Mentions of industrial automation within the filings of major food manufacturers jumped by more than a third in the fourth quarter of 2021 compared to a year earlier, newly-released data suggests.

There was a 37% increase in how often food groups cited automation in their public filings in the final three months of the year, versus the corresponding period of 2020, data and analytics group GlobalData says.

In total, the frequency of sentences related to industrial automation during 2021 as a whole was 73% higher than in 2016 when GlobalData first began to track the key issues referred to in company filings.

When food manufacturing companies publish annual and quarterly reports, ESG reports and other filings, GlobalData analyses the text and identifies sentences that relate to disruptive forces facing companies in the coming years. Industrial automation 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 automation is featuring more in the summaries and strategies of food manufacturing companies, two measures were calculated. Firstly, we looked at the percentage of companies that have mentioned automation at least once in filings during 2021 – this was 67% compared to 54% in 2016. Secondly, we calculated the percentage of total analysed sentences that referred to the topic.

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By GlobalData

Of the ten biggest employers in the food manufacturing industry, Tyson Foods was the company that referred to industrial automation the most during 2021. GlobalData identified 15 industrial automation-related sentences in the United States-based company's filings – 0.3% of all sentences. PepsiCo mentioned the topic the second-most often. The issue was referred to in 0.2% of sentences in the company's filings. Other top employers with high industrial automation mentions included Associated British Foods, Unilever and Grupo Bimbo.

In the quarter under review, food manufacturing companies based in western Europe were most likely to mention industrial automation with 0.11% of sentences in company filings referring to the issue. In contrast, companies with their headquarters in Asia mentioned industrial automation in just 0.07% of sentences.

This analysis provides an approximate indication of which companies are focusing on industrial automation 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 industrial automation 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 industrial automation have been successes or failures.