CHICAGO — Wish you could predict the future for the consumer packaged goods (C.P.G.) industry? The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI) assembled a focus group during its ProFood Tech conference from April 4-6 in Chicago in an attempt to do precisely that. Recently published as the “Vision 2025 Report,” PMMI compiled key insights from nearly 30 C.P.G. professionals with processing and related responsibilities.
Though the report targeted several points of difficulty, the source of the biggest challenges facing the C.P.G. industry identified by the focus group is a consumer base that has an ever-growing list of demands. Consumers want food items that cater to their particular dietary needs, whether that be gluten- or dairy-free, vegetarian or vegan. Shoppers are also looking for items they perceive as fresh, and are shying away from chemical names on labels and G.M.Os. And they want all of this ready to go on their timetable.
These demands are causing difficulties for food producers in several ways. A need for increased speed-to-market can leave companies without enough time to effectively plan and test products. This can lead to an increase in recalls or in a need to tweak products after a launch, which can reduce consumer trust. This chaotic pace can also lead to misreading consumer information and bringing a product to shelves that few are interested in, leading to low sales, loss of faith in leadership and low morale.
On the production side, an increase in consumer demands also has led to a need for more or newer equipment. Flexibility on the production line is now essential for being able to produce a larger number of specialty products in the same amount of space. Increased downtime due to shorter product runs can leave employees standing around while still feeling rushed if not managed properly. In addition, managers are facing training difficulties keeping up with the newer technologies being introduced onto the floor, particularly with older or less experienced employees.
Increasingly automated production requires a skill set that takes time to develop, and that investment may not pay off if a company can’t retain employees. Working in food production is a demanding job, and many can’t pay high enough salaries or offer desirable hours to attract and keep a reliable workforce.
The bramble bush of issues branching out from shifting consumer demands can be enough to make anyone’s head spin, but thankfully the report also outlined ways that C.P.G. companies are effectively addressing it.
For starters, many C.P.G. companies are utilizing consumer focus groups to better identify what products will perform well. Consumer testing has been shown to cut down on product launch failures and to allow for more efficient and successful time spent in the formulation stage. Some companies are including their operations staff in marketing meetings to give them a broader vision for what needs the products they produce are meant to address, as well as to give them a heads up to the demand that will be required of their employees.
Effective, deep communication at every step of the process can reduce employee frustration and lead to less confusion and unpleasant surprises. Some companies have gone as far as to have “intra-company field trips” in which different departments get a better look at the work that goes into successfully completing required responsibilities.
The development of workforce engagement and commitment initiatives has been helpful for some companies to improve performance and employee retention. Some employers are suggesting in some cases requiring employees be involved in discussions when things relevant to their work are being considered in an effort to promote more employee buy-in.
Most companies that have effectively navigated these uncertain waters put an emphasis on taking a proactive pre-planning approach rather than a reactionary one. Companies that are able to present a well thought out plan to their stakeholders and employees and pass that information all the way down the production line are figuring out ways to roll with the punches when they come.
Click here for a full copy of the “Vision 2025 Report”, which outlines even more problems and solutions for the C.P.G. industry.