Challenges for the Food and Beverage Industry: Can ELNs Help Address Mounting Consumer Concerns?
What is healthy food? Increasingly, consumers are defining it by what it is not: food with unpronounceable ingredients, or as Beth Kowitt demonstrated in a simple test to her readers, foods with “artificial colors and flavors. Pesticides. Preservatives. High-fructose corn syrup. Growth hormones. Antibiotics. Gluten. Genetically modified organisms.” Unfortunately, packaged food and beverage companies have become the face of unhealthy foods, even, at times, in the face of poor science correlating such foods to poor health. Collectively, the top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies have lost approximately $18 million in market share since 2009 (and stocks continue to tumble) in what former ConAgra executive Steve Hughes called, “the most dynamic, disruptive and transformational time that I’ve seen in my career.”
In this environment, many companies in the food and beverage industry are attempting to radically rethink product recipes. For example, Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest poultry producer has promised to stop feeding its chickens antibiotics used in human medicine by September 2017. And despite criticism from scientists, Chipotle recently banned the use of genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) in its foods, bowing to consumer demands. Though Chipotle is not a food and beverage company, its actions reflect a general fear among those in the food and beverage industry of angering consumers, however unscientific their opinions might be. Currently, consumers doubt that leaders in the food and beverage industry can deliver natural, authentic and “healthy” food items, but companies are forging ahead with new ideas on how to do exactly that. This “existential crisis facing the legacy food giants,” however, could be relieved in part through the use of electronic lab notebooks (ELNs).
Electronic lab notebooks to the rescue
To expedite the process from “big (unhealthy) food company” to consumer darling, companies in the food and beverage industry must determine how to change their recipes quickly without compromising taste. As Stonyfield’s CEO Hirshberg told Kowitt, “The smartest thing you can do as a CEO right now is to side with the consumer,” and the next smartest thing might be to implement an ELN to help organize a company’s efforts. There are some ingredients, such as artificial coloring, which might be unnecessary for food items, but determining items for which this holds true requires due diligence and well-documented records for a company’s numerous thousands of items.
In this scenario, an ELN could prove essential toward organizing inventory and determining areas of improvement or change. Here are three specific ways in which an ELN can improve the food and beverage industry:
- Are there fresh or organic alternatives? Organic food sales have increased over 26-fold in recent years and consumers have demonstrated that they will pay more for items they believe are better for them. Food and beverage companies can use ELNs to carefully document their inventories and determine where fresh food items could be replaced for preserved items, especially those that might include “undecipherable” chemicals.
- New recipes. Along the lines of replacing preserved ingredients with fresher alternatives, ELNs can be used by office personnel and chefs to create new recipes. Electronic lab notebooks enable researchers to record observations and findings on experiments and then share the information with designated members. By providing people in disparate locations access to a chef’s notebook, for example, recipes can move more quickly through the product chain, thus benefiting the company and streamlining everyone’s efforts. Additionally, reliable privacy settings ensure that the right people have access to the information without compromising its security.
- Improve the overall “health” of foods and cut doomed products. Certain foods might have unnecessarily high-calorie content or a high amount of sodium. By presenting a company’s supply chain, information about foods such as their sodium and fat content can be easily retrieved from a digital notebook. Also, food and beverage companies might choose to have an internal ranking system to determine a food’s perceived health-rating based on consumer reports. If the cost of producing this food outweighs the benefits of its presence on the market, the item could potentially be discontinued. As the food and beverage industry continues to bleed money, such costs-benefits analysis will become increasingly essential for maintaining profit margins.
Meeting new challenges in the food and beverage industry
Consumer expectations have always been crucial in the food and beverage industry, and it’s likely that this will always be the case. It’s beneficial for companies to look into technology that will help them be proactive in addressing new issues and remain innovative. ELNs have been used in many fields and can encourage companies to produce more innovative or healthy food items, as well as improve the ways in which foods are packaged and produced to decrease losses. Especially now, ELNs can be an important means of maintaining both productivity and high-quality products to benefit consumers increasingly concerned about the contents of their food. To determine how the BIOVIA Notebook can serve your company, please contact us today.