The food and beverage industry energy crisis: why advanced technology is the answer

The energy crisis is an ever-present threat, with industries across the UK and Europe being impacted throughout 2023 and it is predicted to continue into 2024. The food production industry is no exception to this; energy prices reached some of the highest levels in Europe and this is having a lasting effect. As a result, production costs skyrocketed, even leading to the outright closure of some dairies and food processors unable to keep up.

The European Milk Board called on the EU to implement measures for the dairy and food production sectors, including introducing energy price caps for dairy farms, milk processors and other stakeholders in the dairy production chain and the food production sector. Yet, many food and beverage producers still cannot cope with the explosion in energy costs – and this goes beyond dairy. A key yet overlooked reason for this is simply because their production processes are out of date. Institutional changes are needed – and advancements in technology are the answer.

Technology, automation and the food and beverage sector
The world of technology and automation has become increasingly helpful across numerous industries in recent years. When it comes to food and beverage processing, automation has played a massive role in improving sustainability and cutting energy costs. The use of quality automation programs and the implementation of new technology can be highly beneficial among producers when used correctly.

Across industries in general, the rise of automation and technology in production lines has created myriad benefits. Automated processes maintain product quality and consistency, removing the element of human error that can lead to inconsistency in product appearance, taste and other factors. When it comes to the food industry especially, even minor deviations from expected standards in quality can lead to a product being rejected by customers.

Automation plays a key role in the move to sustainability as well. Optimizing processes and reducing waste are key components of the drive for more sustainable production. However, due to the rising energy costs, it’s finally time for producers to address whether their process of operations is really as energy efficient as it could be. When utilized effectively, processors can achieve their sustainability goals, but as it stands financially, companies may not be able to survive the mounting automation costs.

Pasteurization; a technology past its prime?
A tried and tested method to purify liquid products, pasteurization is a critical pillar of the food and beverage production sector. The process has existed for nearly hundreds of years, and over time manufacturers have continued to streamline the process to improve product quality and reduce waste for increased production capacity.

Pasteurization involves killing any harmful bacteria by heating the product to at least 72°C for at least 15 seconds, ensuring that it is safe to consume whilst also prolonging its shelf-life. The process needs to be efficient enough to reliably kill any harmful microbes without affecting the taste or nutritional value of the product.

But like with all technology and processes as time goes on, eventually tried and tested processes become outdated and overtaken by up-and-coming technologies. Pasteurization, especially in the current energy crisis, has become an inefficient production in comparison to the rise of its newer technology counterparts. Beverage processing lines producing dairy, juice and soda cannot afford to maintain the high demands of energy needed to rapidly heat and cool products over and over.

Sustainability in the current energy climate
Whilst it may be easier for companies to stick with the technology and processes that they already know, it is important to explore alternative avenues to bypass the stresses of the energy climate entirely.

Within the food and drink industry, process energy reduction and adopting more optimized processes can be a struggle. Processes such as pasteurization often lack sufficient monitoring to track energy consumption, and so realizing there is a need to cut down drastically on energy use may be a step taken far too late.

Food and beverage producers at every level must take steps toward more sustainable practices and move away from those with high energy demands. Thankfully, well-tested green technologies are available and are ready to take over from legacy equipment and practices that have existed for so long. It’s just a matter of companies choosing to take the first steps towards adopting these exciting innovations to reduce their carbon footprint and advance their energy efficiencies – and it has never been a better time to do so.

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.

Ruben Andreas Riksted is Marketing Manager at Lyras. Lyras is a Danish equipment designer and manufacturer providing a resource-efficient substitute for various existing treatment methods, including pasteurization and microfiltration, called raslysation. Established in 2017, the company was based on the desire to prove that sustainable pasteurization is possible.