Food Processing: Digital Transformation Is On The Menu

Food manufacturers are picking up the pace in adapting to the emerging industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), with nearly a third of facilities in the sector now utilizing wireless networks.

By the BF Staff
From the January/February 2019 Issue

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) was something everyone assumed just a few years ago was looming on the horizon as a technology breakthrough. IIot has now arrived and is being implemented in more than a third all food and beverage processing plants.

According to, a growing percentage of food processing facilities now are utilizing wireless networks. In a 2017 Food Processing-ABB joint survey entitled What’s Driving Automation Investments in the Food and Beverage Industry?, about 43 percent of food professionals who responded indicated their plants weren’t engaged in any IIoT-related activities. However, the survey found that three in 10 food processing facilities were using wireless connection of field devices to a database for real-time reporting of what was actually happening on the production line.

Interest in further development of the IIoT infrastructure is growing, according to a study commissioned by MESA International. In 2016, one-third of manufacturing professionals said their companies were investigating how the connected plant would benefit their organizations, with a fifth of the respondents identifying enhanced customer service as a key benefit of going wireless.

Another major trend in the food industry involves the expansion of non-thermal processed food product lines. The move towards non-thermal processing is being driven by the demand for increased shelf life of food products. Food processing companies also are using PEF technology that “deactivates” microorganisms that cause spoilage. In the U.S., other processing technologies under development include high-pressure processing (HPP), Pulsed Electric Field Processing (PEF) and Oscillating Magnetic Fields.


With millions of acres of fertile land, abundant raw materials and agriculture at the heart of its DNA, it’s no surprise that Iowa has made significant strides as a major player in the food processing industry. Consider this:

  • Iowa is first in corn, pork and egg production, second in soybean production and is responsible for one-eleventh“ of the nation’s food supply.
  • Iowa also is home to the largest cereal mill, caramel color plant and spice plant in North America.
  • Global food giants such as Barilla, Kraft Heinz, Quaker Oats, Tyson and Hormel all call Iowa home, while Target and Wal-Mart have selected the state as hubs for finished-food warehousing and distribution.
  • Iowa-based food and ingredient companies produce nearly $36 billion dollars annually in food products.

The state of Iowa values the food ingredient manufacturing industry and its mission of creating healthy and enjoyable products for consumers. The success of this growing segment of Iowa’s economy is no accident—several important and intentional factors serve as driving forces behind the state’s position as a leader in the food processing industry.

food processing industry
Dozens of luscious Blue Bunny ice cream sandwiches roll off the production line at Blue Bunny’s South Ice Cream Plant in Le Mars, IA. (Photo: Iowa Economic Development)

With an eye to sustained growth, state leaders have long valued the importance of a business-friendly regulatory environment. As a result, each of the state’s core strength sectors—wind energy, renewable biofuels, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and food manufacturing—have benefited from a low cost of doing business, tax incentives, advanced and easy-to-access infrastructure and continued support from a pro-business state government. In fact, Forbes magazine named Des Moines as one of the nation’s top ten Best Places for Business (2018), and four of Iowa’s MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) also have been listed among the best places for business by the magazine. Iowa also was ranked No. 2 in lowest cost of doing business according to Business Facilities magazine.

Thanks to strong partnerships between state government, food manufacturing businesses and research provided by the state’s educational institutions, Iowa’s food industry has steadily performed as a significant revenue driver for the state and has attracted more than $850 million in investments from companies such as Seaboard Triumph, Prestage Foods, Hormel and Kraft Heinz.

Across the state, numerous facilities and research projects are committed to developing new varieties, processes and ingredients with the goal of offering healthier solutions and new alternatives for consumers, including the production of starches that are resistant to digestive enzymes—a product that would benefit those battling diabetes and obesity. This and other innovations in the pipeline have the potential to improve consumer health in the United States and around the world.

