How To Choose an HPP Toller

Aug. 17, 2021
Using a contract or ‘toll’ processor is often the only viable path into high pressure processing.

It’s not easy getting into high-pressure processing. You might even say there’s a lot of...pressure.

As a novel and unique processing method that requires specialized equipment, high pressure processing is daunting for beginners. That includes contract manufacturers as well as end users. A processor who wants to use HPP but doesn’t want to buy an expensive machine (or doesn’t have anywhere to put it) needs to enlist a third party. That will almost certainly be a “toll processor,” as HPP people call them – a contractor who does HPP exclusively.

“The main advantage of using a toller is accessing the technology without worrying if you have enough volume to fill the unit’s capacity,” says Joe Swanson, vice president of operations at West Liberty Foods, a contract manufacturer with HPP tolling capacity.

“Also, using a toller allows customers to introduce new products that may have an uncertain future, avoiding the capital equipment expense," he continues. "Tollers also can provide technical knowledge to customers who are new to the industry.” West Liberty Foods uses HPP equipment from Hiperbaric.

Using a toll processor is still a big commitment, especially for processors who have decided on HPP treatment for most or all of their output. Because of the nature of HPP processing and the kind of food it’s intended for, the toller has to be able to handle all customers according to a strict schedule, with the logistics buttoned down.

HPP is used to extend the shelf life of refrigerated foods and beverages. When dealing with products whose shelf life is measured in days, getting them where they’re going quickly is a top priority. That means proximity will always be one of the biggest factors in choosing a toller.

“There are two things to think about: Where the product is manufactured, and where the product is going to end up,” says Jasmine Sutherland, president of Texas Food Solutions, a toller based in Houston that uses equipment from JBT-Avure. She estimates that 70% of what Texas Food Solutions runs comes from Texas, Louisiana or Oklahoma; if it originates outside that region, it usually is stored in a warehouse or distribution center in Texas before arriving for HPP treatment.

Because high-pressure processing equipment is large and expensive, many end users find it more viable to use a toll processor. Photo: JBT-Avure

Proximity was one of the main factors that attracted Walter Nimicks, CEO of Just Made Juice, to Texas Food Solutions. Launched in late 2017, Just Made Juice markets Ginger Greens, Turmeric Temptation, Mango Morina and other functional beverages with uncommon ingredients. It has spot nationwide distribution, including in H-E-B and Albertsons, and is on track to sell 2 million bottles this year, says CEO Walter Nimocks. HPP treatment gives Just Made Juice’s products, which have no preservatives, a shelf life of 45 days.

He first noticed HPP in the early 2000s, when it was just becoming commercialized, as a way to preserve fresh avocado halves. (Avocados, with their notoriously narrow ripening window, were a common early application for HPP.) “I saw that and I thought it might be a good application for juice,” he says, especially the exotic juices derived from fruits he discovered during his almost 10 years in South America.

He looked around for a toller and discovered Texas Food Solutions, only a 45-minute drive from his house. That was the initial draw, he says, “but after getting to know them and working with them, it became clear that they would be good partners for us.” They had the capacity, they understood quality control and they ran a good operation generally, he says.

Universal concerns

In many respects, customers should look for the same things from a toller that they should from any contract manufacturer. Sofresco USA, another functional juice manufacturer, uses Universal Pure as its toller in the U.S. Doug Gilman, Sofresco’s founder and co-CEO, lists the properties he wants in a toller: “People, machines, service, redundancy, experience, flexibility, process, high safety and quality policies.” Universal Pure features HPP equipment from Hiperbaric.

However, some of the concerns about using an HPP toller are unique, or at least specific to refrigerated products. For processors who are completely new to HPP, it will help to have a toller that’s used to helping customers through the process.

This sometimes has to do with formulation adjustment. Preservatives like salt can be reduced or even eliminated with HPP, which is usually a net positive. In addition, if a product is transitioning from thermal treatment to HPP, the formulation might have to be tweaked to keep it from congealing, because the heat that would have broken down protein and starch bonds would no longer be used.

“The pressures [in HPP] sometimes will add some kind of improvement to the flavor,” Sutherland says. “One of the best things about HPP is you can actually reduce sodium in your formulation.”

Customers more often want help with packaging than with processing, Sutherland says. HPP will only work with packaging that is flexible enough to transmit the water bath’s pressure of 87,000 or more pounds per square inch, while maintaining its integrity. Texas Food Solutions can help customers try out bags, flexible bottles, trays and other packaging formats.

Getting around

Logistics is another important consideration. HPP deals exclusively with refrigerated goods, and as such is subject to the same pressures and demands as any cold-chain operation.

Receiving is the first challenge. Just Made Juice ships bottles of juice to Texas Food Solutions every day, for processing within 24 to 48 hours. That’s a common situation for juices and other products made from fruits and vegetables, Sutherland says; proteins and other products with longer inherent shelf lives can come in once or twice a week.

After processing, the toller needs to get the product to wherever it needs to go, which is usually a warehouse or distribution center. If these belong to the client’s own trade customer, the toller has to work with the customer to make sure that whoever owns the destination is ready to receive shipments.

In addition, the pandemic has sparked growth in direct-to-consumer operation, which is an especially attractive option for startup companies. That means the product has to come back to the customer’s facilities, often under a narrow time window.

“It’s a really interesting challenge, because we have one customer that basically does 12-hour turnaround on delivery orders,” Sutherland says. “So we have to make sure that the product gets run and the inventory that they need to fill everything is in place.”

To fulfill logistical requirements, a toller has to have enough on-premise cold storage. Potential customers, especially those with tight time windows, should make sure that a toller has the requisite storage space to keep to the customer’s schedule.

“Some companies want product returned to them, they’ll ship from there, or some tollers will take that responsibility and ship directly, almost like a distribution center,” says Kevin Kennedy, North American sales manager for JBT-Avure. Many tollers have partnerships with logistics companies; in fact, one toller in Ohio is even owned by a logistics company, Kennedy says.

It all comes back to capacity, for both processing and logistics. A processor who wants to commit to HPP should make sure that a potential toller has enough capacity to handle product regularly and reliably. “Can I call you today and get on your schedule tomorrow? How far out are you, and how far do you have to know before I send you product?” are questions to ask a toller candidate, Kennedy says.

The bottom line is that committing to a toll operation means putting all of one’s product through a potential bottleneck. Avoiding those problems requires a toller who is willing to commit to a high level of cooperation.

“Our core value is transparency,” says Sutherland of Texas Food Solutions. “We’re a partner in processing someone else’s product, so we need to understand that product in and out, and we need to have a very transparent operation that our manufacturers can be involved in.”

Sponsored Recommendations

F&B Manufacturer Implements Powerful Cybersecurity

A leading F&B manufacturer has moved to harness the skills of Rockwell Automation and Claroty to harden their OT and IT defences.

6 Ways to Augment Your Food and Beverage Workforce

Modern digital tools and technologies help attract, retain and empower a modern workforce.

2024 Manufacturing Trends - Unpacking AI, Workforce, and Cybersecurity

The world of manufacturing is changing, and Generative AI is one of the many change agents. The 2024 State of Smart Manufacturing Report takes a deep dive into how Generative ...

Better OT Asset Management Increases Uptime

A food and beverage company streamlines and simplifies its OT cybersecurity to increase system reliability and uptime.