NCFIL Director’s Perspective: March 2020
March 25, 2020
Welcome to the March NCFIL Director’s Perspective. The global situation of dealing with coronavirus has caused tremendous disruptions in all of our lives, but it will certainly not curtail people’s need to eat. The food industry is responding to the best of its ability despite challenges with our supply chains. Thank goodness chickens continue to lay eggs, and cows are still producing milk.
Pilot Plant Status
The NCFIL Pilot Plant is coming back together on schedule. Contractors removed our exhaust hoods and are in the process of replacing them with a better designed system to remove condensation, making them much easier to clean. We anticipate the work to be completed by April 15. We can then focus on finalizing equipment installation and commissioning.
NCFIL Staff Expansion
We have extended an offer to a candidate for the Pilot Plant Manager position. We cannot yet disclose the individual’s name, yet we feel confident about the individual’s qualifications and fit for our organization. Look for an upcoming announcement soon reporting who will assume this important role.
We are also hiring another Food Scientist for 11 months in a temporary role to help us enter into full operation. Finally, an intern will join our team when we return to work. She has a culinary associate’s degree and is finishing her Applied Food Science degree at Johnson & Wales University. She’ll work closely with Cindy Calhoun in the product development space.
Plant-Based Foods’ Growth
The Plant Based Foods Association recently released numbers stating our sector grew by 11.4% to $5 billion in sales last year. All foods grew at a rate of just 2.2%, which is actually similar to 2018. The trend toward plant-based foods was realized in both the retail and food service sectors. For more information, go to www.plantbasedfoods.org/marketplace/retail-sales-data.
The North Carolina Food Innovation Lab is well positioned to support the growth demonstrated by this data and other leading indicators.
Food Entrepreneurial Status
In 2019, we observed continued growth in farm-to-fork investments of agriculture and food technology. Investors continued to place bets on several different sectors.
So, what was “hot” in 2019? Food Tech continued to expand from food distribution through to end consumption, and companies all along the continuum drew attention. E-commerce has been able to grow as venture capitalists strategically increase their investment levels. Food e-commerce is moving from being a niche sector to an integral part of many brands’ strategy and expansion.
Other areas of interest for investors include consumers’ continued movement from out-of-home to in-home consumption, especially among younger adults (25-40 years old). Enabling technologies, such as meal kits, grocery delivery, e-commerce consumer packaged goods purchase, restaurant delivery, personalized diets, food importation, and even appliances, pace this trend. As a society, we are eating in— but on our own terms and with what we order from the outside. Food processing technologies have been lagging somewhat, but as processors look for technologies to add value to co-products or increase their sustainability objectives, technology will witness growth.
As this mature industry continues to evolve, it will be interesting to observe changes the industry makes to fulfill the needs of consumers. NCFIL is a firm believer in working with clients, using the Jobs to be Done Theory to identify where their existing products may miss the mark with consumers and food processors. From there, we work closely with our clients to design future food ingredients and products.
COVID-19 Industry Impact?
What, if any, impact COVID-19 will have on industry growth cannot be predicted at this time. With the spot shortages we are witnessing in the supply chains, consumers may realize they need to be more self-reliant. One thing is for certain, it will be interesting to see what cravings our consumers come back with after we pass through the stay-in-place and social distancing recommendations all of us are observing.
Thank you for your time and interest in the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL). Our next Director’s Perspective will explore other areas of interest to the food industry, especially those that are plant-based. We welcome your feedback and perspectives. Innovation starts with a conversation. Let’s talk about how NCFIL can help bring your plant-based food project to life.