How operational sustainability can help food manufacturers face industry trends
In 2019, the food manufacturing industry is unpredictable and hyper-competitive, with new and continuing trends promising to have small and seismic impacts on manufacturers’ operations. Last month, Food Dive detailed six particular trends affecting the industry this year. From the continued refinement of functional foods to a burgeoning reliance on mergers and acquisitions to streamline companies’ operations, 2019 trends will demand that manufacturers reconsider their practices. Consumers are calling for alternative product development and even for alternative products altogether. For example, there is a zeal for healthier, plant-based options, as well as a desire for food manufacturers to reconsider their operations in an effort to promote environmental sustainability.
None of these trends are entirely new, but to capitalize on them manufacturers must realize there is a different kind of operational sustainability that underpins their ability to leverage their operations in response to these trends. Sustainable operational excellence is a foundational facet to success in the food manufacturing industry, according to Jordan Workman, Director of Client Development with Performance Solutions by Milliken. Performance Solutions by Milliken is an operational excellence consulting company that helps manufacturers improve safety, productivity and efficiency practices and outcomes. Workman noted that manufacturers are unable to capitalize on trends if they are permanently stuck in a reactive mode.
"If everything an organization does is reactionary, it can never move forward in a way to get ahead of the trends and capitalize,” he said. “How often are we putting out fires as a group, and what are we able to put on autopilot or into standard daily practice?”
CREATING AN EMPOWERED WORK ENVIRONMENT
What does operational sustainability look like for food manufacturers, particularly as a method to improve the speed, efficiency and productivity of a company’s response to industry trends? To stay productive and relevant in such a competitive industry, companies thrive when they are adaptable. For Performance Solutions by Milliken, sustainable operational excellence demands that continuous improvement practices remain in place long after its consultancy has completed, according to Workman. Additionally, he noted that such excellence can only be achieved when management makes associate engagement a priority.
“For a process to be sustainable, you have to have more than just management engaged in delivering the outcome,” he said. “You need the buy-in and work of everyone in the organization to sustain high performance.”
Workman said that a solid safety record —and a commitment to maintaining it— along with a daily management system that lets associates see how their work impacts operational performance on a day-to-day basis are key ingredients in building a work environment conducive to sustainable operational excellence. This kind of work environment benefits manufacturers regardless of any particular trend; companies undertaking a merger or acquisition have a better chance to emerge as more efficient entities if associates and staff feel informed, engaged and acknowledged throughout the process. Meeting the challenges of environmental sustainability are vastly easier when operational processes provide time and a framework to think and act strategically. A pivot toward functional foods or any other strategic change can happen efficiently if associates understand the necessity, ramifications and potential benefits of the requested modifications.
“Management’s ability to make decisions is vastly enhanced by involving the people most affected by those decisions,” Workman said. “If you’re making top-down decisions, you’re often making a decision based on where you see the problem and not necessarily where the core of the problem lies.”
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Though today’s industry trends are at the forefront of food manufacturer leaders’ minds, the greater challenge is discerning where these trends may lead. Consumer demands may shift, regulations may be amended, or manufacturers may be forced to revamp their operations due to unpredictable internal or external forces.
The danger of upending operations to align with every specific trend is that it can leave a company unable to nimbly respond to any upcoming trends. Phil McIntyre, Managing Director of Business Development and Marketing at Performance Solutions by Milliken said that a work environment that is too rigid in its operations is going to be resistant to change. Such inflexibility is problematic when considering how to respond to 2019 trends, but it can create even greater struggles when preparing for future trends that are difficult to foresee.
“People are going to be waiting for leadership to tell them what to do, and they’re going to wait for a proof of concept to show them a plan or change is successful,” McIntyre said. “When a work force is more empowered, (employees) will feel more confident in their ability to adapt to change.”
Those companies that value the importance of sustainable operational excellence will benefit from more empowered, safe and efficient work environments. With that kind of sustainability, current and future trends will be opportunities rather than obstacles.