In an interview for Midland's Insider, Bill Treddenick, operations director at Lorien Engineering Solutions comments,
“We are very close to the food and drink market, having carried out major plant investment projects for manufacturers for 30 years.
“Food and drink companies must be agile to meet the demands of major retailers and consumers. Up until recently, the approach of many larger manufacturers was to have an ever-expanding portfolio of products, custom-designed to suit the local market with minimum stocking levels and maximum transferable shelf-life.
“But of late there have been some major swings in the market - all of them consumer driven.
“The increasing prominence of discount retailers in Europe has caused all major food retailers to reconsider the amount of lines they run and pricing structures. Simplification is overtaking sophistication.
“This is impacting on manufacturing plants. Running high-speed volume lines is once again a viable option, replacing low-volume lines that are more easily changed over for short product runs. This has a positive impact on plant efficiency and should also reduce wastage.
“The challenges this presents include investment in larger scale plants, concentration of manufacturing on to fewer sites that are operated more intensively and greater automation. Manufacturers require the people to maintain highly automated plants.
“The second key change is a skills gap, with strong competition for skilled labour. This isn’t just a UK or European phenomenon - we see the same in Asia-Pacific. A technician could equally find work in a food plant or a car plant.
“We have noticed that our customers are investing in more skilled operators, team leaders and maintenance staff.
"Companies must continually invest in their people, providing the training and technologies that will ultimately be a win-win for employee and employer.
“The final big trend in food and drink manufacturing investment is healthy eating. This appears to be a strong focus for product innovation; less fats, salt, sugar and smaller portion sizes. Within new product innovation, R&D requirements are becoming more complex and budgets are expanding. Companies also need support for rapid regional or global roll-outs of product lines so they can maximise competitive advantage.”