Big data analytics, the Industrial Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digitization and the cloud cause baking and snack food manufacturers to consider the disruptive potential these new technologies can have on their market processes. 

While the food and beverage sector has been more cautious in adopting automation and the data it provides, the automotive, electronics and aerospace industries were quick to adopt these technologies and offer a blueprint. 

There are multiple opportunities for implementing data analytics in food and beverage to improve food safety, support product customization and improve product sorting. Customization is particularly essential for the baking and snack sector as it continually grows, changes and evolves. A market previously comprised of baked snacks and baked goods now encompasses many food types in snack packaging. Regardless of the food, however, convenience is king for consumers when it comes to snacking, making single-serve, resealability, combination packs and variety in size and flavor the significant drivers in current snack packaging trends.

According to the 2020 State of the Industry, from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, small single-serve bags provide the ultimate convenience, eliminating the need for utensils, meal-planning, and storage or clean-up. As CPGs and retailers clamor to meet the demands of consumers seeking convenience options, the number of SKUs continues to grow, leading snack food makers to seek out more flexible packaging options and equipment.

Manufacturers are facing many challenges that are motivating them to introduce or expand data optimization solutions. These challenges include the need for increased efficiency, reduced downtime, quality management, flexibility and cost savings. To address these challenges, manufacturers are leveraging smart technologies that include networking/connectivity, the cloud/edge data storage and remote monitoring. 

While data in manufacturing is not new, the potential shift in scale, volume, and data collection frequency is. For example, data collection is now possible every five seconds when once it was every three months. 

The convenience of snacks and the demand for packaging that caters to an on-the-go lifestyle is also manifesting in the ways consumers purchase snacks, with PMMI’s 2019 Trends and Advances in Food Packaging and Processing revealing double-digit growth across the board for snacks purchased online. Data indicates e-commerce sales of salty snacks rising 35%, nuts 23%, meat snacks and popcorn 12% and snack bars 10%. The rapid growth of e-commerce is a strong influencer on snack packaging with large and medium-sized CPGs establishing a goal of online-ready packaging. Packaging prepared for e-commerce requires minimal, if any, re-packaging in the form of smaller cases, lower case counts, easy to open cases and smaller multi-packs.

Due to the need for greater flexibility, an increase in automation use among the baking and snack sector appears inevitable. PMMI’s Automation Timeline: The Drive Toward 4.0 Connectivity in Packaging and Processing indicates that machine automation will rise from 65% to 95% over the next 10 years. In the same period, process optimization will increase from 30% to 90% and the practice of calculating overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) —a potential motivator for manufacturers to implement automated solutions—from 44% to 84%. In addition to calculating OEE, snack brands adopt automated packaging solutions throughout their lines to achieve greater flexibility, labor utilization and sanitation.

As manufacturers and end-users navigate the challenges posed by coronavirus (COVID-19), the brand new live, web-based Pack Expo Connects 2020, produced by PMMI Media Group, will provide the same opportunities and insights the industry has relied on through the Pack Expo portfolio of trade shows for more than 60 years. The event will serve as the resource for the most advanced packaging and processing technologies across a wide range of industries. It will facilitate exhibitor and attendee interaction through live chats, product and equipment demos, as well as engaging educational sessions.