Mentions of digitalisation within the public filings of food manufacturers have declined year-on-year, according to an analysis of the latest research from GlobalData.

The number of times the topic was cited fell 51% lower in the fourth quarter of 2021 than in the corresponding period of 2020, GlobalData, Just Food’s parent company, says.

However, in 2021 as a whole, the frequency of sentences related to digitalisation was 210% higher than in 2016, when GlobalData first began to track the key issues referred to in company filings.

When food manufacturers publish annual and quarterly reports, ESG reports and other filings, GlobalData analyses the text and identifies individual sentences that relate to disruptive forces facing companies in the coming years. Digitalisation is one of these topics. Companies that excel and invest in these areas are thought to be better prepared for the future business landscape and better equipped to survive unforeseen challenges.

To assess whether the digitalisation is featuring more in the summaries and strategies of food manufacturers, GlobalData calculates two measures. It looks at the percentage of companies that have mentioned digitalisation at least once in filings during the past twelve months – this was 79% compared to 42% in 2016. The company also calculates the percentage of sentences that refer to digitalisation

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Of the ten biggest employers in the food manufacturing industry, Nestlé was the company that referred to digitalisation the most during 2021. GlobalData identified 151 digitalisation-related sentences in the Switzerland-based company’s filings - 2.4% of all sentences. Unilever mentioned digitalisation the second-most – the issue was referred to in 0.9% of sentences in the FMCG group’s filings. Other top employers with high digitalisation mentions included PepsiCo, Grupo Bimbo and Itochu.

Across all food manufacturing companies, the filing published in the fourth quarter of 2021 that exhibited the greatest focus on digitalization came from US manufacturer Simply Good Foods. Of the document’s 1,488 sentences, 13 (0.9%) referred to digitalisation.

In the last quarter, food manufacturing companies based in western Europe were most likely to mention digitalisation with 0.5% of sentences in company filings referring to the issue. In contrast, companies with their headquarters in the US mentioned digitalisation in just 0.4% of sentences.

This analysis provides an approximate indication of which companies are focusing on digitalisation and how important the issue is considered within the food manufacturing industry, but it also has limitations and should be interpreted carefully. For example, a company mentioning digitalisation more regularly is not necessarily proof that they are utilising new techniques or prioritising the issue, nor does it indicate whether the company's ventures into digitalisation have been successes or failures.