The labour shortage has long been considered a challenge the food and beverage (F&B) industry faces. The issue has been exacerbated by the protracted repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. With food manufacturers striving to bridge the gap between labour supply and the demand for producing high-quality food, the adoption of manufacturing automation is fast gaining momentum in the F&B industry.
According to Research and Markets, the food automation market is poised to hit a staggering US$17.46 billion in 2026. That’s growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.63%.
So, how can automation help the F&B industry solve the labour shortage challenge?
Labour Shortage Crisis
The food and beverage sector is a promising industry. Despite showing high potential to grow, the labour shortage has become a frequent problem in the F&B industry. Several factors fueling the shortage include:
The Pandemic and Health Concerns
As we have already mentioned, the pandemic had a prolonged effect on the F&B industry. Several countries imposed health concerns restrictions and lockdowns during the pandemic. Those made many workers reluctant to return to their jobs. It led to a shortage of both front-of-house and back-of-house staffers.
According to the 2020 State of Food Manufacturing Survey Report from Food Engineering, around 25% of F&B processors reported a workforce decrease compared to the previous year. Further, “the pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of an industry historically reliant on manual labour,” according to Resilience 360, a predictive analytics firm, in an October 2020 report.
High turnover rate
The jobs in the F&B industry require workers to work longer. They are often low-paying, and fail to offer broader career opportunities. These factors lead to high turnover rates, making it challenging for companies to recruit and retain workers. According to the ILO, the turnover rate for food industry staffers is about 30% globally. The pandemic only exacerbated these issues, leading to burnout among many workers.
Skilled Labour Deficit
The F&B industry has been plagued by labour challenges for more than a decade. And, the current skilled labour deficit is only worsening the issue. According to a study, one in two of the total evaluated F&B companies has identified sourcing skilled labour as a pressing need while one in four (27%) of them found unskilled labour a big issue. Training staff to adapt to technology and company specifications is a major concern in the ever-changing F&B industry, according to experts.
The Rise of Manufacturing Automation
The rapid push toward digitisation and increasing demand for high-quality products and security have made the F&B industry leverage next-gen technologies such as robotics, data processing, digital twins, the Internet of Things (IoT), automated control systems, etc. While technology is not at all a replacement for human expertise, industrial automation has appeared as the long-term solution to the labour challenges the F&B industry is currently facing.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the global operational stock of industrial robots grew by 8.6% in 2020. That indicates the increasing adoption of automation in F&B manufacturing.
- Automated control systems free employees from doing arduous, repetitive tasks and handle them with high accuracy. Their ability to execute even the most risky tasks along the production lines precisely minimizes the risk of injuries and concurrently, decreases the need for extensive manual labour.
- Collaborative robots (cobots) are helping companies maintain production conditions in the food manufacturing and processing sectors, especially when employment levels fluctuate. Their high-end vision system and the advanced plug-and-play grippers for selecting and sorting irregularly shaped objects drive the demand.
- Human staffers need time and continuous training to adapt to the dynamically changing F&B market. Meanwhile, automated machines can be reconfigured according to company specifications in very little time. Additionally, the operations of the automated systems can be scaled up or down based on the demand. That reduces the need for workers.
- Labour costs have soared in recent years. On the other hand, it has become increasingly challenging for the F&B industry to find top-notch performance. By enabling streamlined and controlled processes, automation minimises the risk of errors, thus ensuring a long-term and measurable ROI keeps rolling in the business. According to a study, automation in the food industry can lead to a labour cost reduction of up to 70%.
The labour shortage challenges that intensified during the pandemic are not abating shortly. So, investing in and implementing automation along the production lines in the food and beverage industry is a way to future-proof the business. Beyond helping with labour shortage challenges, the benefits of industrial automation are far-reaching—fewer chances of contamination, costly recalls, and more.
Food manufacturers striving to capitalise on industrial automation for improved productivity and efficacy are leveraging food and beverage manufacturing automation consulting services such as Process Automation Solutions. These services have teams consisting of skilled automation engineers and project managers. They help businesses achieve operational excellence by deploying advanced automation solutions.
The fast adoption of industrial automation is expected to complement human effort. It will help mitigate some of the effects of worker shortages, thus helping boost production and manufacturing efficiency.
Sohela is an electrical engineer and a self-professed writer with a keen interest in all things tech. When she’s not writing killer content pieces, you’ll find her enjoying tempting foods in her favourite restaurants.