Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Processing Technology Innovation in the Food Industry

Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Processing Technology Innovation in the Food Industry

Article excerpt


The food industry and novel processes

The food industry is as old as civilization; and many of its process operations are thousands of years old, such as brewing (developed in Sumeria and Babylon) and baking (developed in Egypt ca. 8000 BC ). The modern food manufacturing industry evolved during and after the Industrial Revolution; Thorne (1986) attributes the beginnings of the industry to the first heat sterilisation plant developed by Appert in France in the early 1800s. Since then the modern food industry has become highly diverse and very large. For example, food chain industries employ 12.7% of the UK workforce (3.8 million jobs), and economic flows through the food chain account for about 8% of UK GDP. Likewise, in 2004/2005 the Australian processed food industry employed over 180,000 people and was the largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 17% of that sector's employment (Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2006) and about AU$ 70 billion turnover. Although there are a small number of major multinational companies with global brands (such as Nestle, Unilever, Danone, Kraft and Mars), they have only a fraction of the market, with 99% of companies in the EU market being Small or Medium Enterprises (SME's). Of the 50 largest food and beverage processing companies in Australia, Nestle comes 4th, Unilever 18th, Kraft 31st and Effem Foods (which includes Masterfoods and Mars), 13th (Food Magazine 2007). Also the power of the retail sector's own brands is substantial and growing, reducing the influence and profitability of multinational food companies. This makes the food industry structurally different from (for example) the pharmaceutical or personal care industries, in which the large multinationals tend to dominate the whole industry.

Like other fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries, the food industry is driven by and responsive to both customer and consumer trends and needs, such as:

* Safety - clearly all food sold should be safe both in terms of microbiology and toxicology, as well as providing acceptable shelf-life;

* Health and well-being - increasingly consumers are responding to health concerns by seeking food which delivers (or claims to deliver) nutritional and health benefits;

* High quality - the consumer expects food to look and taste good; there is also an increasing impetus towards the removal of additives and clean label/all natural products;

* Convenience - the number of ready meals sold is increasing, as is the percentage of meals eaten outside the home;

* Price - all of the above must be provided at a price the consumer is prepared to pay;

* Environment - this is an increasing concern, reflected in, for example, the move by UK retailers such as Marks and Spencer to minimise their carbon footprint and waste;

* Sustainability - the development of new plant based industries, such as biofuels production, is putting strain on the supply of raw materials, leading to increasing costs.

In a comprehensive foresighting project, 'Cassandra', in 1999, which included contributions from more than 1200 consumers and industry stakeholders, Mercure (1999) identified significant opportunities for the food industry in convenience foods, meals for home consumption, nutritionally functional food, foods for an ageing population, health enhancing products and several others.

Societal trends are very important to the industry; for example the increasing incidence of obesity makes it critical to deliver energy regulated foods with lower salt, sugar and fat levels, which can be done through the redesign of foods and processes (Norton et al 2006). The way in which the industry behaves is changing as a result of environmental, health and obesity drivers, for example the trend to selling small bars of high quality chocolate which are perceived as healthier, and the purchase by major companies of smaller niche 'green' brands (such as Unilever's purchase of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and Cadbury of Green and Black's chocolate). …

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