The term food industry is an extremely broad one which tries to encompass an entire system that joins farms to end users through a channel of food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its Economic Research Service (February 2011) described the food industry as follows: "The U.S. food system is a complex network of farmers and the industries that link to them. Those links include makers of farm equipment and chemicals as well as the firms that provide services to agri-businesses, such as providers of transportation and financial services. The system also includes the food marketing industries that link farms to consumers, and which include food and fiber processors, wholesalers, retailers, and foodservice establishments."
There are many parts to the food industry. Some of them are:
The processes of producing food, fiber, animal feed, the growing of trees, vegetables and plants or the rearing of livestock for human consumption all fall under the category of agriculture. The general term for agriculture is farming. Food scientists who devote their time to improving methods of farming are also covered in the field of agriculture.
Once the raw ingredients, whether in the form of grains, vegetables, etc. are harvested, or slaughtered animals are butchered, the items are shipped and are ready for processing. The process takes these freshly harvested items or parts that have undergone slaughtering and butchering and transforms them into foods that are fit for human consumption and that are marketable. There are a number of ways that foods are produced. The most common way is through mass production. This is the method that is used when there is a vast market for an identical product that can be mass produced, such as canned foods, cereals, candies, chocolates, etc. Another common way of producing items is through one-off production. This is the method that is used when it is necessary to produce a food item to special specifications.
There are many new sophisticated technologies that go into modern-day food production. The most innovative one is bio-technology which includes areas of plant breeding, food processing and investigation and food research into the food's composition and properties. This technology is used in the mass production of food products. Closely related to food technology is the food science industry. It is closely allied with the studies of chemical engineering and biochemistry, in order to understand the composition of foods and eventually to improve food products. By studying the chemical and microbiological makeup of food, food scientists can develop safe and nutritious foods. At times they use their knowledge to alter the chemical makeup of the food and can create new variations of the food.
The food industry needs a large transportation system in order for all its various parts to stay connected and so that the products can reach consumers in a timely fashion, especially those products that have a short "sell-by" date. This network must connect suppliers and manufacturers to warehouses and retailers and ultimately to the consumer. At times, foods take a small detour so companies can add vitamins to the food to compensate for the items lost during transport. Much of the fresh produce sold in the United States is imported, so it is necessary to get the products to the distribution centers quickly and efficiently. This steady and uninterrupted movement of goods from the distribution centers to the end consumer is a very important link in the food industry chain. Through efficient distribution of the food products productivity is increased and that keeps costs down.
During the past 50 years the face of food buying has undergone a dramatic change. With the advent of urbanization, people no longer get their foods directly from the source. Instead, supermarkets have become the dominant medium for shopping for food where consumers have thousands of items available to them all under one roof, all with constant year-round availability. This has also led to an increased need for marketing and advertising. Since processed food has become the predominant category in the food industry, manufacturers have unlimited possibilities in the creation of new products.
Research and Development
A great portion of the research into food processing takes place in centers and laboratories at universities where research projects are funded by food manufacturers. There has suddenly developed a close connection between the food industry and the field of academia.