food contract testing lab

Troubling Times for Food Safety Diagnostic Companies

Increased competition, the growing dominance of food contract testing labs, and changes in product mix are turning good times to troubled ones for some food safety diagnostic companies.

For much of the past 20 years, the food safety market has been very, very good to the diagnostic companies, especially those making pathogen testing instruments and consumables. A number of dramatic shifts in the market, however, resulting from increased competition, the growing dominance of food contract testing labs and the subsequent change in product mix, have turned good times to troubled ones for some pathogen test manufacturers.

The story of big changes for pathogen testing and the food safety diagnostics industry begins with the Jack-in-the-Box disaster in 1993. Described by Jeff Benedict, author of the 2011 book, Poisoned, as “far and away the most infamous food poison outbreak in contemporary history,” the E. coli outbreak from tainted ground beef sickened 732 people and killed four children, and set a number of pivotal market drivers in motion.

Most importantly, this incident (and a number of other egregious recalls later the 1990s) raised food safety to a top-of-mind issue and compromised the public’s trust in the safety of their food. This drove major changes in government regulation as well as food industry processing and testing practices, and greatly increased the level of pathogen testing conducted by food processing companies worldwide.

food safety testing, pathogen testingAt the same time, the food supply chain was growing increasingly complex, with imports accounting for 15-20% of U.S. food consumption. The increase in imports led to even more pathogen testing to monitor food safety at every point along the global food chain.

As seen in the chart at right, these factors have driven worldwide pathogen testing volumes up by more than 400% in the past 15 years.

Competition Among Diagnostic Companies Increases

As test volumes increased, food diagnostic companies began to introduce new technologies to help food plant labs (FPLs) handle the growing workload and testing requirements. The higher cost of these new test methods sent the market value for pathogen testing up, faster even than the impressive 9.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for test volume seen over the same period.

The increased sales and success of the food diagnostic companies with their new, “rapid” pathogen systems attracted many other participants to the market. The number of companies providing pathogen-testing products went from a handful in the 1990s to more than 20 a decade later. While each new participant offered advances in testing technology, most were evolutionary and not revolutionary. And every improvement—for example, reduced enrichment time or increased system sensitivity/specificity—would soon be matched by others manufacturers.

With numerous pathogen systems on the market and competitors finding it hard to differentiate themselves, many pathogen diagnostic companies were forced to compete on price. Their customers at food industry plant labs (FPLs) and corporate labs, and particularly at food contract labs (FCLs), soon saw that price per test had become a very big lever they could use with competing pathogen diagnostic companies having somewhat interchangeable systems. Price per test has been under pressure ever since, and the profitability of pathogen test diagnostic companies has suffered as a result.

Fewer—and Bigger Laboratories Drive Test Costs and Requirements

Compounding the increased price competition has been the concentration of pathogen analysis (and other food safety testing) in fewer and larger facilities. As discussed in the three previous blogs in this series, more and more pathogen analysis is now conducted at FCLs or in larger FPLs. Small and mid-sized food plant labs seem to be closing, and looking to third-party contract testing labs for their food safety analytical needs. This concentration puts more buying power in fewer—and bigger—hands, and further exacerbates price competition among test manufacturers.

Customer concentration also is changing the requirements for pathogen testing systems, as automation, throughput and matrix versatility become increasingly important for large volume testing laboratories. Some pathogen diagnostic companies are having difficulty matching the revised product requirements, and as a result are not competing as effectively in the new environment.

Although pathogen diagnostic companies are already challenged, SCI sees another big change in the market with the potential for even greater profit impact. IEH Laboratories, one of the larger FCLs, has been producing their own “home brew” reagents for pathogen test analysis for the past 10 years. By making their own reagents, at a cost of roughly $1-$2 per test, IEH avoids the added costs of purchasing reagents from diagnostic companies, with prices ranging from $4-$8 per test. As a result, IEH has had a lower cost basis—and greater profits—than its competitors. This “home brew” approach is also affecting profits for the pathogen diagnostic companies.

