Getting a taste for contract manufacturing
Outsourcing processing and packaging provides flexibility for new product launches, promotions and more.
By Kate Bertrand | 11/07/2005
Other food companies need a more comprehensive combination of services to commercialize their new products and line extensions.
“The innovation departments at consumer product goods companies are approaching us with some very good concepts, but the concept developers are not necessarily in tune with the entire supply chain as it relates to their concepts,” says Matt Ingemi, vice president of contract operations with Jel Sert Co. (www.jelsert.com
), West Chicago, Ill. Jel Sert owns brands such as Wyler’s, My*T*Fine and Mondo Fruit Squeezers in addition to providing contract manufacturing services for other processors.
“We pool our resources from formulation to fulfillment to help them create their business plan, formulate the product, spec packaging, trial the item, commercialize the item and set up distribution,” he adds.
Ingemi estimates that only about 20 percent of the food processors that approach his firm come with a complete concept-commercialization business plan. The other 80 percent come bearing only a product concept.Specialized technology
In some cases, the contract manufacturer’s specialized technology is the key attraction for processors. By finding a contractor that has made the investment in equipment and processes for aseptic filling, ultrafiltration, high-speed processing, fruit dehydration, freeze drying, organic processing or whatever the need may be, a food processor can simplify its operations and save on equipment and training costs.
Juice processors, for example, may prefer to contract out aseptic filling of their brands. And some take the arrangement a step further, using a contract provider to package juice ingredients in shelf-stable bulk packs.
American Purpac Technologies LLC (www.purpac.com
), Beloit, Wis., a contract manufacturer with expertise in high-acid aseptic and hot fill processes, works with juice processors on both retail and bulk packaging projects.
For bulk packaging, the juice processors send tanker trucks of apple, orange and other flavors of concentrate to American Purpac’s plant. The contract manufacturer aseptically processes and fills the concentrate into shelf-stable 340-gallon totes. The juice processors then distribute the bulk packs to other plants for conversion into juice.
The benefit to these processors and the many others that outsource manufacturing and packaging is apparent: They gain the freedom to focus on product development and innovation, promotional marketing, dedicated mass-production or whatever else they do best.
NOTE TO R&D
The product you develop in the lab may look, feel, smell and taste terrific. But that doesn’t mean it will run well at production speeds at even your plant, much less at a contract manufacturer’s plant. And it may not be as appetizing when it comes off the production line as it was in the lab.
One solution to the difficulty of scaling up from bench-top samples to full-scale production is pilot plant testing. Pilot plants give processors the chance to identify and address scale-up issues before going to a contract manufacturer.
“If you went to a snack company to run a new product for the first time, it may take a few hundred or even 1,000 pounds of material to get the extruder up to temperature and speed, and be running a consistent product that would meet quality standards to go to the dryer,” says Laurie Keeler, general manager-pilot plants at the Food Processing Center at the University of Nebraska (www.fpc.unl.edu), Lincoln, Neb.
In contrast, pilot plant testing enables processors to set the running conditions on small-scale equipment, using perhaps 100 pounds of material and testing 10 to 15 different formulations in a single day.
Keeler says scale-up problems typically fall in the following categories:
- Human element:
Chemical and physical interactions between complex ingredients and the problem of functionality (such as starch bloom) occurring at the wrong place and time. Issues with ingredient quality also can emerge in the move from lab samples to bulk packages of ingredients.
Trouble with process uniformity, fouling, aeration, evaporation rates and more.
Differences in the lab’s environment versus the production environment, including relative humidity, elevation and climate. Water quality varies widely, as well, with differences occurring in flavor, odor, mineral content, temperature and quality/pH.
Fatigue or lack of focus on Monday and on the Friday before a holiday weekend, for example.