Maximising efficiency and hygiene while minimising labour and downtime remain top priorities for meat and poultry processors investing in new equipment.
Businesses are also looking for kit that goes that little bit further, however, and offers sustainability and innovation as points of difference in a competitive market.
For Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, embracing the latest processing technology is viewed as vital to support the Irish meat industry in growing and developing export markets.
Claimed to be sold in more retailers globally than any other origin beef, Irish beef is exported to more than 84 countries. Its reputation for quality-assured, sustainably produced, grass-fed beef is backed by Bord Bia’s Origin Green project.
Novel as a nationally operated sustainability programme, Origin Green spans the supply chain from farmers to retailers. It helps processors to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets, and invest in new equipment to gain efficiencies and reduce waste and environmental impact.
“The country’s meat and poultry processing sector will continue to invest as it seeks to focus on performance and standards, and deliver on consumer demands for a sustainable food chain,” says Emmet Doyle, trade marketing specialist at Bord Bia.
“This begins at farm level but is mirrored by the continuous investment by Irish suppliers in the latest technology and equipment to deliver innovative and industry-leading processing techniques, satisfying its customers in the global marketplace.
Ireland’s need to invest (back to top)
“Due to Irish meat being exported to so many countries globally, processors need to continue to invest in new technology to adapt and meet the end customers’ specifications, depending on regions, cultures and cuisines.
“Such examples include specific value-added ranges for retailers in the Nordics, tailored vac-pack boxes for customers in south-east Asia and state-of-the-art beef maturation and tenderising machinery.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland headquartered poultry manufacturer Moy Park invested £50M across its UK-wide processing operations last year, with a focus on meeting consumer demand for convenience also aligning with its sustainability credentials.
“Moy Park is committed to developing its business in a sustainable and ethical way and to minimise its impact on the environment,” says Keith Irvine, supply chain director for Europe at Moy Park.
“By driving investment in technology, we have improved our ability to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain. We would anticipate that customer and consumer trends will continue to underpin future investment in this area, notably through packaging that enables resealability and enhanced shelf-life.
“As consumers are increasingly looking for convenient approaches to food, whether that is via meal solutions or ways to make the cooking process easier and simpler, there will continue to be a demand for equipment that facilitates this.”
Moy Park’s investment included new processing and cutting lines, advanced chilling, software and process equipment, and the refurbishment of grading and storage areas at its Ashbourne factory in Derbyshire.
And County Kildare-headquartered Dawn Farms, a supplier of cooked and fermented ready-to-eat meat products for pizzas, sandwiches, ready meals and snacks to customers across Europe, also highlights a push towards eco-friendly manufacture.
“Sustainability is another key consumer driver, which is increasingly important to our blue-chip customers, and the momentum behind that is only likely to increase in the longer term,” says business development director John McGrath.
Dawn Farms has recently invested many millions in new technology aimed at not only increasing the efficiency of its cooked meat production, but also meeting consumer demand for more natural, ‘clean’, rustic or authentic foods with a home-cooked appearance and texture.
The business has invested in, for example, sous-vide technology using gentle cooking to achieve more succulent cooked meats and recently added a new contact cooker to its subsidiary site TMI Foods in Northampton to create a pan-fried visual pattern on bacon.
Heart of collaboration (back to top)
Providing a product tasting like home-cooked chicken and turkey is at the heart of a collaboration between O’Brien Fine Foods, Hogan’s Farm and Manor Farm.
Interfood Technology supplied an integrated system to O’Brien earlier this year, enabling the family-run business to create Homebird, the first Irish cooked sliced meat brand produced from chickens and turkeys raised domestically.
Equipment is regarded as integral to production of the quality, branded product line, with Interfood supplying a Maurer Atmos cooker, Schroeder machine for injecting and lacerating, Poly-clip clipper to form the slicing logs, Weber slicers and a Sparc metal detector in the end-of-line packing of the product.
Beyond sustainability and flexibility to meet evolving product trends, processors investing in new kit are looking for greater efficiency and reliability.
For Phil Crozier, field sales manager at Multivac UK, investment remains strong in both new equipment and the refurbishment of existing kit.
“Spend on equipment service maintenance contracts is now also at an all-time high, with customers looking to ensure their lines are running as efficiently as possible and at the speeds they achieved when first installed,” he says.
“With the significantly increased difficulty in finding and retaining labour, processors are looking to automate wherever possible across their production lines. Investment in a range of solutions, from full-blown robotic handling systems to simple, low-level automation machines, such as pack stackers, has seen considerable growth, especially in the last two years.”
Multivac reports continued growth in demand for its Laska range of bowl choppers and fresh/frozen whole block grinders, due to the range’s reliability, efficiency and compact design. Another popular range it supplies, Risco, has attracted strong interest due to the affordability of its new burger former, the AT 201, and its RS 920 high-speed mince portioner.
Ishida Europe also reports increased interest in labour-saving robotics, in particular its RobotGrader, recently named winner of the Robotics Industrial Vision category at the Gulfood Manufacturing Industry Excellence Awards in Dubai.
Combining weighing and pick-and-place technologies to grade protein products of varying weight and pack them to a fixed weight straight into a tray, the system reduces giveaway to less than 1% per pack while operating at speeds of up to 320 pieces a minute.
Robotic trend (back to top)
“We are seeing a robotic trend more and more, with major producers trying it out with two or three robots before they shift,” says Ulrich Nielsen, director of Business Solutions at Ishida Europe.
Ishida’s Orbicote system, reducing the spillage and waste typically associated with marination, was named Innovative Processing System of the Year at the 2017 Processing & Packaging Machinery Association Awards. And its Sentinel machine performance monitoring tool “is a big trend for us at the moment,” says Nielsen.
“Ishida can monitor lines from a distance, and we can intervene if there are any set-up problems or reasons for stoppage. We have more than 230 lines where we are doing online modifications in order to make the machines perform better.”
According to Nielsen, processors can gain as much as 40% in overall efficiency from installing a complete Ishida line. “Buying stuff from different suppliers and just putting it together is not a production line,” he says. “A line has to think and react in harmony.”
Hygiene (back to top)
Also integral to both kit design and the overall processing line is, of course, hygiene.
For John Holah, technical director of Holchem, which supplies cleaning and disinfection agents to the food industry in the UK and Ireland, speeding up the cleaning process to reduce downtime could in some cases create a food safety issue.
“If cleaning is to remove the debris from the previous run to avoid a transfer of the previous product to the subsequent product for quality reasons, then this cleaning can be optimised for time,” he says.
“If, however, the interim clean is to remove an allergen or to control microorganisms, speeding this up will be counter-productive and may increase food safety risks.”
A further issue identified by Holah is the use of highly accurate testing, post-horsegate, to detect contamination of meat products by other proteins from previous production runs.
While the Food Standards Agency has laid down a guideline permitting trace presence of other proteins up to 1%, Holah says many processors are now using testing capable of detecting several DNA strands, which is creating a ‘speciation’ issue.
“There is a challenge at the moment along the lines of, are our analytical techniques getting so good that we can detect something there’s no way on earth we can actually clean away?” he says.