Strengthening overseas sales in the face of potential export hurdles will require F&B brands to become best-in-class by leading with a sustainable edge says Ian Adams

Food and beverage manufacturers could be left struggling to do business internationally depending on the Brexit outcome. A study by supply chain consultancy Scala has revealed that food and drink firms should be prepared for ‘five years of turmoil’ following a no-deal Brexit.

The UK’s separation from the EU – which is the UK’s largest export market – could result in significant administrative hurdles that threaten export sales. While there have been reports of some businesses such as Premier Foods stockpiling ingredients ahead of Brexit, the F&B sector must also consider how it can present UK produce as best-in-class post-Brexit.

By demonstrating best-in-class production processes, the sector could boost its appeal to supply chain partners and consumers inside and outside of the UK’s borders, protecting their bottom lines as best they can.

Globally, there is a growing demand among consumers for food and drink that is produced sustainably. From field to plate, consumers want more transparency over where their food 5comes from and how it has been produced. A 2017 survey by the Hartman Group found nearly 70 per cent of consumers expressing a requirement for transparency about a brand’s sustainability practices when it comes to purchasing a product.

Sustainable growth
As internet giants like Amazon eye-up the development of online grocery shopping, grocery stores and supermarkets could find themselves facing the same struggle that high street stores face in the ongoing power struggle with online retail. If those grocery stores and supermarkets can provide customers with the green credentials of products as they browse, they could find it helps to increase basket value.

For F&B brands, increasing transparency around the sourcing, processing and production of products on the shop floor could potentially increase consumer loyalty in different global regions as the sustainability trend gains momentum among consumers. Colour coded front-of-pack labelling that informs customers of a product’s nutritional information has proven popular here in the UK and a similar method could be employed to promote each product’s sustainability value.

Yet, in order to deliver on the consumer trend for sustainable produce, F&B manufacturers will need to ensure their production processes are in fact sustainable. Beyond the benefits of succumbing to consumer demand, brands can also decrease their carbon footprint. This could soon become more than just a consumer demand as supply chain partners begin to demand alignment with their own sustainability credentials.

As borders become more complicated, supermarket and grocery store chains outside of the UK could begin to revaluate their supply chains to protect themselves from the rising cost and time involved with sourcing produce from the UK. However, it is also in the interests of those businesses to react to the consumer demand for sustainability.

Down to the water
Achieving sustainable results that your marketing team can shout about needn’t require as much time and cost as you might imagine. In fact, investing in the optimisation of water management in F&B production facilities can actually deliver sustainability value while also reducing the cost of operation.

Not only can those decreased costs create a positive impact for profit margins, they can also help safeguard the business against the potential costs of administrative disruption, trade tariffs and supply chain changes post-Brexit.

Optimising vital plant equipment such as steam boilers and cooling towers can result in significant energy savings. This is achieved by treating and recirculating a percentage of water which previously would not have been possible. This drives down the cost of sourcing large quantities of water from the local water authority and results in a more sustainable production output with less energy required.

Utilising alternative water sources also presents an opportunity to save on operational costs. Today’s cost-effective borehole treatment solutions enable facilities to effectively switch off the local authority water supply, delivering return on investment by eliminating the cost of water purchased from the local authority.

Further cost saving can be achieved by recycling water used in production processes. Bleed recovery systems enable the re-use of water that has already passed through cooling towers and would typically be sent to the drain. By treating and re-using recovered water a finite number of times, facilities can reduce the amount of influent water that they typically have to pay for.

Chemical dosing which ensures the resilience of water systems by controlling factors such as scale, corrosion and sludge, has traditionally required large quantities of liquid chemicals to be ordered in 25L plastic drums. Transporting these large, heavy drums to site further drives up the carbon footprint for F&B facilities. Then there’s the challenge of recycling the empty drums. Until recently, China imported a vast quantity of the UK’s plastic waste but since the Chinese government has put a stop to all foreign waste imports, the UK has a growing plastic problem.

Innovations in chemical dosing mean F&B facilities no longer need to rely on this unsustainable process which generates transport emissions and plastic waste. Recently introduced solid chemical dosing systems provide the same level of dosing as one plastic drum in a solid powder disc that resembles a hockey puck. Compact and lightweight, the solid chemical is a more environmentally friendly alternative to liquid chemical dosing, generating far less emissions as well as a significant reduction in plastic waste.

Real time sustainability gains
The phrase digital transformation is being applied across many industries and in F&B manufacturing we’re 6seeing systems and processes becoming digitally connected. Data gathered from machinery and plant equipment is beginning to inform smarter decision making around manufacturing processes through remote monitoring.

With technologies such as Machine Learning and Automation thrown into the mix, there will be greater opportunity for manufacturing processes to adapt and react in real time, meaning entire facilities will consistently operate at optimum efficiency, further reducing factor such as energy expenditure and further driving up the sustainability value.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, manufacturers can strengthen their relationships with retailers and increase brand loyalty with consumers by investing in measures that increase their sustainability value while simultaneously reducing the cost of operation. It might sound like a lot of work to implement these changes to your facility, but a quick chat with your water management provider covering their existing and developing services is all it takes to get the ball rolling.

Ian Adams is Head of Marketing at Clearwater Technology, a leading provider of water treatment and water and air hygiene solutions, servicing major brands across the UK with the widest national coverage of any provider in its industry. It offers a comprehensive range of products and services to clients of all sizes, from single care homes to global brand names with multi-site facilities across the UK and is the largest direct employer in its industry. Clearwater works with its clients to improve their businesses operating and production efficiencies, helping to reduce their total cost of operation and delivering an enhanced competitive advantage.