Confectionery manufacturing involves turning a fairly complicated group of ingredients into a somewhat fragile product designed to melt (or sometimes explode) into a mouthful of sweet, delightful flavors.
That sounds simple, right? But just take a look at the candy selection in any kind of retail establishment, whether it's a drug store, a traditional supermarket, or a big box like Walmart or Target, and you will see there is nothing simple about it.
Chocolate bars, gum, mints and other kinds of confections are merchandised in a multitude of locations and an array of packaging configurations ranging from single bites to multi-packs. And perhaps only ice cream is driven by flavor trends to the extent that candy is. While classic iconic brands enjoy loyalty, confectioners are constantly throwing brand extensions, size options, additional flavors and seasonal color into the mix.
Confectionery plant managers had better be prepared for changes and changeovers, while working to keep quality up — all within the demands of the bottom line.
Clean and flexible
Confectionery manufacturing is a sticky business, and the folks who run those operations have been confronted with some of the same challenges for years. Depending on the individual plant, flexibility can be very important. But more than anything, candy makers are striving for a new level of clean, says David Kirk, market manager-hygienic, with PSG Dover, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
"I think the challenges faced by confectioners fit into three categories," Kirk says. "One is being efficient; two is being clean; and three is being able to move from product to product and from flavor to flavor. Following cleanliness, I would say they are looking for more flexibility and to be able to shift gears more quickly."
Dover PSG sells a variety of pumps that are used by candy manufacturers, but primarily they are positive displacement pumps used to move blended slurries from mixing to filling and forming.
Newer pump technologies offer performance improvements that are finding some practical applications in candy plants, and Kirk points to the company's Mouvex C series eccentric disc line as an example. It has no mechanical seals, offers extremely low shear and is clean-in-place (CIP) compatible.
"For chocolate, because of its viscosity, nearly every positive displacement pump in the market is fitted with special self-cleaning chocolate rotors, which makes the pumps less efficient," he says. The Mouvex C Eccentric Disc line, which works without the special rotors, can provide more efficient operation, and do so over longer runs, Kirk says.
Those efficiencies assist a company in meeting those bottom line requirements, which never go away.
"With some of the added flavorings and just the cost of quality ingredients being used in confections, higher efficiencies can lead to a very big savings for companies," says Kirk.
Other equipment manufacturers are responding to industry demands for higher levels of hygienic design and cleanability.
"Probably the biggest driver in confectionery manufacturing over the past 10 years is to go to CIP-able equipment," says Bill Rice, technical product manager at SPX Flow Technology, Charlotte, N.C. "A lot of the confectionery manufacturers have historically used industrial grade rather than sanitary. But in the last 10 years, more and more are coming over to sanitary — the kinds of equipment that meets 3A standards."
Both regulatory and retailer pressure have moved manufactures toward sanitary equipment, which typically features stainless construction, hygienic design and higher documentation of all component materials.
SPX offers a broad variety of pumps (including APV and Waukesha brands) for all kinds of candy operations. Rice says that in his career he has worked in an array of plants, including everything from high-volume plants that produce single SKUs (he points to a Mars Co. Snickers plant in Waco, Texas, that is known as "the mile of chocolate") to small companies that have the flexibility to produce almost anything in the candy aisle.
Small shifts in consumer preferences and product development trends do have some measurable impact on the processing floor, Rice says.
"We have seen some shift from high-fructose corn syrup back to liquid sugar," Rice says. "But I don't think that makes a huge difference. Some have gone to alternate sweeteners, and some of those are thinner, so they might need to make some adjustments to the thickening process, because they certainly do not want it to be runny."
Dover PSG's Kirk notes that pumps use less energy than ever. Even if a company does not have a particular green technology program, they are buying pumps that are already more energy-efficient due to regulatory mandates placed on the equipment manufacturers.