Other FCLs are aware of their competitor’s “home-brew” reagent approach. With the leading FCLs running 100+ labs worldwide, to avoid paying full price to diagnostic companies for reagents is compelling. While a country-by-country approval of this approach would need to be secured (e.g., AOAC approval is required in the U.S.), the leading FCLs have the critical mass/size—and profit incentive—to move forward. IEH has, in fact, received AOAC approval for its methodology/system for pathogen analysis. If and, most likely, when more of the larger FCLs follow the “home-brew” route, the impact on the food diagnostic companies could be significant.

It should be noted that not all pathogen diagnostic companies are being equally impacted by these trends. Anticipating the increasing importance of FCLs, some diagnostic companies already have introduced automated sample prep and analysis systems with higher throughput, targeted to the needs of larger corporate and food contract labs. Others diagnostic companies are using a different strategy, developing and selling pathogen-testing approaches that specifically target small and medium food plant labs. The hope is to get FPLs to keep pathogen analysis at the food plant or, even better, to bring it back from the FCLs because of lower costs, better control and quicker results.

From the good times of the 1990s and early 2000s to the increasing price competition over the past 3-5 years and the possibility of being cut out of the food safety testing market completely—these are troubling times for some diagnostic test companies. Some are positioned with differentiated products, and others have strong market channels and broad product lines. They should be fine. Many diagnostic companies, however, could find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. For them, the recent evolution of the food safety testing market, and the lucrative pathogen testing market in particular, could prove costly.

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The Food Contract Lab Business Approaches 50

The third in our series of blog posts discussing the importance of food contract labs (FCLs) to the food safety testing market, this week we look at the evolution of the FCL market over the last 50 years.

Food contract labs were started by entrepreneurial scientists beginning in the late 1960s. The early FCL entrepreneurs often had areas of specialization, and set up independent laboratories to provide food company clients with services and analyses in those areas (mainly microbiology).

Over time, some of these labs grew into regional, and even national, networks of labs. Deibel and Silliker Labs are prime examples of FCLs that followed this path in the 1970s and ‘80s, and into the early ‘90s.

food contract lab, Silliker, Deibel, SGS, Eurofins

As 2000 approached, the FCL industry was undergoing major changes:

  • With financial support from their new owner, Merieux Alliance, Silliker undertook an aggressive, international growth-by-acquisition initiative.
  • IEH Laboratories began its extensive growth, principally through acquisitions of independent U.S. labs.
  • With its public listing in 1997, Eurofins embarked on an impressive growth spurt, also fueled mainly by acquisitions, that now totals 190 labs.
  • SGS began to expand into the food contract lab space, becoming a major player in the field.

TIC Companies Enter the Food Contract Lab Market

It is also worth mentioning that over the last ten years, more and more TIC (Testing, Inspection, Certification) companies are entering the FCL market. What was originally a business based on food safety expertise is evolving into one more tightly tied to the broader testing, inspection, and certification market.

Testing Inspection Certification Company, SCS, Bureau Veritas, Dekra, TUV, DNV,Germanisher Lloyd

The global TIC industry is huge, with revenues of more than $120 billion in 2010. TIC companies started over 300 years ago to provide common measurements for shipping and other commercial activities. Today the TIC industry is growing worldwide, but particularly in the emerging economies of Asia and South America, spurred by a combination of regulatory and economic factors. One key driver is increased global trade and a resulting consumer demand for improved food quality and safety. As a result, leading food manufacturers are requiring third party inspections and certifications of products and services.

Like the food contract lab market, the TIC market also is consolidating, and over the past five years there have been significant and sizable acquisitions. The ten leading TIC companies represent only 37% of the global market, but all are billion-dollar companies with tens of thousands of employees and more than 1,000 locations globally. In addition, all of these companies occupy market-leading positions in both emerging and developed economies. Most of the top-10 companies provide testing, inspection, verification, audit, accreditation and consulting services, and attempt to manage global supply chains and reduce operational, product and market risks to clients. In other words, these TIC companies have strong existing relationships with all the global food companies.

These strong, multi-faceted relationships are powerful springboards for the TIC companies in the food contract lab market—and NOT something that the traditional FCL companies have to offer. Thus TIC companies have some unique advantages over other FCLs (e.g., bundled pricing and multiple international contact points), even the more global traditional FCLs. As of now, at least four of the top-10 TIC companies are in the FCL business, and two of them (SGS and Eurofins) are among the top-3 global FCL companies based on 2013 revenue estimates.

