The journey of food from farm to table is not always a simple and straightforward one. It can be a complex system as it involves many parties getting involved throughout the process. Whether that’s harvesting crops from the fields, transporting them to a food processing plant, or manufacturing them into finished products. The 1st part of this 2-part series on food distribution will highlight the earlier phases of this food journey. These are most notably the functions and processes behind food processing and manufacturing. In the 2nd part of this series, the final part of the food journey that sees manufactured products in the hands of consumers will be shared.
But let’s start at the beginning...
Like most processes, the first step is often the most important as it gets the proverbial ball rolling. In this case, that means getting the food from the farm. Or more accurately, harvesting the crops. Whether it comes out of the ground, hangs from a tree, or walks, most food needs to be harvested and collected for transportation to be further processed. For most farms, they won’t process or manufacture the finished food products themselves. They’ll rely on food processing and manufacturing firms to process their food products. However, some farms will sell unprocessed ingredients to local grocer’s or at farmer’s markets. The primary aims of processing food are to remove potentially harmful micro-organisms, to make consumption safe, as well as extending the shelf-life of the food product.
Although typically only being involved at the beginning of the food supply chain process, the value of each individual farm remains present throughout. Why? Modern consumers want to know where their food comes from. Reasoning can vary, from ensuring products are of the highest quality, to whether it’s been ethically sourced, and whether there’s any potential health risks in consumption. In some cases, food products from specific regions will also be more expensive because of their rarity and/or superior quality, like Japanese Wagyu Beef or New Zealand Manuka Honey. Therefore, knowing where food comes from can help ensure it’s worth the price consumers are paying for it.
Although food processing plants and manufacturing plants play similar roles in the food supply chain cycle, the main difference is the level at which they operate. A food processing plant will convert unprocessed ingredients into shelf-stable and transportable products. This typically involves the ingredients being cooked, dried, smoked or fermented. A manufacturing plant will purchase these products and convert them into more complex products that’ll contain multiple different ingredients. For example, taking vanilla extract (we think Heilala Vanilla make some of the best in the world!) and using it to make delicious baked goods. In both scenarios, value is added to the unprocessed ingredients during the process.
As an industry, food processing and manufacturing is extremely valuable, representing an estimated 100 billion dollar market. And with the constantly evolving needs of consumers, there's a positive outlook for this figure to continue growing. Food traceability trends are increasing the value of knowing where food is coming from. Changing customer preferences are also boosting the healthy and organic food markets as customers are prioritizing their health and well-being in food product consumption. These trends are increasing standards within the market, and developments in digital technology are helping break into the large untapped potential available. Particularly in reducing food waste and increasing transparency throughout the supply chain.
Although this is only really the halfway point of the journey of food from farm to table, there is still a lot of effort and work that goes into preparing food for end consumers. And there's value being added every step of the way. Whether that value comes from the farms themselves, or in how the food is processed, there's a unique story and journey behind the whole process. One that will be concluded with the 2nd part of this 2-part series, which will look at how food travels from the processing and manufacturing plants to finally end up on the tables of consumers.