We recently sat down with Jason Culotta of the Midwest Food Products Association to discuss the state of affairs for members. ProEx Food is an associate member of the group.
Here’s the episode:
Food processors have two main issues they face every year, that are accelerating in the age of COVID. These are not expected to reverse trend.
- Can they get sufficient labor to their facilities?
- Rural populations decline
- Less people interested in this kind of work
- This is especially crucial for the all-too-labor-intensive sweet corn harvest and pack
- Will the weather cooperate?
- Growing conditions changing in various regions
- General yield / quality shifts
- Poor weather at harvest time can be devastating on that year’s profitability
Many processors put an emphasis on obtaining PPE for their employees and erecting barriers as possible. However, packhouses of any food products typically require employees to be shoulder-to-shoulder at peak times, moving as fast as possible.
Two questions that brings up:
- Can you really put enough division between workers in your current setup?
- Do the barriers really help?
2020’s Saving Grace
Especially for fruit and vegetable processors in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and nearby states, 2020 overall and harvest weather conditions were favorable.
But, the processors were not ready for the sudden shift in consumer demand. Shelf-stable (canned) and frozen demand shot through the roof. Producers of the former had the luxury of some build-up excess stock from years prior, which is now depleted. Both were able to re-pack some goods from food service to retail as that marked shifted significantly.
This coming year, what is the strategy? Is the packhouse equipped with the equipment to shift as demand does? Is it ready to maintain peak production, with even more uncertainty in the seasonal and/or migrant labor pool? Are facilities optimized to make sure they make the absolute most of crop – more throughput and quality.
Facilities that aren’t ready to handle similar disruptions this year are at high operational risk.
How will consumer taste and buying patterns trend as we get out of this? Will people stay and continue to cook at home? If so, be ready to shift to CPG?
if they either suddenly or gradually shift back to going out, what is your agility ability to move to more foodservice?
Do you need to change more of our process steps and output styles?
Many are seeking automation and have done what they can, but lines remain heavily labor-intensive, especially in sweet corn. PPE only gets you so far, for a problem that has been getting progressively worse for a long time.
The 2021 pack season is just around the corner. Don’t wait a second longer to put your strategic plan in motion.
All of our episodes can be found here.