It is hard to forecast what’s next for the food contract lab market. Given current trends and drivers, the market clearly will continue to grow and take share. Not as clear is which companies will be the dominant FCL companies five years from now.

In our next blog: What does the boom in FCLs mean for food safety diagnostics companies?

 

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Food Contract Labs Are Taking a Big Bite Out of Food Safety Testing

In the past 5 years, food contract labs (FCLs) have shown a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) that exceeds overall growth in the food safety testing market. Clearly, FCLs are taking market share from food plant labs (FPLs).

As covered in last week’s blog, the 40,000 food plants worldwide are finding the running of in-plant food labs to be increasingly complex. Faced with FSMA and the possible requirement of lab accreditation, particularly for analysis of food safety compliance samples, more and more food companies are questioning the role and scope of their food plant labs (FPLs)—and considering alternatives.

One alternative is to utilize a food contract lab (FCL) for all compliance samples while continuing to analyze other food safety samples at the FPL. Another is to shut down the food plant lab entirely and utilize FCLs for all food safety test analysis. Yet a third is to have a food contract lab locate a ‘lab-in-a-box’ just outside the food plant or to have the FCL take over the food plant lab operations.

Salmonella, food safety testing, food contract lab

Strategic Consulting, Inc. (SCI) has been monitoring food safety testing for 15+ years, and has documented this shift in business from FPLs to outside labs. Based on data from SCI’s thousands of interviews with food plant QA/QC managers, there is a clear trend in food plants to send samples outside for analysis. The following chart is based on SCI interviews with U.S. food plants regarding where Salmonella samples are analyzed. In 2013, 61% of U.S. food plants sent Salmonella samples outside for analysis. Just twelve years ago, in 2001, the reverse was true, and 63% of the U.S. food plants did the analysis at food plant labs.

At one point all food plants had laboratories. In the 1970s, a few entrepreneurs began what has now grown into a thriving food contract lab industry. Many of the early entrepreneurs established outside laboratories with their own expertise as the foundation. Acting as subject matter experts and consultants, these scientist-entrepreneurs provided knowledge that helped their food industry clients solve food safety issues. Many of the early food contract labs were microbiology-based, due to industry needs and the lower cost of entry for micro versus other types of testing. These early FCLs grew through personalized service, expert consulting, scientific proficiency and strong client relationships. Over time, FCLs added basic chemistry services as necessary to support the needs of food company clients.

food contract lab, food safety testing

According to Strategic Consulting’s newest market research report, Food Contract Lab Report, there are 2,350 FCLs worldwide and they generated revenues of more than $3.0 billion in 2013. In fact, over the past five years, the food contract lab industry has shown a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) that exceeds overall growth in the food safety testing market. Clearly, FCLs are taking market share from the food plant labs.


Food Contract Lab Market

The FCL growth rate varies slightly by geographic region and business area (microbiology, chemistry, services) but frankly, all areas are growing well.

FCL Geographic Region Analysis

  • Europe is the largest region based on total FCL revenues, but is showing slower growth than other geographic regions. Chemistry revenues remain strong in the EU.
  • North America is second in total revenues, but is catching the EU, driven by large increases in microbiology revenues.
  • Asia and the rest of the world (ROW) have the smallest total revenues but the greatest growth potential of the four geographic regions.

FCL Business Area Analysis

  • The microbiology business area is second in total revenues but growing quickly, with increases in both routine micro and pathogen analysis.
  • Chemistry is the largest business area but slowing in growth compared to the other business areas.
  • Currently the smallest, the Services business area is growing quite quickly due to increasing demand from food companies.

The future for food contract laboratories looks strong, and five years out, SCI expects FCLs to have continued their growth in market share. FSMA will push companies outside the U.S. (OUS) to utilize accredited labs for compliance testing, which will drive rapid growth for FCLs particularly in the markets in Asia and Latin America.

Next: The evolving nature of the food contract lab business.

 

 

 

 

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FSMA & Lab Accreditation: Tipping Point for Food Safety Testing Labs?

Will FSMA and the push for accreditation of food safety testing laboratories be the tipping point in moving analysis of food samples from food plant labs to contract testing labs?

