On trend: gourmet processed food
A current trend in the food industry involves creating gourmet versions of mass-produced products, reflecting the consumer desire for familiar products with new and improved flavour profiles. Darcy Simonis, industry network leader for ABB’s food and beverage segment, explains how manufacturers can get on board with this new trend.
The development has stemmed from the increased access that consumers have to specialty food items. In fact, in 2018, 65% of consumers in the US bought specialty food items, an increase of over 11% since 2015. These figures show that consumers are looking for food products that are special and a level above store cupboard staples.
At first glance, this may seem to be a rebellion against the overt standardisation of flavours and products that we have become used to. However, this is not the case. Gourmet processed foods are instead a step forward using a postmodern approach to the structure of food itself. A postmodernist approach deconstructs what food can and cannot be gourmet, levelling any perceived hierarchical structure around the value of food types. In a postmodern framework, any food can be gourmet from a plate of French fries to a Wagyu steak.
From a producer’s point of view, however, this can cause issues. Consumers are now looking for products that are not homogenous, are still high quality at mass-produced prices and provide a unique experience every single time. The question, therefore, becomes whether it is possible to mass-produce products with near bespoke levels of quality and innovation.
While this growing trend is not actually a rebellion to food culture, the solution to this problem is not a rebellion away from current methods either. It could be perceived that reducing the amount of control in a production line will increase the randomisation of the manufacturing process, making each product unique. This sort of method would, however, be disastrous for the quality of the product. Therefore, it shows that the best method is to increase the levels of control to incorporate manufactured uniqueness to the products in question.
ABB’s manufacturing operations management (MOM) software can provide in-depth oversite to operations managers, such as tracing products throughout the plant or giving each batch a digital passport. Control over products at this level of detail means that the exact tracking where each ingredient has been can be stored. With this level of control, production can become much more customisable, as detailed instruction can be fed into the system.
For example, a production line of chocolate biscuits with patterned melted chocolate on top could have the patterns randomised via the MOM software. The system could be given instructions to make different melted chocolate patterns on the chocolate biscuits, while also tracking the different patterned biscuits to prevent duplicates being inserted in the same packet.
Simonis encourages food producers and manufacturers to embrace mass-produced gourmet foods, as consumers are developing a taste for high-end products. By installing gourmet levels of control across production lines, producers can satisfy consumer demand for unique products.
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