Looking at the market, Michiel sees several trends that will affect the food industry in the near future. “Take inflation and the possibility of a recession, but also staff shortages and the resulting ‘war on talent.’ We see food manufacturing companies struggling to find the right employees. This directly affects maintaining the capacity to keep production going and the quality of products. In addition, sustainability is an important theme and digitalization is also on the list of trends.”
The so-called 3 Cs (Climate, Crisis and Conflict) affect global food production. Scarcity leads to a higher price for raw materials. Consumers notice this in the supermarket, but in less prosperous countries it leads to a full-blown crisis, especially now that climate change is also making itself felt in those very regions. “This higher cost of raw materials makes it harder for producers to maintain the same level of costs,” Michiel explains. “Also, skyrocketing energy costs play a big role in the industry. This can even lead to temporary production stops like at Dutch preserved vegetables producer Hak. We really see big risks there.” KTBA tries to support its clients by actively thinking along with them about the relationship to suppliers or in the search for other raw materials and what such a change might mean in the rest of quality and food safety. Michiel notes, for example, that purchasing departments are often sent into the field with a different brief than quality departments. “Purchasers have to look at where to cut back and what raw material is cheap, but often this makes the work of the quality management department more difficult. The QA managers have to start asking questions again about where a product comes from and the risks involved. Quality assurance thus becomes more labor-intensive. This can be solved by maintaining a good dialogue between departments. But also by making use of knowledge about alternative raw materials and what risks and dangers they may entail.”
The tight labor market is another challenge Michiel identifies. “Many companies are struggling to attract and retain the right quality managers. At the same time, this says something about retaining the desired level of knowledge within the organization. Especially where quality and food safety are concerned, it is important to set up and follow the right processes. Knowledge is essential in this case. If you do not (or no longer) have in-house knowledge, it is possible to bring in external quality managers who provide temporary or structural support to maintain a high production quality.”
“KTBA has a lot of specialized knowledge,” says Jori Jori, Manager Consultancy. “Customers have experienced the added value. We help our customers with specific ensuring them their quality department spend less time losing someone from its department to delve into a subject.” According to Jori, the “war on talent” also ensures that employers need to make sure that the personnel they manage to attract actually stays. “Make sure you are a good, attractive employer and invest in that. Make sure people can develop broadly.” Michiel touches on the special training KTBA offers to train more people to become quality managers. “We recently started offering a training course for lateral entrants, people who want to progress from production work to quality manager. People are very enthusiastic about the training.”
“The footprint of a product is becoming increasingly important,” Michiel notes when discussing the trend of sustainability. “Not only for consumers, but for the entire industry. At KTBA sustainability is high on our agenda as well. The food industry is also aware of this and is looking closely at alternative raw materials, for example. But sustainability is also partly in the packaging material: what material do you use, how much do you use, what can be done better? What distances have to be covered?” And, perhaps less known, sustainability also has to do with cybersecurity and awareness of it. “You obviously don’t want your operations to be compromised because your system has been hacked,” he says.
Jori sees that sustainability is currently in the same situation as HACCP was in 1996. “We expect there to be the same structure regarding sustainability and it’s nice if it can integrate with existing manuals. Not only does the consumer have all kinds of requirements, there will also be new legislation from the national government and European Union that you have to be prepared for as a quality department. In the Riskplaza database, for example, the risks are described for each type of packaging material. In that sense we are already ready for what is to come. We also urge companies to look at the results they can achieve in areas such as sustainability.”
Jori briefly touches on the importance of digitization: “I am mainly referring to linking different systems. There is still a huge step to be taken there. If you provide a platform in which everyone offers their information in the same way, that saves a lot of time and therefore costs. There too we can offer a supporting role.”