Food safety is constantly in the news, especially in the U.S. Food recalls happen with too much frequency, and when they do, they grab front-page headlines. The underlying concern is that the food we eat each day isn’t as safe as it could be. Given this fear, food production, food service and food retail companies and government regulators have increased efforts to ensure food safety, which translates into increased food safety testing.

In fact, the global market for food safety testing has grown roughly 5-10% annually, with growth in some geographic regions and testing areas (North America and pathogen testing, for example) at even higher rates. Strategic Consulting has documented this growth in food safety testing over the last 15 years in 18 market research reports.

Food Safety Test Analysis in Food Plant Labs

Until about 30 years ago, food safety testing was conducted in laboratories based at the food processing plant. Food samples collected from raw materials, the production environment or final products were taken to the food plant lab (FPL) to be analyzed. SCI research estimates that there are approximately 40,000 food plants worldwide with 25 or greater employees and, at one point, all of them had FPLs.

food safety testing, pathogen analysis, food industry labToday’s food safety tests and analysis are more complex. Test instruments are more expensive, operator training needs have increased, and documentation requirements are more extensive and involved. In addition, some food companies have restricted the types of tests (e.g. pathogen tests) that can be analyzed in the plant, further impacting the value of in-plant labs. All in all, running a FPL and generating quality data has gotten tougher.

 

food industry, food safety testing, micro labAs a result, food plants are debating whether to conduct food safety test analysis themselves, or to send the analysis outside to corporate labs or independent food contract labs (FCLs). As of 2013, SCI research found that just 86% of food plants still run FPLs.

In response to the public’s growing concerns about food safety, there have been a number of regulatory and food industry initiatives in recent years. In the U.S., the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 and implementation is ongoing. Industry alliances like the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and the Food Laboratory Alliance also have emerged. A common goal of many of these initiatives to regain consumer confidence is the accreditation of food safety testing labs, to ensure that accurate and consistent data is being used to assess food plant safety.

Accreditation of Food Safety Testing Laboratories

Currently, most FPLs are not accredited. Recent SCI research found that just 18% of QA/QC managers said their food plant labs were accredited, and other sources have reported this percentage even lower.

food industry, food safety testing lab, accreditation

Lab accreditation is not trivial, and brings added responsibilities and costs. A sizable initial investment is usually required in order to put systems in place and provide proper training for staff. The review fee for accreditation can run $15,000 or more and, once accredited, labs can expect additional ongoing costs for staffing, management and overall compliance.

Merriam-Webster defines the “tipping point” as the critical point in a situation, process or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. Will the drive for lab accreditation be the tipping point for food plant labs, the point at which the bulk of analysis of food samples moves outside the plant to corporate labs or contract testing labs? We think so.

In our conversations with food plant QA/QC managers and executives, we hear more and more questioning whether running a food plant lab is part of the plant’s core competencies. Are they truly adding value by having a FPL or are they just adding costs and complexities?

Food plants can get fast, quality test results from corporate labs or from increasingly sophisticated (and competitive) food contract testing laboratories. Some FCL companies are even willing to locate food safety testing services in a trailer right at the food plant, or to come in and operate the food plant’s lab outright. Additionally, more and more food company customers, including global food retail and food service companies, are requesting analytical results provided by an accredited third-party lab rather than the food plant itself.

Data from our new report, Food Contract Lab Report (FCLR), indicate that things have tipped, and that the food contract lab market is growing faster than the food safety testing market on the whole. Clearly FCLs are taking market share.

In our next post: Growth in the independent food contract laboratory market

 

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Global Food Contract Testing Lab Revenues Exceed $3 Billion in 2013

Strategic Consulting is pleased to announce our first report reviewing the test volumes, revenues and trends for quality and safety testing services conducted by third party laboratories for food producers around the world.

For some time now, Strategic Consulting has been following the increasing trend at food production companies around the world to send food quality and safety testing to third party contract testing laboratories. This year in fact, total revenues for food contract test labs are estimated to reach $3.05 billion, up from $1.95 billion just five years ago, at a healthy compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.4% worldwide.

contract testing lab, food safety testing, Food Contract Lab Report

read more…

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