CN: What trends are you seeing in terms of bar production?
PD: I believe three factors have an impact on bar production. First, there is the trend for eating "on the go." Pace of life is becoming ever faster, and people are trying to juggle an increasing number of things such as their job, family and leisure time. Snacks – including bars – are playing an increasing role in this kind of lifestyle. Consumers keep them to hand throughout the day and they sometimes replace actual meals. As such, consumers no longer want traditional chocolate bars, but are looking for healthy alternatives such as grain-based or sugar-free bars. This is the second trend, whereby people are asking for healthy bars and/or bars that do not contain a given ingredient. It is particularly important for those with allergies that bars do not contain nuts or gluten. Bars with "healthy grains" like chia seeds are in keeping with this health-conscious trend, as are gluten-free products, which promise improved digestion and weight-balancing effects and are seen as a healthy alternative to wheat and rye. All this is obviously influencing the range of snacks retailers are offering now and what they will offer in future. But the demand for variety is not just limited to taste, as bars are being produced in a wider range of sizes, too. All these developments are creating new challenges for bar manufacturers in terms of bar production. (Mellentin, J. (2014). Key Trends in Functional Foods & Beverages for 2015. New Nutrition Business, November 3, 2014).
CN: How can manufacturers plan their bar production to cope with these challenges?
PD: Firstly, it can prove advantageous to aim for a complete bar production solution, whereby all the production processes are tailored to each other. In any event, bar production must be organized in a way that prevents cross-contamination when products are switched. This can be achieved by ensuring bar production lines are designed with hygiene in mind. Integrated quick-release systems ensure quick and easy access for the operator, without tools required for maintenance and cleaning work. It should be possible to clean any dirty machine parts during production. Special surface coatings or easy-to-manipulate scrapers can also stop material building up on machine surfaces. So, a well thought out design can play a major part in ensuring compliance with the food industry’s strict hygiene regulations.
To ensure production processes are efficient, every component used in bar production, from dosage through to cooling, should be highly flexible and enable fast product changeovers. This can be achieved by ensuring machine parts can be adjusted or removed without the need for tools. A good example is the way bars are fanned out, whereby a movable fanning system makes format switches really quick and easy. If this is coupled with an intuitive user interface, the machine will improve both productivity and product quality.
CN: Why is hygienic design so important?
PD: The number of food-related recalls in 2015 was 78%, up on 2014 according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Britain. The main reasons for the 159 recalls during 2015 related to failures to list ingredients, with 63 cases involving nutritional issues and 96 involving allergies. Manufacturers found themselves obliged to recall products containing allergenic ingredients such as nuts, milk and gluten, while bacteria such as salmonella, and even metal, were found in some products. Given the significant increases in these figures, the FSA believes immediate action is required by both manufacturers and suppliers. This is why hygienic design - from a manufacturing perspective – is so fundamentally important in terms of ensuring product safety for consumers and avoiding costly recalls that can be so damaging to a company’s reputation. (Gobbons, L. (2016). Food recalls rose by 78% last year. FoodManufacture.co.uk).
CN: What do bar manufacturers need to consider when purchasing a bar system?
PD: The line must definitely be designed with long production cycles and uniform quality in mind. This is particularly important given manufacturers are no longer just producing traditional chocolate bars, but are also making muesli, granola and cereal bars, bars containing fruit, coconut or a combination of nougat and caramel, and even brittle bars and bars with multiple layers. Consistent quality is a must, given the wide choice of products available. Unsurprisingly, the first things to get correct to ensure consistent quality are the mixing ratios. Gentle handling is also important, particularly when working with flaky ingredients, to avoid damaging the product. Another essential requirement is technology capable of ensuring consistent mixing quality, even when different volumes are being put through.
Apart from high flexibility and hygienic design, a further important issue for manufacturers is the need to minimize product waste, most of which occurs during the shaping phase. With the help of new technologies, the process of edge cutting, for example – also known as trimming – can even be eliminated completely. This helps improve profitability. Once the material has been shaped and pre-cooled, the next step is to accurately cut the slab down to size. Again with a view to avoid product waste, manufacturers can opt for ultrasonic sealing technology, which exerts very little pressure and tension on the bars and thereby ensures the quality.
CN: How can manufacturers achieve the highest possible productivity?
PD: By sourcing an entire line from a single provider. Using different machines during bar production can lead to problems at interfaces. Complications involving compatibility between individual components not only lead to delays when trying to integrate processes, but have an adverse effect on the productivity of a line. From the mixing, shaping, pre-cooling, crosswise cutting and fanning out stages, right through to lengthwise cutting, covering and final cooling – a system whose elements are tailored to each other saves time and money in the long run. From the manufacturer's perspective, every second counts during production. To keep up with demand and remain competitive, systems must be designed with high output levels in mind. A fully integrated line – even extending beyond actual production to incorporate primary and secondary packaging – can ensure maximum effectiveness for the system as a whole.