- Fewer than half of food manufacturing executives said they are ready for working in the next normal phase, and only about 41% of product suppliers have a clear vision of how their work will change in the next three years, according to a report from Deloitte and the Food Industry Association (FMI). Nine in 10 are investing in future-of-work-related initiatives, but only 11% are putting significant funds there.
- Forty-one percent of manufacturers said the most important goal for the future of work is building an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience as a means to grow sales and market share.
- The survey, built from interviews with more than 150 U.S.-based executives in food manufacturing and retail in April and May, shows many are not yet fully prepared to make the changes to prepare for the future of work.
The pandemic upended what's normal for many industries, forcing massive and unexpected changes in food manufacturing. As the pandemic shuttered businesses and schools, food sales skyrocketed. Companies had to figure out how to keep factories running to both meet consumer demand and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks among workers.
For the most part, the industry rose to the challenge and consumers saw no breaks in availability of products. Adaptability — and huge sales — became two hallmarks of the way the food industry weathered the pandemic.
The study, however, notes manufacturers did not foresee the changes they were forced to make during the pandemic coming so quickly. In that context, their feeling of a lack of readiness is understandable, the report says. However, changes started during the pandemic while making necessary shifts have moved the needle closer to more preparedness.
Many manufacturers have started on new paths to modernize their workplaces. Some have put resources into adding more automation to factories — both to address worker health and safety issues and to increase productivity. According to the survey, three in five execs said they are looking to automate work wherever possible. Tyson spent $500 million on technology and automation at its plants during the last three years.
Just over half of manufacturers said they were making moderate investments in future-of-work related initiatives, while 31% said their investments were on a limited or pilot basis. Talking to execs in both food manufacturing and retail, the report found nearly half said there were too many competing priorities to make significant investment in these initiatives.
But manufacturers' key goal for preparing for the future of work isn't to modernize or automate, according to this report. The largest group said what is most important to them is growing sales and market share. Although the pandemic brought several newer issues to the fore for manufacturers, including solidifying supply chains, allowing for flexible work situations and attracting employees, increasing innovation, building capacity and reducing cost were named as top goals by only 7% of companies.
Manufacturers proved they were able to adapt to different conditions and consumer needs during the pandemic, but admitted the post-pandemic employee is a different story. Just under half said their top workforce challenge right now was retaining employees and driving company culture. The third largest challenge is attracting employees in areas that are emerging, with specialized skill sets. Based on other research Deloitte has done on the manufacturing industry, the firm says 77% of food makers will have ongoing problems with attracting and retaining employees.
Aligning goals with the challenges of attracting and keeping employees is vital to food companies' preparation for the future, the study says. Deloitte and FMI suggest putting workers at the center of a vision focused on achieving growth in sales and market share. This is a familiar tactic to manufacturers. During the pandemic, some companies were able to meet new output and productivity challenges by shifting the spotlight to the employees and letting them know their work had a larger purpose.
Deloitte also suggests larger investments in shifting operations and optimizing for the future of work, as well as crafting a careful strategy to ensure physical, social and digital environments where workers can do their best. Because the greater food industry is so interconnected — with suppliers, manufacturers and retailers all depending on one another — the study suggests that different entities work together so they all meet these goals. Industry groups establishing guidelines and shared tech platforms to help facilitate work could be key to this effort, the report states.