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Ashley Miller asks how food manufacturers can keep pace with ever-changing food trends, diets and lifestyle choices

Organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, ‘clean’…the list goes on. With the UK market for meat-free foods set to rise to £658 million by 2021, the fact that #vegan has been attributed to over 61 million Instagram posts isn’t surprising, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to increasingly common ‘free-from’ diets. It seems not a week goes by without a new way of eating emerging onto the scene, with the unstoppable rise of social media accelerating the speed at which new ‘diets’ and food choices quickly become established on a global scale. The same can be said of fashionable foods, with the much Instagrammed ‘Avocado toast’ images of the last couple of years going someway to explain why avocados now out-sell oranges in the UK.

While Instagram and the rise of foodie vloggers and bloggers have led to changes in not only how people think about food but how they buy and consume food, too, they’ve also had a major effect on food manufacturers. For the very businesses who are responsible for catering for the ever-changing appetites of modern consumers, the challenge is two-fold. Firstly, there’s the need to keep up with ever-changing tastes, trends and dietary requirements, making the necessary changes to products quickly and effectively to provide the customer with exactly what they’re calling for, without compromising on taste, quality or price. Secondly, there’s the need to ensure the right processes and procedures are in place to underpin transparent, traceable production to guarantee that something claiming to be ‘gluten-free’, for example, is actually just this – free from gluten.

With a view to solving both of these challenges, while meeting customer demand and staying profitable, many food manufacturers are investing in technology. The right systems can provide the necessary levels of business agility, product development capability and transparency of production that are required to stay one step ahead of the competition as well as satisfying the customer.

Staying agile

With changing consumer demand comes increased pressure on systems and supply chains to work harder than ever, bringing new, quality products to market faster and more efficiently while maintaining healthy profit margins. More and more food manufacturers are updating their business systems to do just this, implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to sit across the entire business, unifying and streamlining all business processes while providing a single, holistic view of the business. Enabling full integration with all product lifecycle and supply chains systems, the right solution brings new levels of control to not only production, but product development as well.

The ability to manage all key business processes with a single solution provides the level of detail in real-time that food and beverage businesses need for slicker, more efficient operations. It’s the increased levels of visibility and control right across the business, alongside powerful scheduling capability, that make it quicker and easier to predict future requirements and respond to new customer demands, serving to streamline inventory, for substantial cost savings and less wastage, while optimising production and minimising downtime.

Advanced recipe management functionality handles the levels of complexity that are common in food manufacturing, making the creation of new or ‘free-from’ products much easier. For example, if a new ingredient is used in place of another, the right system can calculate the amount that will be needed to maintain the flavour or quality of the product. The right solution will provide the granular detail required to leave nothing to chance, controlling formulas and specifications, while tracking precise costs and nutritional information.

Production transparency

Consumers and retailers are demanding increased visibility into the entire production process to ensure they’re getting the right products. To provide the levels of transparency and traceability needed, manual, paper-based track and trace processes simply aren’t good enough, with businesses recognising the need to implement solutions that provide a clear line of sight throughout product development, production and the wider supply chain.

Robust ERP systems can provide field to fork traceability, offering instant visibility over not only food safety but with quality checks and balances at every step of the way, from goods-in to the finished product reaching the customer, ensuring precise ingredient declarations for increased compliance and customer reassurance. For example, you can put controls in place to ensure that when it comes to a gluten-free product, you ensure that gluten ingredients are never substituted into that item during production.

Keeping pace

With the ever-changing desire for different food choices and options showing no sign of slowing any time soon, food manufacturers need to stay as flexible, agile and responsive as possible if they’re to keep up with consumers. Now is the time to trade-in manual or disjointed systems for integrated, centralised business software, keeping close control of the entire business, while streamlining processes and procedures to be able to react quickly and effectively to these changing demands. With the right systems in place, food manufacturers can do more, for less, keeping customers satisfied and the competition very much on their toes.

To learn more about how ERP software can help you, we host free Software Selection & Implementation Masterclasses throughout the year aimed at helping and guiding companies from the very start of their software journey through to implementation.

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