Frozen Foods Gaining Ground in Supply Chain Channels

While manufacturers are trying to refresh the image of frozen foods and revive retail sales, some areas are reaping the benefits of going cold.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Citing forecasts of 6.5 percent annual increases in demand for recycled plastic, Forowycz says Clear Lam has responded by incorporating additives that overcome issues of impact strength and durability in freezer-grade rollstock composed of 50-95 percent recycled polyethylene terephthlate. "The CPGs and retailers in America have moved the supply chain into more sustainable packaging," he adds. "For frozen applications, we have to address the performance issues and make sure we're not adding cost and, preferably, removing cost."

Freshly frozen fish

If you don't live within an easy drive of the ocean or work on a trawler, the seafood you consume most likely was in a frozen or near-frozen state at some point. Even so, processors have to take steps to knock down spoilage organisms and bacteria if fish is to pass as fresh. Ozonated water is an increasingly popular option, though it only recently was approved for direct contact with seafood in Canada.

Albion Fisheries Ltd. used a portable ozone generator to create sanitizing water for cleaning equipment and food-contact surfaces in its old processing plant in British Columbia, and managers wanted to include a centralized system when it built a 70,000-sq.-ft. facility in Richmond, B.C. While FDA approved ozone for direct contact with food in 2001, and U.S. seafood processors began using it even earlier, Health Canada had not considered expanding ozone applications until it received a petition from Ozone International LLC, Albion's Bainbridge Island, Wash., system supplier.

"It took two years and was a long time coming, and it was a bit frustrating for Canadian processors," relates Mark Dennis, the firm's vice president-sales.

Worker safety issues and unreliable controls that produced spotty results plagued ozone applications throughout North America in years past, giving ozone a black eye with many food companies. "All they remember is that ozone didn't work," Dennis sighs.

Health Canada gave its blessings in time for the December opening of Albion's new plant, where ozone-resistant piping delivers treated water to 20 rooms used for processing, receiving, storage and other operations. "High loads of bacteria will destroy the fish before they go to the freezing plant," notes Musleh Uddin, Albion's director of corporate quality assurance. "There were some worker concerns about off gassing, but if you explain ozone is eco-friendly and better than chemicals, you can get past those concerns. After nine months of use, the concern is gone."

albion headquarters

Albion Fisheries Ltd. in Richmond, B.C., is among the fast-growing suppliers of frozen seafood who are adding capacity and leveraging technology to extend shelf life. The company opened a new facility in Richmond, B.C., in December.

A powerful oxidizer, ozone is inherently unstable, with the three oxygen elements seeking stability by attaching to carbon, hydrogen and other atoms. Albion's system generates ozone at a 1.5 ppm ratio; when it reaches the point of use, the concentration is 1.2 ppm, and within 30 seconds, it completely dissipates, according to Uddin. Residual amounts become airborne at less than 0.3 ppm, enough to knock out any yeast and mold but not enough to affect human health. "It's almost like a sterilized plant," he adds. "Health inspectors have commented that there is no fish smell in the building."

Albion's product portfolio includes a line of sushi. "We cannot stop the lipid deterioration with normal freezing, and if fat oxidizes, you get bad odors," comments Uddin. "Any food intended for raw consumption requires -30 degrees Celsius." Choosing to err on the side of caution, the firm holds sushi at -70 degrees Celsius/-94 degrees Fahrenheit.

In fact, many processors of frozen foods are dialing down the thermostat to improve product quality and counter the category's image problem. Sharper pricing and innovation also would help. AMG concluded manufacturers introduced 22 percent fewer new products in 2011 than in 2009. "Finding ways to entice younger shoppers into the department needs to be a priority for manufacturers and retailers," the consultants emphasized.

More R&D, marketing muscle and better packaging surely would help, along with a commitment from manufacturing professionals to control costs, maintain the cold chain and deliver on the promise of nutritious products. Regardless of frozen's future at retail, the technology behind it is here to stay.

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