The top three issues affecting the food industry directly mirrored those reported by all small business in the U.S. during the second quarter as taxes, general economic conditions and energy / fuel costs were cited as the most critical areas of concern during the second quarter of 2007 according to the latest Small Business Research Board (SBRB) study released here today.

Latest SBRB report indicates 29% of small food industry businesses plan to expand during next 12 to 24 months including enhancements at current locations and providing more services. SBRB report prepared in conjunction with International Profit Associates also shows businesses intend to invest in staff training and hiring.

Owners of small and medium-sized food industry firms responding to the nationwide poll co-sponsored by International Profit Associates (IPA) said health care costs and government regulation, which were tied as the leading areas of concern during the first quarter, fell to fourth and fifth during the current period.

Taxes, general economic conditions and energy / fuel costs also were the top three most cited in the overall poll of all U.S. small businesses. Health care costs, also the number one issue the previous quarter, dropped to fifth during the second quarter.

IPA, with more than 1,800 professionals, is the largest privately-held provider of management consulting services to small and medium-size businesses in North America. IPA is based in Buffalo Grove, IL.

The quarterly poll of small business owners and managers also measured their interest in expanding their operations over the next 12 to 24 months. Only 29% said they intend to expand during this period. The owners said they first intend to expand at current locations as well as provide more services. Adding new products and enhancing customer service finished third and fourth. Growth via the addition of locations or through acquisition tied for fifth.

These projections were made during the same period in which the SBRB Food Industry Small Business Confidence Index (SBCI) reported an increase of more than 2 points from the first quarter to 40.3. The higher food industry SBCI resulted entirely from plans for increased hiring over the next 12 months.

The study clearly indicates that the food industry owners intend to obtain greater efficiency from their human resources.

Improved staff training ranked first among the options for enhancing business efficiency during the second quarter. These same owners also said they would add staff (second) before improving current automated systems (third), enhancing employee incentive programs (fourth) and adding new automation and technology (fifth).

“Like other businesses, such as those in construction and contracting, the food industry must invest in training, especially in respect to their optimistic hiring plans for the next 12 months,” said Gregg M. Steinberg, President of IPA.