Food Production Operations Are Waking Up to Breakfast Trends

Chasing consumer demands means automating with flexibility.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor

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And if more people eating more breakfasts drive sales of more machines, that's great too. But while some new formulations won't require much change to machinery, some can -- such as the trend to cut the fat, which has made it more difficult to portion and form in many situations, says McIsaac.

In response, Reiser has had to develop new pumping and cutting methods because plants "are using substitutes for fat that make their products stiffer and more difficult to portion. They also like to use more inclusions, and they want them to show after portioning."

Keeping an eye on quality
All this breakfast automation does not come without an eye on quality.

"We're seeing increasing demand for sorting equipment to meet rising product quality and food safety standards," says Steve Johnson, director of marketing at Key Technology (, Walla Walla, Wash. He cites nuts, fruits, berries and some grains sold as ingredients for cereals, yogurt and smoothies.

Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Wash., installed a Key Optyx sorter in 2011 to sort dark red cherries and automatically remove foreign materials and defects, including soft fruit. Operating the installation 20 hours a day, seven days a week during the past year's packing season, Jay Fulbright, vice president of operations at Stemilt, said he uses the system to "sort out major grade defects before hand sorting. It's allowed us to increase our throughput without increasing labor."

To deliver the cherries to the sorter, Key designed a special infeed with a water spreader and dewatering belt. Image processing included cameras above the product on the belt as well as below the airborne cherries as they launch off the end of it. Image processing, which was customized for cherries, activates an air-jet ejection system as needed. The system sorts three to four tons of cherries per hour using a 24-in. belt; that can be doubled with a 48-in. system.

"In general, we are seeing cereal manufacturers looking to upgrade equipment on their production lines," says Johnson, suggesting that this may be part of consumers' eat-at-home efforts in a still-tight economy. This, along with the healthy-eating trend, relates to additional interest in grains.

"More whole foods of a specialty nature are being processed today worldwide than, let's say, 10-20 years ago," as healthier eating has trended upward, says Karl Seidel, marketing manager for Cablevey Conveyors (, Oskaloosa, Iowa. Through the recent tough economy, he's seen more of his customers offering more "valuable nutrient-rich whole foods" such as specialty grains.

"We are seeing more alternatives to wheat, such as millet, sesame, quinoa and barley used today," he continues. "Also, health bars that include more healthful ingredients like nuts, dried fruits and alternatives to sugar and HFCS, such as stevia."

Delicate or expensive grain-based cereals and agglomerations such as granola clusters sometimes require the gentle handling of Cablevey's tubular drag conveyors, which use a cable-and-disc assembly to gently convey materials in flights through closed piping.

Future-proof with flexibility
"We see lots of need for versatility in the production of breakfast foods," says Reiser's McIsaac. His example du jour: Reiser's Vemag doublescrew portioning systems for handling a wide variety of items. Those products include "breakfast burritos with multiple flavors and large particulates, IQF eggs that must be portioned and formed while maintaining identity, and breakfast sandwiches that require a Vemag and the addition of a cheese slice depositor to top the sandwich."

Hinds-Bock Depositer
The Hinds-Bock 18P-03 is a heavy duty industrial batter depositing machine useful for large scale production of products such as pancakes, waffles, cupcakes, cake batter, muffins or flowable cookie batters. Learn more in our Products Department.

Also "bite-sized products are very convenient and popular [so] more companies are producing smaller portion products," says Lance Aasness, vice president of sales and marketing with Hinds-Bock (, Bothell, Wash.

The company's high-speed depositors can pump-out batter for as many as 1,000 mini muffins, snack cakes or brownies per minute. The multi-piston depositors, controlled by servos and mated to horizontal vacuum formers, expand application possibilities with the flexibility to handle eggs used for hand-held sandwiches as well as sauces and mashed potatoes.

"The challenges with running mini products are yield and efficiency, when compared to running traditional-sized products," says Aasness. "To achieve similar yield and efficiency, the mini products lines need to run faster and the depositors need to make more deposits with each cycle."

Equipment has to match the depositing of product into pans that can have as many as 24 cavities across. The extra wide footprint and the need for high speed, he says, "mandate that the depositor be robust and have spouts that are designed to cleanly shut off the batter without tailing."

In general, no matter where food trends take a plant, the application versatility of today's machinery is enhanced by easy access to components eases maintenance and sanitizing operations for more rapid changeover and, accordingly, greater productivity and payback.

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