ARTICLE

Why You Need to Futureproof Your Food Lab

Introduction

The laboratory is at the center of verifying that our food control systems are working. While laboratories are among the most expensive spaces companies own, they also offer the potential to be economic engines and sources of differentiation.

The food sector is generally considered to be a low- to medium-tech industry, with relatively low investment in R&D.

The laboratory is at the center of verifying that our food control systems are working. While laboratories are among the most expensive spaces companies own, they also offer the potential to be economic engines and sources of differentiation.

The food sector is generally considered to be a low- to medium-tech industry, with relatively low investment in R&D. While certain kinds of pharma companies may spend around 20% of sales revenue on R&D, food processing companies generally spend less than 1% of their annual sales on R&D. There are, however, many highly innovative food companies that stand out in regards to their R&D investment and commitment to innovation.

A recent report from the European Commission investigated the impact of corporate R&D on the performance of companies in the food processing sector and found a positive effect. Their data points to the increasing growth potential with higher R&D spend that will be crucial to drive the productivity gains necessary for future food security.

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Other recent research also indicates that food companies themselves are realizing the importance of innovation so as not to be left behind. According to Food Processing’s 48th annual R&D survey, the top priority for food companies is “really new” product development. Small companies with niche products, as well as private label offerings, have increased pressure to differentiate in order to meet consumer preferences.

With ever increasing food testing requirements and the need for increased R&D, laboratories of the future will have an even more important role to play in food quality and safety as well as product differentiation and production efficiency.

To maintain a competitive advantage and meet global demand for new testing, your food testing labs must be built, equipped, staffed and operated as laboratories of the future. Your labs must be agile and adaptable, data-driven, collaborative, and able to unleash both analyst and asset productivity. In short, you must futureproof against current and emerging challenges, ever ready to respond to opportunities.

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Futureproofing is a concept that strives to prevent obsolescence. Rather than an occasional endeavor, it’s an ongoing effort to watch, anticipate, and respond to industry needs and trends and to make sound investments that hedge against an uncertain future.

Addressing Challenges

To build the lab of the future means responding to a host of trends and challenges. Today’s consumers are ever more demanding in regards to their food products. According to the Food Manufacture 2019 R&D Market Report, key consumer demands are:

  • New flavors, tastes and textures
  • Responsibly sourced ingredients
  • Portion control to minimize waste and reduce the incidence of obesity
  • Environmentally responsible packaging

Laboratory testing is critical to deliver the innovation required to address these consumer needs and produce the foods of the future.

These consumer demands of course need to be addressed within the constraints of the business pressures of improved efficiency, cost control measures and a highly competitive market. To deal with the challenges and be innovative requires a mindset that continually seeks to determine whether resources are being managed effectively and, at the same time, striving to encourage an innovative climate.

Staffing and Inefficiency

There’s no doubt that the way labs are staffed today contributes to inefficiency and ineffective use of resources. It’s been reported that as much as 25% of an analyst’s time is spent on activities that don’t add value. When highly paid, experienced scientists are spending time performing noncore activities, such as instrument care and maintenance, it reduces their productivity.

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Consider that the most seasoned expert on a certain instrument is often the first person called when there’s a problem with that instrument, taking them away from experiment design or results analysis. Other scientists — with a passion for IT, for example — can find themselves stuck troubleshooting software instead of focusing on their day-to-day tasks. Lab managers are dealing with everything from equipment maintenance to human resources, detracting from the overall scientific mission of their labs.

Lab staff is also challenged with the time it can take to perform non-automated tasks, particularly if they’re learning complex workflows or software they don’t use daily. The training time and cost to develop certain kinds of expertise may not be worth an analyst’s time away from the bench or the disruption to workflows.

Other staffing challenges include not having enough headcount or the right people for the available roles. Some lab managers, rather than lose headcount, will move a scientist into an instrument-maintenance role. This may preserve an analyst, but it is hardly the best solution to maintain instruments.

Options for Lab Management and Procurement

Lab managers have been living the effects of the industry’s response to the need for greater productivity — consolidation, reduced budgets, lower headcount. They’re being challenged to deliver maximum laboratory throughput, to place a greater focus on core competencies, and to effectively leverage data and the digital transformation. Likewise, procurement is challenged to find solutions that balance business and testing goals, often needing to justify upfront investments that promise to deliver longer-term savings.

In an effort to prepare for the lab of the future, you have many options, ranging from technology-based solutions to alternative staffing models and lab-as-a-service (LaaS) delivery.

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Much of the excitement stems from technological advancement — the transformational digital capabilities from sensors, analytics, software, and asset connectivity that promise to increase workflow efficiency, optimize asset performance, control product quality, drive profitability, and ultimately improve food quality, safety and differentiation.

Collectively, these solutions can eliminate some of the fragmented systems and processes that currently reduce your lab’s efficiency, by replacing them with a centralized, connected, and scalable approach.

Technologies alone, however, will not futureproof your labs. Learning to take advantage of all that the lab of the future promises will require new ways of thinking. Leaders, lab managers and procurement partners must look to better serving key business drivers through continuous improvement of processes rather than technology for technology sake. A trusted advisor will be key to helping analyze and deliver the various options to futureproof your food testing labs.

REFERENCES

World-Class R&D Management in Food and Beverage Companies, R Szakonyi, Retrieved from http://www.ittoday.info/AIMS/Information_Management/61-03-58.pdf

The impact of private R&D on the performance of food processing firms; JRC Technical Reports, 2018. Retrieved from https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC104144/jrc104144_final.pdf

2019 R&D Trends Report, FoodProcessing.com Retrieved from https://www.foodprocessing.com/assets/wp_downloads/pdf/2019/FP1905-RD-Survey-WEB.pdf

Food Manufacture 2019 R&D Market Report. Technical White Paper. William Reed Business Media, Sept 2019. Retrieved from https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Products/Food-Manufacture-R-D-Report-sponsored-by-Markel-Tax?confirm=1

From vision to decision — Pharma 2020, PwC. Retrieved from https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/pharmaceuticals-life-sciences/publications/pharma-2020.html

P. Denny-Gouldson, Shaping your ‘Lab of the Future’ Strategy R&D Magazine, June 15, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.rdworldonline.com/shaping-your-lab-of-the-future-strategy/