According to a 2014 January report from Chicago-based research firm Mintel, 47% of Americans consume snacks at least once a day and 35% snack in place of regular meals. Given the increasingly busy and on-the-go lifestyles of consumers, it’s no surprise that snack time has become an American institution.

The influx in habitual snacking translates to major opportunities for baking and snack brand owners. However, these companies are also sure to face some challenges as consumer tastes continue to diversify, food safety standards become more rigorous, and the bar continues to be raised for quality, innovation and brand appeal. Fortunately, baking and snack manufacturers can overcome these hurdles with the latest packaging and processing innovations and insights offered at Pack Expo International 2014, held at McCormick Place in Chicago, Nov. 2-5, and  produced by PMMI.

Diversifying demands

Convenience, portion control and health are all driving forces behind the increasing demand for snacks. Today’s busy consumers require food products they can take with them, and the portability of snack foods makes them convenient options. 

Portion control is also an important factor for health-conscious consumers. Smaller portions have fewer calories and encourage consumers to eat just the right amount to satisfy their hunger. Healthy choices are also important to these consumers. The increasing popularity of gluten-free snacks is one example of this. According to Mintel, sales of gluten-free products are expected to exceed $15 billion in 2016 — a $5 billion increase from sales predicted for 2013. As a result, many snack manufacturers are focused on creating entire gluten-free lines for their brands.

The risks of not adapting lines to consumer demands, especially amid today’s fiercely competitive market, make the importance of investing in cost-effective solutions crystal clear.

Seeking sensible solutions

Before signing off on major upgrades, managers must carefully examine existing resources to determine where safety, flexibility and efficiency can be improved. This will help them identify the ideal equipment and solutions necessary to complement their lines and meet their future goals. Changeovers mean downtime, so technologies that support faster changeovers are particularly useful for manufacturers expanding their portfolios.

Bakers and snack producers are gradually turning to the use of robots and automation to reduce the inaccuracies in their supply chain. Earlier this year, PMMI released its 2014 “Trends in Robotics Report,” which described significant increases in the use of robotics in manufacturing. Supporting the trend, improvements in end-of-arm-tooling’s accuracy and handling have had significant positive impact on versatility and flexibility. The use of robotics also addresses food safety concerns as it decreases direct human contact with products on the line, thus decreasing possible contamination. In addition, manufacturers benefit from vision sensors that increase precision and handling of objects distinguishing by size, shape and color.

Under one roof

To explore solutions that advance flexibility, food safety and automation, wholesale bakers and snack manufacturers can look to this year’s Pack Expo International as a resource for innovation and insights.

Educational sessions addressing the industry’s top trends and challenges will occur throughout the show at three different Innovation Stage locations. Additionally, features like The Processing Zone in Lakeside Upper Hall and the Baking-Snack Break Lounge in the Grand Concourse will provide guide posts for busy attendees looking to navigate the show with efficiency.

Furthermore, the co-located Pack Expo and Pharma Expo will serve as North America’s largest resource for processing and packaging advancement. Attendees will be able to cross pollinate their ideas throughout the 1.15-million-sq-ft show floor, with a selection of 2,000 exhibitors and more than 50,000 attendees across more than 40 industries.