The beverage industry is bigger, more trend-driven and more diverse than ever. The American Beverage Association says just its slice of the industry (carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, ready-to-drink teas and bottled water) amounts to a $119 billion, annual economy.
It is also growing. A 2011 study by market research firm AlixPartners indicated that 74 percent of consumers surveyed in the spring of that year expected to spend more in that coming year on non-alcoholic beverages than they had in 2010. Several market studies point to impressive growth in sub-segments including energy drinks, ready-to-drink teas and sports drinks, all of which more than eclipse the erosion of carbonated soft drinks sales.
This complex beverage industry means that beverage plant managers and engineers have more variables to work with and a higher level of expectations to meet. While it may be pretty basic on the surface, mixing and blending beverages and then packaging them for sale is not nearly as simple as it once was.
Remember when there was only formula for orange juice? "Now, do you want no-pulp, light pulp or heavy pulp?" asks Wallace Wittkoff, hygienic market director for Pump Solutions Group, which includes pump brands such as Wilden, Mouvex and Almatec (www.psgdover.com).
"Beverage processors need to thermally handle the juice differently than the pulp. If you break the pulp sac, all the pulp falls to the bottom. So they separate the pulp and then add it back in at the end to whatever proportion they desire. A centrifugal pump could pump the beverage just fine, but could break those pulp sacs. But a diaphragm pump gently handles mixing the pulp back in," he says.
Wittkoff also notes that the Wilden Hygienic series is designed with internal geometries that prevent pulp from getting lodged in seal areas or back sides of rotors so pulp is completely removed during clean-in-place. Otherwise, pulp can remain even after cleaning.
Some of the most important changes have taken place in the blending room, where new technologies allow for faster, more accurate and more thorough blending of the ever-increasing ingredients and fortification that goes into today's products.
It doesn't end there, of course, as filling and packaging equipment has also changed dramatically. And throughout a beverage plant, there are ongoing efforts to reduce energy use and push the envelope on the levels of hygiene, functionality and ease of maintenance.
A better mix
Mixing and blending for beverages is typically achieved in a large-format vat blending system. But as beverage formulations have become more varied and complex, and have come to include more high-value fortification and functional ingredients, the approach to blending has changed too, says Rick Earley, beverage and dairy market manager at Admix Inc. (www.admix.com) Manchester, N.H.
"With all the beverage folks, what they want to do is to wet, disperse and blend all of these critical ingredients into a liquid," he says. "We are able to save them energy and reduce batch times through things like in-line and powder induction blending that takes place before the mix reaches the batch tank.
"Most beverage plants have gone to high-shear mixers in their batch tanks, but with in-line and powder induction there is less heating and mixing needed once the product reaches those tanks," he adds.
Additionally, ingredients can be mixed at floor level, eliminating the need to elevate those materials to the top of a tall batch tank, says Daniel Osiedacz, blending/mixing product manager at Fristam Pumps (www.fristam.com) Middleton, Wis.