This is how SA food manufacturers meet the new consumer challenge

Consumer attitudes and habits are driving considerable innovation in the food processing and packaging industry for the first time in decades.

As a result, HG Molenaar is now making multi-mode retorts, and offering new automation and pasteurization options that help customers be more cost-effective, more flexible, and differentiate better in competitive, and saturated markets.

Our customers have been feeling the pressure from consumers for some time, so we’ve been working with them to create new solutions,” says John Mössner (Pr Eng), Head of Applications Engineering at HG Molenaar. “Consumers want products in packaging that’s convenient and fits in with their lifestyles. Nowadays they also cook less from scratch in favour of assembling meals. Yet there’s stronger desire for healthier, tastier product that delivers other good sensory qualities.

Ensure the fundamentals

He says that offering steam, spray and immersion retorts for cans, glass, PET, HDPE, and pouches, achieving commercial sterility and eliminating cold spots in both retorts and the packages inside, and future-proofing the equipment, as well as better sustainability by conserving water and energy; are essentially basic requirements in this industry. People expect you to be able to do all of that and do it well.

The solutions that differentiate you today as an engineering firm are technologies such as multi-mode retorts. The ability to use the same retort for different processing modes gives customers flexibility to adapt their products to market-driven changes. We are extremely experienced in over-pressure control, which is especially important for sterilising products in plastic tubs and pouches. We have a well-equipped thermal process laboratory where we work with customers on the research and development to achieve the right sterility, he says.

Customer innovation

One HG Molenaar customer pasteurizes fruit cups and bowls in over-pressure retorts. Although the equipment can be more expensive, it helps them competitively produce products with the qualities, such as taste, texture, and nutrition, that consumers want. Providing a fully automated solution from filling through the entire retort process to downstream packaging, has enabled them to reduce their unit cost to be able to compete with counterparts in Asia.

Our customer wanted to achieve the best results,” says Mössner. “We created a cold-fill process for them that keeps the cups and the syrup cold until the moment of pasteurisation. That’s when we heat the product for a very short period of time in an over-pressure retort that ensures we maintain the quality and texture of the product while simultaneously achieving commercial sterility.

Changing the stakes

The three most common retorts are steam, immersion, which usually rotates the product as well for more even heat distribution, and spray.

HG Molenaar is engineering multi-mode retorts that allow its customers to select the mode they need; for example, immersing HDPE bottles then switching to spray mode for pouches, or steam for cans.

Advanced industry needs

Semi- to fully automated retort control is becoming more popular since it offers paths into fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) requirements and opportunities. Flexible recipe structures ensure product quality and efficiency of the process. Retort cycle data is recorded for batch traceability and quality. Baskets can be loaded via robots, semi-automated, or remain manual. And shuttles can enter one side and exit via the far side using double doors for the fastest load and unload for highly efficient processes.