“We can buy generic empty cans and don’t have to run through an inventory of pre-printed cans,” says Coffey. “If we want to change our marketing (or a recipe), we can do it more quickly. We only have to apply a label.”
A plaque-filled wall in the Hormel R&D center in Austin honors the company’s “hall of fame” patents. On it is a special recognition award for high-pressure pasteurization (HPP). While Hormel can’t take credit for the HPP patent, the company looms large in advancing this breakthrough process in the production of ready-to-eat meats, thanks to an engineering group that added proprietary improvements to the equipment.
HPP is the linchpin of the preservative-free process for Natural Choice, the first nationally distributed meat product line processed with HPP. Hormel also exposes its foodservice sliced meats, including its Bread Ready line, to high pressure after final packaging.
“We employed a cross-functional food safety effort to validate the pressure and time required to eliminate listeria with the process,” explains Kevin Myers, group manager for fresh and processed meats. “To introduce the Natural Choice line without preservatives, we needed the HPP process for our products to remain safe.”
Technology in Action in Austin
High-pressure pasteurization kills microorganisms such as salmonella and listeria by collapsing their cell walls under extremely high pressure.
“It’s an extra food safety hurdle for us,” explains Coffey, noting that meat products are exposed to pathogen risk each time they are exposed to an additional piece of equipment or process step. “We have our GMPs [good manufacturing practices] and SSOPs [sanitary standard operating procedures] in place to see that [pathogens] are not getting into the product. But this is a final step while the product is already in its final package.”
To face what Coffey calls “the economic headwinds” represented by the rising costs of commodities, fuel and even feed grains, Hormel has stepped up its efforts to improve manufacturing efficiencies and asset utilization as well as its sustainability efforts.
Among the company’s most significant and publicized sustainability efforts is the Dubuque plant, destined to produce Compleats and canned products. Hormel is employing the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines for sustainable, environmentally friendly facilities from before the groundbreaking. (See Hormel Cultivates a Green Plant)
“By putting more product through our facilities, we lower fixed costs,” explains Coffey. “As for our sustainability initiatives, going green is good for the environment, but it is also economically cost beneficial. It’s a matter of asset utilization, better control of the things we can control such as yields, efficient utilization of raw materials…efficient utilization of labor. These are all examples of attempts to offset what we know are increasing input costs.”