Harry Norman's predictions for 2019

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Harry Norman, our founder, has his finger on the pulse. Constantly in contact with industry experts and customers, he makes it his job to find out what’s likely to affect our industry, and how we can help food manufacturers stay ahead of the curve. As the end of the year approaches, we spoke to Harry and asked him to share with us his take on the key trends to watch out for in 2019.

Harry, take us through your top trends for food manufacturers in 2019.

I think there are three main areas that will influence the decisions of food manufacturers in 2019. These are labour costs or labour shortages, allergen control and health & safety

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Let’s start with the issue of labour. Is this just something that is affecting the UK?

The number one thing that everyone is going to be talking about in 2019 is the cost of labour and labour shortages. At every show we attended in 2018, it was clear that this is something that is starting to weigh heavily on many manufacturers’ minds. That’s not just the case in the UK, where wages are rising and labour is in short supply due to the upcoming Brexit deal, but also across Europe and the rest of the world. In addition, initiatives like the living wage mean that our operators are getting paid better, but that can then eat into your margins.

Having the option to reduce your workforce, or at least better deploy operators into more value-adding roles, is going to become a priority for many food producers who may struggle to stay in business without the possibility of mitigating wage increases or labour shortages.

And management of allergens, have we not got this under control already?

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Unfortunately, we saw in 2018 what happens when allergen controls go wrong. With the inclusion of sesame flour without clear labelling, a child lost her life. Now, we all know that it was an unintended consequence of the retailer’s operations, but it shouldn’t even be a possibility. As consumers, we all like to think that manufacturers have it taken care of but many existing operations don’t easily lend themselves to full allergen control.

We need to get to a point where there is absolutely zero cross-contamination in our processes so that whatever allergy someone has, there is no risk of coming into contact with that food stuff. Obviously the number one priority is consumer safety, but food manufacturers also have to think of the financial consequences and brand damage that can occur when they get it wrong, and consider their options so that they can achieve full allergen control in their facilities.

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Why do you see health & safety as such a big issue in the food industry?

Health & safety is a concern for any industry, but the food industry is a particular hotspot for these sorts of issues. From musculoskeletal disorders caused by operators carrying sacks of ingredients, to cases of asthma and rhinitis from working with powders, food manufacturing facilities can cause a multitude of health problems for those on the factory floor. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, and similar bodies globally, are aware of this and are looking to crack down to protect workers.

Let’s take the issue of powders. In the UK, the HSE requires bakeries to avoid exposing its employees to flour dust, or where not practical, to adequately control exposure. The Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) of flour dust is 10mg/m3 (averaged over 8 hours) for long-term exposure and 30mg/m3 (averaged over 15 minutes) for short-term exposure. Yet the HSE believes that 2mg/m3 flour dust in the air for staff working in the weighing and handling of powder ingredients is possible to achieve.* Many bakeries, and other food facilities, will wonder how that could be possible with their existing equipment, but it’s something that they’re going to have to solve in the next year or so. As we saw in early December, the HSE has issued a £150,000 fine to a bakery that didn’t do enough to protect its operators - it’s a good idea to review your operations before it happens to your plant.

While seemingly insurmountable challenges, there are technological solutions to help you overcome them. So why don’t you make it your New Year’s resolution to dip your toe in the water and start to apply machine learning or robotics to a simple problem in your business? It’s easy to start your digital transformation journey and unlock the benefits of automation with a partner like OAL.