The times they are a changing.” Bob Dylan’s signature anthem, which foreshadowed the tumultuous decade of the ‘60s, could well be a description of the food and beverage industries today. The economic and social forces that are buffeting the food and beverage industries are numerous and perilous. Let us cite the major ones: food safety, wellness, sustainability, workforce issues, escalating commodity costs, higher energy costs and an economic crisis whose multiple tentacles are strangling expansion or even maintaining the status quo.
The Food Processing Suppliers Association (FPSA), which represents over 500 companies that provide machinery and services to the world’s food and beverage industries, is responding aggressively to the challenges facing its members and their customers. “Our first priority was to listen to our customers,” said Steve Schlegel, CEO of FPSA. “We needed to better understand the issues that were impacting processors, so we convened customer roundtables, invited key processors to participate in our conferences and seminars, and organized a leadership retreat consisting of leaders of FPSA with leaders from the food and beverage industries.”
While the purpose of these meetings was to gather critical intelligence, there were some unanticipated residual benefits. “These sessions that brought suppliers together with their customers demonstrated that we suppliers are committed to working with our customers to assist them in attacking and solving their most critical manufacturing problems,” said Barry Shoulders of Packaging Technologies and Chairman of FPSA. “Our well-being and growth are interwoven with the health and success of our customers.” The dialogue that took place at these processor/supplier venues is changing the nature of the buyer-seller relationship.
“If you want to be a valued supplier to my company,” said the president of a major meat processor, “you better learn my business inside and out.”
“This is no longer a one-size fits all business,” added another processor. “We are unique and we have unique needs that do not necessarily respond to off the shelf solutions.”
“Come into my plant and see the workforce that will be operating your equipment,” said a vice-president of a large bakery. “When you do you will be aware of the issues we have with your manuals, cleaning and maintenance, and operating efficiency.”
MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS
These changing and challenging times have had a profound effect on the nature and purpose of the industry’s most important tradeshow event, PROCESS EXPO, which is co-located with PACK EXPO. These two shows opened for business Nov. 9-13 in Chicago. Approximately 2,000 companies exhibited their products and services to more than 50,000 visitors.
Traditionally, processors would attend tradeshows to meet with their suppliers, to see “what’s new,” and to network. But even in the tradeshow business “the times they are a changing.”
Processors attending PROCESS EXPO and PACK EXPO came with thousands of questions and problems in search of answers and solutions. How can we increase production and lower costs? How can we reduce the amount of packaging we use with compromising safety? How can we reduce the amount of turnover time? Where can we find new sources of revenue for our company? What is the most effective and efficient way to clean our equipment? How can I be both “green” and profitable?
“In the past”, said one processor, “we would send four or five people to the show. This year we brought more than 20 of our key manufacturing people divided into teams, each to deal with a specific issue.” The shows have become not just an exhibit of the best and the latest, but a marketplace of ideas and solutions to real, everyday problems.
Yes, for suppliers to the food and beverage industries, “the times they are a changing.”
George Melnykovich is president & COO, Food Processing Suppliers Association, a global trade association serving suppliers in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. For information visit: www.fpsa.org.