As 2021 draws to a close, the EnSight team is taking a look back at the previous year’s challenges and wins, as well as what we expect to see going into 2022.
As most–if not all–food processors (human AND pet) are aware, 2021 was an interesting year for the industry. Processors and OEMs alike encountered rising demand for product, labor shortages, rising machine and materials costs and supply chain disruptions.
Rising demand and labor shortages went hand-in-hand throughout the year. In 2021, demand for products like convenience meals and pet food increased a lot. This put pressure on organizations to produce more of these items. Unfortunately, many organizations wanted to expand productions, but hit roadblocks in the form of labor shortages and supply chain issues, which was a hindrance to revving up production further.
The labor shortage has prompted many processors to consider robotics more than ever. Previously, many processors resisted switching to robotics for various reasons. For one, there was a concern about hygiene, a concern that has since been alleviated by Stäubli building washdown-capable robots for hygienic environments. Maintenance has also been an issue–organizations had maintenance crews who knew how to work on their machines but weren’t training in programming or maintaining advanced robots. But, in 2021, processors looked past those issues in their quest for reliable labor.
Rising costs were another pain point in 2021. As with many other industries, food processing equipment OEMs and food processors themselves had to contend with higher costs for machines and materials due to ongoing shortages and supply chain issues. One huge example is stainless steel, which is pretty much necessary for building hygienic food processing equipment. At the time of writing, stainless steel was $3.46 per pound, a significant increase from $1.28 per pound in Feb. 2020. The EnSight team has also seen price increases for other materials and components.
Much of the higher costs can be attributed to supply chain disruptions and parts/material shortages. The EnSight team has run into extra long lead times for some components, especially electronics that are shipped from overseas. Unfortunately, at times, we’ve had machines built but no controls to install due to delays. To combat these and keep our lead times reasonable, our teams have turned to alternative vendors and suppliers to get the parts and materials we need in a more timely manner.
Due to our wide range of products, EnSight gets the opportunity to work closely with a variety of food processors, providing us insight into all the different types of food processing. In 2021, we and our customers saw increases in demand for various types of food products. For one, pet food demand went up significantly in response to many people bringing home new pets during the pandemic. We also saw an increase in “convenience” foods, such at meal kits and pre-packaged heat-and-serve meals. There was also increased interest in alternative proteins, such as but not limited to plant-based “meat.” And lastly, we saw an increase in energy and protein drink production. The convenience food and drink increases point to changing eating habits across America–many are turning to easy ways to get nutrition instead of having to cook elaborate meals. Basically, people are busier and have less time for cooking and cleaning.
As we head into 2022, EnSight doesn’t see much indication that things are going to be different. We’ve been able to keep our lead times at levels similar to pre-pandemic levels, but we expect to continue seeing labor shortages, supply chain issues and volatile pricing well into the new year.
In response, we would urge all our customers to get their orders in as early as possible. And be patient with your OEM and recognize that they’re likely facing many of the same issues as your organization.
At EnSight, we would welcome the opportunity to help you overcome labor shortages and increased product demand with quality equipment and automation solutions. If you’re interested in learning more, click here to locate and contact your sales specialist.