Northwest Food and Beverage Industry Survey
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Food Processors: State of the industry

Are you a food processor that is struggling to find the right employees to join your company? Has ‘FSMA’ become a 4-letter word in your quality department? If so, you are not alone- particularly if you are doing business in the Northwest.

In December 2015 AKT Advisors (one of our proud sponsors) partnered with the Northwest Food Processors Association (NWFPA) to provide food processors in the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, and Idaho) with an industry-focused regional report highlighting the collective challenges and opportunities they are facing in 2016.

Companies were asked 38 questions on topics ranging from regulations and workforce to technology and sales. The key objective of the survey was to gauge the current state of the food processing industry in the Northwest, and highlights trends impacting local companies, including: regulations, advancements in technology, talent acquisition, sales and marketing strategy, international growth and supply chain integration. You can download the full report here.


The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is a major concern

When asked ‘What keeps you up at night?’ at the end of the survey, 51% of the comments were related to regulations, with 34% specifically mentioning the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

90% of respondents said they know that FSMA is going to have an impact on their business. However, nearly half (44%) stated that they do not understand the new regulations well as they would like to. For those of you who aren’t familiar with FSMA, it is – as stated on the website – “the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years.” 

There are opportunities for food processors to demystify these regulations. Washington State University offers FSMA Qualified Individual Training and Boise State University along with Tech Help (Idaho Manufacturing Extension Partnership) offers an FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food Course.

Food and Beverage Processors Worry about the Aging Workforce

The other issue keeping food and beverage processors from catching their Z’s has to do with our workforce. What’s the problem with our workforce? Aren’t there plenty of smart and talented people looking for jobs these days? Well, yes. But there are some bigger picture trends that are making it hard for processors to attract, engage, and develop talent in the long term.

According to the survey, nearly half of the food processing workforce is age 45 and older. Which means that an increasing percentage of talent will be retiring soon, leading to a loss of significant industry knowledge.

This is often referred to as brain drain. 75% of respondents expressed concern about brain drain and 76% said they are finding it difficult to recruit people with the appropriate skills. This is not surprising, because where can you find a replacement for someone with 20+ years of experience and knowledge?

Effective Training of New Hires is a Challenge

Another challenge is the effective training of new hires. Nearly 75% of respondents claimed that even though they have a training program, there is room for improvement. The survey report states, “employees nearing retirement often have not been trained to instruct others.” Employees nearing retirement may not have experience training others to do what they do, and in many cases find it difficult to train a new generation with different motivations and skills.

In this case, the food and beverage industry is not alone.

Manufacturers from all industries are experiencing similar workforce challenges. Thankfully, it is not too late to act.

The Northwest has a myriad of resources to help food processors recruit, engage and retain talent. Aside from OMEP’s talented network of partner organizations, we’ve also recently launched a blog series by Russ Gaylor on developing employees. Read about building structured workforce training in his latest post.

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