1.1 The importance of food processing
Food has been processed and packaged since the earliest days of man's history on earth. Meat and fish were salted, smoked and dried. Herbs were dried and stored for use as medicines. Alcoholic beverages were made from fruits and cereals. In the early days of traditional food processing the main aim was preservation to maintain a supply of wholesome, nutritious food during the year and in particular to preserve it for hungry periods, for example when hunting was poor. Food was seldom sold but traded and bartered.
While food processing still has the main objective of providing a safe nutritious diet in order to maintain health other aspects, particularly the generation of wealth for the producer and seller, have become increasingly important.
With the change from traditional to industrial food processing there has also been a change in the types of product processed. Traditional processors worked with foods that grew locally and the methods they developed were in harmony with the climate in which they lived. Only simple packaging using leaves, animal skins and pottery was possible and necessary to protect the food for its planned storage life. Nowadays non-traditional crops are grown all over the world. For example, the potato which originated in Peru, rice which came from Asia, and numerous fruits and vegetables are now grown away from their area of origin This together with consumer demand influenced by radio, advertising and television has lead to a demand for non-traditional foods that are not appropriate to the local environment. They need special processing and packaging to protect them for their required storage life.
While most people in the world still rely on traditional foods for their basic diet those in industrialized centres tend more and more to purchase processed and packaged foodstuffs for convenience. The increasing number of women who now work away from home adds additional
To meet these demands the industrial food processing sector has emerged. Food and crop processing is generally considered to be the largest industry in most countries. Studies in several developing countries for example have shown that up to 25% of the urban population can be involved in making or selling ready-to-eat meals. While in developed countries food processing is almost totally carried out in large, automated factories small-scale food processing still remains a vitally important economic activity in the developing world. The small-scale food processing sector:
- is a major source of employment,
The small-scale food processing sector is however under increasing threat and competition from large manufacturers who, through economies of scale and better presentation and marketing, can put them out of business. The powerful large-scale food sector is also often able to influence government and international policies and laws and so prevent the small manufacturer from entering production or selling in a particular market.
Much of the customer appeal of foods produced in large factories in reality lies less with the food itself than with the appearance, presentation and advertising used to sell it. Good packaging lies at the very heart of presentation and thus customer appeal. It is an area of vital importance for small and medium food manufacturers if they are going to continue to compete and expand.
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