As Iowa-based food manufacturers continue an aggressive push toward new products and technologies, their efforts are complemented by those of Iowa State University’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department and Nutrition and Wellness Research Center. Programs such as these fuel innovation to create products and processes that address the industry’s manufacturing challenges and satisfy the evolving demands of today’s consumer.

Food and ingredient manufacturers in Iowa have benefitted from more than 53,000 educated and specialized workers who drive the state’s food processing industry. State-backed employee training programs evolved from a business expansion incentive tool into a comprehensive, targeted human resource tool available to all Iowa businesses. Furthermore, the state’s network of universities and community colleges offers a variety of programs that assist businesses in training workers to effectively tackle the ever-changing business challenges presented by the industries that call Iowa home.

Iowa’s appeal to its workforce isn’t all about business. Iowan—both native and new—enjoy a quality of life that offers balance between career goals and an active family life. U.S. News & World Report also ranked Iowa as No. 1 in infrastructure, No. 3 in healthcare and No. 5 in education—all of which contributed to the state being named the magazine’s No. 1 state in the nation in 2018.

With hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Iowa’s food industry, food processing presents an exciting area of growth for the state. But much like any food product, no one ingredient can do it alone—Iowa’s pro-business leadership, abundant natural resources, commitment to the industry and stable workforce each are vital to the industry’s success.

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Gloucester County, VA is strategically located in the southeastern portion of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. The County’s industries have traditionally been associated with the abundant natural resources, primarily seafood, found in the area. With its advantageous location in the geographic center of the Eastern seaboard, the county is experiencing an increased diversification in manufacturing activities.

The state capital is located 59 miles to the west and Washington, DC is 153 miles north. The Port of Hampton Roads is 45-miles south. Gloucester is located within the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News Metropolitan Statistical area (MSA).

food processing industry
Sec. of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring, left, announces that Whitley’s Peanut Factory will be expanding its facility in Gloucester County, VA. Whitley’s has called Gloucester County home for 30 years. (Photo: Gloucester County Economic Development)

Gloucester County offers a low cost of doing business, desirable quality of life, state of the art schools, skilled labor force, and affordable housing. The county provides a small business incentive program that includes rent assistance, property improvements, façade improvement, advertising and website development grants to new and existing businesses. In addition, Gloucester is one of 212 Opportunity Zones designated by Governor Northam. Another incentive, is the new Company Incentive Program that provides the benefits of no Virginia corporate income tax on Virginia sales and access to the Commonwealth’s Development Opportunity Fund that provides up to $2,000 per year per new job for six years. Gloucester is one of 60 Virginia localities that is an eligible locality for this program. The Gloucester County Department of Economic Development is committed to providing these benefits and more to new and expanding businesses.

Food processing is one of the county’s top targeted markets for new business recruitment. There are several seafood manufacturing facilities in the county and a skilled food processing workforce.

Whitley’s Peanut Factory has called Gloucester home for the past 30 years and has enjoyed the low cost of doing business here in the county and attributes their success to the skilled workforce. In April of 2018, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Ms. Bettina Ring announced that the company was expanding, creating more jobs and capital investment for county.

In December 2018, Secretary Ring traveled back to Gloucester to announce Zoll Vineyards, a new farm-to-table winery was coming to the county. The company plans to use Virginia grow-grapes, honey and apples to produce wines, meads and ciders. The owner Frank Zoll plans to offer food parings to winery visitors, featuring meat, fish and produce grown on site.

Over the past year, two new craft breweries have opened. That Damn Mary’s Brewing Company is a restaurant-brewery. The beer is dispensed directly from the brewery’s storage tanks. The Gloucester Brewery, located on Main Street, is a small brewery with a hometown atmosphere. The Gloucester Brewery hosts local food trucks nightly for food that pairs well with the different taps of flavored ale. Both breweries are independently owned and operated.

Gloucester is pleased to be home to Canon Environmental Technologies, Inc. (CETI). Canon is the world’s largest recycling company. In 1990, Canon introduced a cartridge recycling program through its Clean Earth Campaign Program. CETI carries out a zero-landfill waste by reusing parts, recycling materials and employing energy recovery.

