers felt that the precautions came too late.
According to an arhalf of the COVID-19 cases in the Iowa county housing the processing plant are linked to its employees.
Several employees, all who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to CNN about how their disappointment in how the situation was handled. One cut floor worker told CNN about the delay, “You know what’s heading this way. Why wait? Why wait ‘til it’s too late?”
Whether you’re fighting the common cold or a threat as serious as COVID-19, maintaining proper distance and minimizing contact between employees is crucial. Automation can help you achieve both year-round and make consistent prevention common practice.
Benefit #2: Absorb Staff Shortages Without Compromising Productivity
Steve Stouffer, Tyson Fresh Meats Group President, issued a statement about the closing of the Waterloo plant, saying “Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases, and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production.”
While there were certainly a variety of factors at play in this situation, extreme employee absenteeism for any reason can bring a processing plant to its knees. Whether it’s something as unique as COVID-19 or difficulty in fulfilling positions with qualified candidates, not having enough hands to get the job done can certainly slow production and put stress on your workers and financials.
Not being able to keep up with consumer demand is a common worry in the CPG sector. Afrom AlixPartners shows that as many as 65% of US consumers have tried new brands during the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority (79%) said they were forced to try a new brand because their favorite was out of stock.
Automation can help you keep up your normal levels of productivity, or even meet new higher demand during times of crisis. You can continue to build confidence and loyalty without overworking employees.
On a related note, we want to mention that K2 Kinetics is a family-owned company. We believe employees are the heart and soul of every company so we understand concerns of automation replacing valued employees. As part of our custom design process, we work with plant managers to ensure that every employee’s talents are utilized in a manner that best benefits the company.
We also focus on the benefit that companies can increase production and grow their product line when combining automation with their current team, where increased revenue can benefit everyone.
Benefit #3: Develop Advanced Sanitization Practices
In the food and beverage industry, sanitation and cleanliness is never far from mind. But in this unprecedented pandemic, yesterday’s sanitation practices are no longer enough.
When we work with a company to develop a custom automation process, we focus on using equipment designed with sanitation in mind. Moving to an automated process also lessens the risk of cross contamination from human hands.
Implementing automation can help you develop sanitization practices that exceed current standards and put your company ahead of the competition. As they play catch-up, you can continue to produce with confidence knowing that the health and safety requirements for employees, shippers, stockers, and consumers are being met.
Benefit #4: Gain Multiple Investment Returns
Do you view automation as an additional expense? We tell our partners to see it as an investment that provides a return in multiple ways.
Let’s first consider the financial return. There’s no doubt that switching from manual processes to automated comes with a cost. But as a result, you can either increase production speed, meet higher consumer demands, introduce new products to your brand’s line, or enjoy a combination of these benefits. The one potential benefit they all have in common is an increase in gross profit.
But what we consider to be more important than a financial return is the return of time. We rarely come across a plant owner or manager who finds themselves with extra time at the end of a work week. Instead, they’re wondering how they can get more done without hiring more employees or going over budget on overtime pay.
Since automation can help you produce the same amount of product in less time, you may suddenly find yourself with the resources you need to take care of back-burner tasks. In an event such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this could include additional marketing, increased disinfecting of common spaces, or implementation of advanced sterilization practices.
Benefit #5: Unique Marketing and Brand Development Opportunities
There are plenty of benefits to being one of the first companies to respond to COVID-19 and related consumer concerns. Being proactive can be used as a unique marketing strategy, especially for up and coming brands.
By being able to say that you’ve adjusted your processing and packaging to exceed current safety standards in an effort to better protect your employees and customers, you’re sure to gain consumer approval. Withemselves loyal to at least one brand, a strong marketing message can have countless consumers making the switch to your product.
Though we believe automation can help any company in the food and beverage industry, this is a scenario where it certainly helps to be first amongst your competition. If a competitor has already established their brand as synonymous with consumer safety, you may not be able to capitalize on the same message.
Covid-19 has impacted every corner of the globe, including the food and beverage industry. Demand for many plants increased overnight, and the balancing act between productivity and safety is more delicate than ever.
But with every challenge comes opportunity. Reach out to K2 Kinetics today to see how we can help you navigate the uncharted waters COVID-19 has flooded the industry with as we all adapt to our new normal.