COVID-19 Pandemic Spurs Competitive Landscape In Food Processing

Consumers have an increased interest in meal kits and prepared meals, according to a 2023 Global Location Strategies report.

By Kari Williams
From the March/April 2024 Issue


Consumer food preferences have become more focused on simpler ingredients, prompting manufacturers to focus on producing items without preservatives, colors, or artificial additives, according to a 2023 report from Global Location Strategies, a firm based on Greenville, SC.

“Environmental awareness has also impacted customers’ interest in plant-based and alternative proteins such as meat substitutes, plant-based burgers, and vegan dairy alternatives,” the report, “2023 Best Places for Food Manufacturing,” stated. “At the same time, customers’ busy lifestyles drive them to look for quick and convenient food options, creating a demand for ready-to-eat meals and snacks that has contributed to an increased demand for frozen and pre-packaged foods.”

“Customers’ busy lifestyles drive them to look for quick and convenient food options, creating a demand for ready-to-eat meals and snacks that has contributed to an increased demand for frozen and pre-packaged foods.”

— 2023 Best Places for Food Manufacturing

Over the past three years, nearly 50 food manufacturing investments have been announced throughout the country.

“Projects vary widely in size and product type, with investment occurring in both traditional industries, such as animal processing and dairy products manufacturing, as well as rapidly expanding fields such as alternative proteins and ready-to-eat products,” the report stated.

Food Processing
(Photo: Adobe stock/ Xiangli)


The food manufacturing industry, along with all industries, has been affected by the following trends, according to the report:

  1. Strained labor pool
  2. Sustainability and environmental impacts of manufacturing
  3. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI)

The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the food industry has also been noticeable, drawing back to increased demand for ready-to-eat products and animal food manufacturing.

“Overall, the increased demand for meal kits and prepared meals during the pandemic has led to a dynamic and competitive landscape, with industry players investing heavily to meet consumer expectations for convenience, safety, and high-quality food experiences at home,” the report from Global Location Strategies stated.

Food manufacturing, according to the report, has been slower to adapt to the use of automation, though it has been “seen as a potential solution to address labor shortages.”

The food processing industry employs 1.7 million people, according to the “US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022 Q3 Average.”

Lubbock, TX: Modernizing The Ag Industry

With a vision to modernize the digital infrastructure required to support fresh produce demand worldwide, PLANT AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS (PLANT-AS) announced its expansion to West Texas in June 2023.

The modernization of the region’s strong agriculture industry with new technology exhibits strong parallels to the ever-evolving and diversifying economy found across the region.

Lubbock Economic Development Alliance
Sara Gaul, Director of Global Brand Representation at PLANT-AS, speaks in June 2023 during the announcement of a public-private partnership alongside the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance. (Photo: Courtesy Lubbock Economic Development Alliance)


“The end-to-end impact PLANT-AS will have on existing food systems begins with the agricultural process and extends all the way through the consumer experience,” said Plant Director of Global Brand Representation, Sara Gaul. “We are thrilled to be a part of the economic growth in West Texas.”

The monumental partnership between Lubbock and Amarillo in bringing groundbreaking technology to the Texas Panhandle has not only bridged two hubs but planted a strong foundation for future industry growth through the region.

The expansion includes the development of 13.3 million square feet of advanced Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) production facilities on 700 acres, where fresh produce will be grown using state-of-the-art hydroponic technology. The company will deploy a projected $670 million in capital expenditure for the project, which, over 10 years, will have more than 900 full-time employees in Lubbock alone.

“As the U.S. population continues to climb, and Texas doubles its population by 2050, the need for more domestic food is vital,” said John Osborne, President and CEO of the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance.

“The expansion of PLANT-AS through this regional partnership not only helps provide food for our growing population, but more importantly provides certainty in our food security with cutting-edge technology that traces where and how food is produced,” Osborne continued. “With a Tier One University known for its food safety research and graduate expertise, this expansion of PLANT-AS solidifies the Panhandle and South Plains as the premier region for safe quality food production.”

PLANT-AS is an infrastructure service provider delivering both the physical and digital infrastructure necessary to support localized, fresh produce demand worldwide. As a community known for its robust agricultural heritage, locating in the Lubbock region further enabled the company to aid in society’s transition to more sustainable methods of food production, distribution, and consumption.

Likewise, as the region’s technology sector continues to develop, the PLANT-AS advanced production facilities serve as modern data centers where production technicians will be supported by artificial intelligence to process crop-cycle data. From water usage to growth conditions, every aspect of food production is traced through the technology platform.

Monitoring food production to this degree allows for more transparent food traceability, leading to a more sustainable food supply chain. The PLANT-AS expansion will provide residents within an eight-hour distribution radius access to real-time tracking of produce, empowering them to make more informed decisions about the food they consume.

From the beginning, people have been the focus of the project. After several conversations and location-specific research, the company found the area’s workforce demographics to be skilled, diverse, and have a strong work ethic.

Coupled with the agricultural and technological advantage because of partners like Texas Tech University and other higher education institutions, the location of PLANT-AS in West Texas made sense. Improving the quality of life for not only their employees but future customers was also a key consideration for the company.

Lubbock applies great emphasis on a work/life balance, as it is a key attractor to the area.

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