In 1996, Canon Environmental Technologies, Inc. built a 280,000-square-foot recycling plant in Gloucester. The company employees 150 people.

The county has one business park, Gloucester Business Park, with two remaining parcels ready for development. There are plans to expand the current park by 100-200 acres by summer. The goal is to have at least two, Tier-3 or Tier-4 sites, prepared for shovel ready tracts over the next 12-months.

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Whether it’s for us, our pets, or livestock the Joplin region continues to be a leading, growing producer of food products in the U.S. With more than 50 companies and nearly 5,000 workers, the Joplin Region continues its strength in food production in the heart of the U.S. In the five years from 2013-2018, employment in food processing grew by nearly 11 percent; compared to U.S growth of just over 8 percent. As a percentage of total employment, food processing in the Joplin region is nearly four times that of the national workforce.

During 2018, three major projects added to the food-production base in the Joplin Region while other firms continued to grow as well. These companies have found the seven-county region of southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma to be an ideal location for proximity to raw materials, easy transportation accessibility to major markets and a workforce skilled in food production.

In early 2018, Ajinomoto opened its new $54-million frozen appetizer facility in Crossroads Park in Joplin, MO. This state-of-the art facility opened its doors with 120 people and more than doubled employment before the end of the year. The facility, which primarily focuses on onion ring and other onion-based appetizers, expanded the firm’s footprint in the Joplin region. Ajinomoto already had a facility in nearby Carthage, MO making other appetizer products Along with the new facility, the Carthage operation had a significant expansion all well, as the firm upgraded production equipment and product lines.

Near Ajinomoto’s new facility, Heartland Pet Products wrapped up a 100,000-square-foot addition to its original 425,000-square-foot facility. Heartland, which produces premier pet food Blue Buffalo, added new dog treat production as well as having space for addition new products in the future. The new $45-million facility added seventy-five (75) new employees. With the new addition and product lines, Heartland is now close to doubling its original employment of 130 people.

Jasper Products, LLC, a leading private-label producer of health drinks and soups, added 140,000 sq. ft. of new warehouse space to its operations during the year. The increased space for holding finished product allowed the firm to increase production, adding nearly 100 people to its employee growth during 2018. The firm now employs more than 800 people in the region.

Along with the three major projects, other firms in the region expanded as well. Premier egg company, Opal Foods, LLC continued to invest in cage-free laying operations in its hometown of Neosho, MO, but the firm expanded dramatically with the acquisition of two Iowa commercial egg operations. The acquisitions help Opal strengthen its retail and food service market base.

Also, in Neosho, Missouri Sugars began a 30,000-square-foot expansion in late 2018. This expansion will be dedicated to the confectioners’ sugar market. The expansion will add up to 10 employees and adds to the firms presence to provide an array of sugar products to other food manufacturers in the Midwest.

Schreiber Foods continued to expand its operations in the region, adding 26 jobs and reaching more than 900 people in the Joplin region.

As the new year begins food manufacturing is poised for continued growth in the Joplin Region.


If you’re health conscious consumer, then you’ve probably seen chia bars made by Richmond, VA-based Health Warrior on the shelves of Whole Foods or your local grocery. The superfood company was recently scooped up by PepsiCo to expand the Fortune 50 firm’s nutritious product offerings for an undisclosed amount. Founded in 2010, Health Warrior sells their bars and muffin cups to more than 12,000 retailers nationwide from their headquarters in Richmond.

Although Health Warrior was a home-grown startup, both domestic and international food manufacturers have flocked to the Richmond Region for production of a wide variety of goods. More than 50 food processing companies currently operate in the region including Mondelez Global, with its second largest bakery in North America, and Sabra Dipping, expanding into the largest hummus facility in the world. Stone Brewing, the 8th largest craft brewer in the U.S., opened an operation larger than its California headquarters to serve its growing fan base on the East Coast. Other Greater Richmond companies you may recognize in your cupboard include ramen noodle maker Maruchan, tamari-sauce maker San-J, and Tyson Foods.

food processing industry
When Niagara Bottling Company’s facility (ribbon-cutting, above) was announced in 2016, it was a 450,000-square-foot plant; as the company saw demand for its spring water increase, another 107,000 square feet was added. (Photo: Greater Richmond Partnership)

With over 5,000 people working in the industry and a skilled labor force that is comfortable with 24/7 operations, the region has a lot to offer.

