CIRAS Food Industry Survey Shows Diversity, Interest in Improvement

The Iowa companies manufacturing human and animal food are mostly small firms with well-established histories. Despite that history, some appear to be ripe for large-scale change.

Nearly 200 respondents to a recent CIRAS survey of Iowa’s Food & Beverage, Feed & Grain sector painted a diverse picture of this important manufacturing subgroup. Most respondents said they work at companies who have been in business for 25 years or more. Slightly more than half of the companies have fewer than 50 people, although one in six employ 250 people or more.

The survey targeted a broad range of product manufacturers, including bakeries, tortilla makers, and animal food producers, among others. The largest fraction of respondents, nearly 30 percent, fell in the ‘Other Food Manufacturing’ category, which includes items such as snack foods, desserts, and food ingredients.

More than 40 percent of respondents said their facility has some kind of research and development capability. Nearly half stated that 3 percent or more of their employees have a college degree in engineering or food technology. But fewer than 20 percent reported ever taking advantage of an R&D tax credit.

Among other findings:

  • Respondents ranked processing technologies (finding new value from current product/materials), food safety (new shipping processes to increase shelf life, etc.), and niche markets (targeting consumers who desire vegan, gluten-free, etc.) as the technologies most likely to help grow sales.
  • Automation, quality management systems, and improving food safety through sanitary design of equipment and shipping processes were ranked as the technologies most likely to help reduce costs.
  • Nearly half of all companies have used an Iowa State resource to improve some aspect of their business.

With change in mind, Iowa’s Food & Beverage, Feed & Grain manufacturers were invited to attend a CIRAS Innovation Summit in November. Nearly 70 participants heard presentations on automation, ultrasonic technology, internet marketing techniques, and the research resources available at Iowa State University.

CIRAS will spend the next few months helping individual companies embrace technologies that could improve their businesses.

> Find the full survey results here. For more information, contact Ron Cox at or 515-460-1123.


 A version of this article was published in the Winter 2017 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.