Food industry: Versatility is key

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Food industry: Versatility is key

Quality, safety, increased uptime and tailored products at affordable prices, that is what characterizes modern-day food production. Increasingly, more specific consumer needs and an awareness of food quality call for production processes that can be quickly adapted to changing requirements.

One in seven German manufacturing companies are involved in food production. The food industry is Germany’s fourth largest industrial sector in terms of revenue. Sustainability and consumer product awareness are playing an increasingly important role in the supply of premium food. During the Covid-19 crisis this appreciation of ethically sourced food has gained popularity.

“The pandemic has greatly changed the entire food world,” says Hanni Rützler, one of Europe’s leading food trend researchers. Every year she publishes the ‘Food Report’ in collaboration with the Zukunftsinstitut. The 2021 report has been heavily influenced by the pandemic. “This crisis has driven innovation and is unleashing new forces to help generate sustainable approaches, which will remain effective once the crisis is over. It is making us reflect on what we want to change in order to make our food system more resilient and our culinary culture more sustainable and enjoyable.” According to Hanni Rützler, some trends have gained considerable speed, while others have slowed down drastically in the last year.

Variety is the future of food

Above all, the wide variety of different foods available means that diversity will have a major role to play in the future of global food supply. Currently only 9 percent of plant species account for 66 percent of global crop yields. “This massive reduction down to just a few productive species comes at a high price. It makes us more vulnerable – for example, in terms of soil quality. This is highlighted whenever there is another dry summer or we have to combat pests using chemical agents,” Rützler warns. “To be able to guarantee the global food supply in future, we must focus on crop and livestock diversity. Biodiversity is clearly the future.” Her recommendation is the food production industry should focus on additional food alternatives. In culinary terms that would make things more exciting anyway.

What are important food trends?

Domestic agriculture and regional supply of food have become more important to consumers in the last few months. A new appreciation of food and those who produce it has emerged. The new desire is for healthy food choices to not only taste good, but also to be produced sustainably and equitably. When it comes to animal products, animal welfare is taking on greater importance in livestock farming. The food report by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMLE) highlights that people are prepared to pay more for equitably farmed animal products.

This consumer trend towards a healthy diet is also having an impact on food retailers. In a survey by Lebensmittelzeitung (LZ) “The most exciting food trends from a retail perspective”, retailers rate regional products, certified organic, and sugar-free foods as being the most important current food trends. Of secondary interest were unusual product groups such as insects and seaweed.

Flexitarians are gaining ground

Another important change in dietary habits is that increasingly, people are consciously giving up meat. According to a survey conducted by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, nearly half of all respondents have purchased vegetarian or vegan alternatives to animal products at least once or occasionally. 55 percent of respondents describe themselves as flexitarians, i.e., meat eaters, who consciously forgo meat periodically. In particular, men are eating less meat. There are many different reasons for this trend. These include climate protection, animal welfare, good taste or simply out of curiosity. In the first quarter of 2020, sales of meat substitute products increased by a remarkable 37 percent compared with the same period in 2019. Relative to meat industry sales, the value of meat substitute product output is still comparatively small. The trend is clear: plant-based burgers and meat substitutes are finding their way into German shopping carts more frequently.

Are insects the future?

The world’s population is set to grow to 9.7 billion people by 2050 according to United Nations estimates. In order to feed them all sustainably, we require an additional 250 million tonnes of protein a year – 50 percent more than is currently produced. Therefore, alternative sources of protein, such as legumes or seaweed, are attracting significant attention. Insects represent a promising opportunity to obtain high-grade protein on a sustainable basis as they are easy to breed and can be fed on organic waste.

Peas instead of Pecorino

Increasingly, there are more cheese alternatives. To date they have been soya-based and contain additives intended to come as close as possible to replicating the flavor and texture of real cheese. In contrast, the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV’s “KERBSE” project is focusing on the native pea and traditional methods of cheesemaking. The protein in this legume is suitable for producing cheese-like structures. It is easily soluble and has emulsifying properties. A pea slurry is fermented and then matured. These processes make additives unnecessary and reduce the beany flavor of the pea. To enable this cheese substitute to reach supermarket shelves quickly, the Institute is partnering with small dairies and makers of vegan products.

Is our food safe?

Ongoing scandals involving meat have demonstrated the importance of food safety. Perhaps that is why consumers are increasingly turning to meat substitute products like vegetarian spreads, soya patties or tofu in their diets. We expect the products offered to be safe and healthy as safety is a fundamental element in food production. Manufacturers and retailers bear responsibility for this issue and are strictly monitored by government food inspectors. In the globalized world the food industry faces pressure to enhance its products and processes, reduce cycle times, and minimize costs to remain competitive. Despite these challenges, food safety can never be compromised.

Production flexibility matters

We take for granted that we always have a wide variety of different food choices. With increasing product diversity, product lifecycles and production quantities are reduced. Modern production lines require quick product changeover to accommodate multiple recipes and smaller lot sizes. Modular and flexible design enables manufacturing lines to be quickly adapted to new product requirements. It is important that food processing equipment is quick and easy to clean as every minute of plant downtime is costly. It is a top priority to minimize plant downtime.

Hygienic Design for easy and quick cleaning

The food industry has strict hygiene and documentation standards that must be reliably complied with. Our customers can always depend on the fact that Brabender Technologie’s feeding technology is manufactured to comply with food safety standards. Klaus Plien, Food Industry Sales Manager, explains: “Feeders used in the food industry must be capable of being very thoroughly cleaned. That is why we consider Hygienic Design in our product development. This means that all components are easily accessible – for example screws and screw tubes feature quick-release fasteners.” In addition there are no exposed threads in ingredient contact zones, and smooth stainless-steel surfaces are used preventing contamination. To reduce air born dust and accumulation, we use motors without cooling fans or fins.

Brabender Technologie feeders feature industry leading cleanability that significantly reduces downtime and facilitates quick product changeovers. Only FDA- and 1935/2004-compliant materials are used to make Hygienic Design feeders. For example, polyurethane components are food-compatible and feature a blue finish for better visual identification. As a member of the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG), Brabender Technologie regularly receives updated information about current changes and guidelines. This enables us to constantly innovate our Hygienic Design equipment to the constant evolving sanitary standards.

From trend to technology

Klaus Plien emphasizes: “By listening to our customer feedback and monitoring food industry trends, we can collaboratively develop new solutions for the industry.”

CLEXTRAL and Brabender Technologie Read about this exciting and successful partnership on the following pages.

(published in FLUX 2/2021)