Food & Beverage Senior Industry Marketing Manager
Food is a great way to bring people together. And here at Endress+Hauser, we’re proud to say that we play a big role in getting that food to your table. No one knows the ins and outs of the food and beverage industry like Ola Wesstrom, Endress+Hauser’s National Food & Bev Industry Manager. He shared some of his thoughts and predictions in this Q&A.
How did you become interested in the food & beverage industry?
My direct connection with the food and beverage industry goes back to where I grew up. I grew up on a small dairy farm in Sweden where we had about 45 cows and grew everything we needed. So, I’ve been exposed to food and beverage since the day I was born.
I feel privileged that I have the opportunity to do my part in helping food processors produce high-quality food in an efficient way that keeps food affordable for as many people as possible.
What do you find the most fascinating about your industry?
How the industry finds ways to produce safe and nutritious food at very, very low cost. To put into perspective everything that goes into producing the food we eat, you need to consider everything from the fertilizers in the field, the farmer that needs to make money planting and harvesting, the transportation from point A to point B, the processing of the products, the packaging, the end transportation to the supermarkets and finally getting to your table. I think it’s fascinating, how it’s even possible to put a gallon of milk on your table for $3 with all the steps involved.
What are the current trends the food & beverage industry is experiencing?
There are multiple trends ongoing. I think the trend that will have the greatest impact going forward is the transition from traditional animal-based products to plant-based products. We already see a big change, for example in meat alternatives such as Impossible™ meat many of the traditional protein producers are investing and releasing products. We have already seen the change in dairy alternatives with oat, soy and almond as a base for beverages, yogurt, ice cream and so on. I think it’s the largest trend going on which is driven by consumer demands as well as environmental reasons. It’s quite a bit more energy and water efficient to use plant-based products vs animal-based products. We will see a drastic change in the next 20 to 30 years in what we consume.
Another interesting trend is the still small but rapidly developing approach to cell-based products. This involves taking cells from chicken, beef, and so on and growing meat in bioreactors. The technology is rapidly developing, and estimates are that cost will match that of traditional meat by 2030, some research firms forecast that we will consume up to 35% of cell-based proteins by 2040. Considering the automation needed to produce this in volume, we would see many new factories being built.
What issues and challenges is the industry facing?
Like most industry segments, labor is very challenging right now. Finding people that are willing to work in food processing facilities is the largest challenge that the industry sees. The labor shortage is across the board in various roles from operators on the plant floors to maintenance technicians and operations management.
How is the food & beverage finding solutions for these challenges?
We see interest and money being funneled towards automation initiatives to allow production with as few operators as possible, the term “lights out operation” may not be realized yet but many facilities are getting close. Essentially, it means reducing the need for operators on the plant floor and all operations are managed from a control room. This of course requires that everything must work as intended. Advanced diagnostics from instruments, pumps, valves and other control components must work and maintenance must have the skills and tools to keep running.
What do you think the industry will look like over the next 5-10 years?
Plant-based products are going to be the fastest-growing area. Even though dairy products can also be produced as aseptic (not requiring refrigeration) consumers’ mindset is that milk needs to be refrigerated and is therefore hard to market outside of the “cold product section” The same mindset does not exist for plant-based products, few people will think twice buying almond milk that is not refrigerated. This in turn will help drive cost reduction in the supply chain. Also for products that need refrigeration, we will continue to see improvements. Due to improvements in the entire production chain, from farm to table, things that had a shelf life of two weeks 15 years ago easily have a 4-to-6-week shelf life today. The way products are handled, all the way from harvesting to processing and delivery will continue to drive and increase the shelf life. This is a positive for consumers because when you buy things, they aren’t going to spoil on you as quickly as they would in the past, but it’s also very important for the industry because there could be products that they may not need refrigerated trucks or warehouses and can be kept in room temperature spaces. There are energy and cost savings that accompany these changes, too. And with extended shelf life, it means they will last on storage shelves as well, so you will have less waste. The whole food supply chain is improving.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
If you go to the supermarket today and put five packaged foods in your shopping cart, anything in a box, bottle, can or jar, you’re almost guaranteed that two or three of them will have been produced with the help of Endress+Hauser instruments. We help ensure that the recipe is correct, quality is maintained in a manner that meets or exceeds that hygienic safety, in the end help the manufacturing facility operate with efficiency and put food on your table.