The latest in this trend is the natural products market. These companies are taking crossing over from the kitchen to the laboratory. We’re seeing exciting food science innovations, including by Nutriati which recently raised nearly $10 million for further development of a chickpea-based protein additive. The mild-tasting powder can be used to add protein to cooking dishes.

With the support of Activation Capital and the Virginia Bio+Tech Park, startup food companies can develop nutritional products side-by-side with researchers and lab technicians. RVA Yeast Labs is working to develop traditional and unique species and strains of brewing microbes. The company also captures and spreads wild yeasts, all of which they supply to brewers in the region. Nutritional drink maker Spira is developing beverages made from spirulina blue-green algae, which is noted by some experts to be the single most nutritious food on the planet.

It is estimated that the worldwide non-GMO foods market may increase 16.2 percent between 2017 and 2021, and several Richmond-based organic food makers are riding the upswing.

San-J International’s Tamari soy sauce and other premium Asian-inspired food products are gluten-free and non-GMO. In addition to its massive factory, Sabra Dipping operates a Center of Excellence research and development facility in Chesterfield County which developed an organic line of their popular hummus dips. Not to leave out any sweet-tooths, Richmond is also home to Tokie’s which produces gluten-free baking mixes.

Greater Richmond has a long history of being a hub for food and beverage manufacturing, especially packing and delivery systems. The region produced and sold the very first beer can in 1935 along with the first recyclable all-aluminum can in 1963. Reynolds Wrap was pioneered in Richmond in 1947 and locally-produced foil is still wrapping Hershey’s Kisses and Rolos. Plastic cellophane was first created by DuPont in 1963 in Richmond as well.

Today, companies such as Proseal USA, a manufacturer of food packaging machinery, are thriving. The UK-based firm recently expanded its operations in Chesterfield County by doubling its space to 50,000 square feet and outfitted a second production building next door to its existing plant. With demand for its equipment growing exponentially, the company is planning a 200,000-square-foot facility.

Market leader in product packaging, WestRock, created a Center for Packaging Innovation pilot plant in Henrico County. The 48,000-square-foot, $13 million facility allows the company to experiment with products in a cheaper and faster way than at its full-fledged manufacturing plants.

Distribution comes easy with the help of over 100 local freight companies and brokers and the region’s access to 45 percent of the U.S. population in a day’s drive. The Richmond Marine Terminal connects to the Port of Virginia, a certified foreign trade zone, via the James River.

Richmond’s natural advantage at the mid-point of the U.S. East Coast has attracted food and beverage companies with easy access to market. With Interstates I-64, I-95 and I-85 converging in the metro area, companies can quickly distribute products to both Northeastern and Southeastern markets. In fact, Greater Richmond is one day’s drive from 45 percent of the U.S. population which makes for efficient supply chain operations.

Whether a food manufacturer is searching for an existing site or looking to build from scratch, the Richmond Region has a myriad of options. Building costs are 11 percent below the national average in the area and ready-to-go sites with zoning, water and sewer, transportation access, and competitive incentives are available throughout the region.

A newly-built 220,000-square-foot Pepsi distribution center was recently completed in Chesterfield County. On the healthier side, Niagara Bottling Company initially announced a 450,000-square-foot facility with 76 new jobs in August 2016. However, the company saw demand for its spring water swell and added additional space during construction, ballooning the square footage to 557,000 and a job total to 104.

Greater Richmond spec building development has surged in recent years, with companies jumping to lease light industrial opportunities—even before construction is completed. And most developments are already being marketed.