A new way of thinking about food waste

It all changed in the 1950s. That’s the point in time where TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky said the attitude towards packaging changed. Szaky is the Hungarian born, Canadian-raised, United States-residing, evangelical-like champion of Loop, an enterprise that is set on reusing products instead of recycling them. The headline act at the Future of Reuse event at Barangaroo in Sydney in March, Szaky shared his views on the history of rubbish, what we need to do with our rubbish, and where the Loop system has a place in the circular economy.

Why did Szaky narrow it down to the 1950s as being the tipping point? Because that was when packaging disposability met head on with a new era in insatiable consumerism.

“Before the 1950s garbage didn’t exist; it was a by-product but nature knew what to do with it,” he said. “A 100 years ago, every chair in this room that we are sitting on would have been made of wood. You could throw them in the forest and the forest would have thanked you. The carpet would have been cotton and the forest would have been just fine breaking it down. Today, most things in this room will be garbage eventually, but if we threw it into a forest, it would hate us for it.

“Then the 1950s roll around. Disposability brought around unparalleled convenience and affordability, which elevated people out of poverty, allowed folks to not be in the kitchen for two hours at a time. It offered huge and profound benefits for society.”

But, according to Szaky, a strange thing happened – the packaging the product comes in became the property of the consumer.

“And is there any disposable package you want to own when it is empty?” he said. “Take coffee cups. Once you finish your coffee you own the coffee cup. Isn’t that weird? If I took it from you when it was empty you would have no problem relinquishing ownership.”

So it has become a mindset. And one of the truism of any packaging waste – waste in general, according to Szaky – is that there has always been negative connotations attached with it. With other contentious subjects, such as climate change or the use of palm oil, there has been debate over the merits of palm oil in products, or whether climate change is a naturally occurring event or the result of man-made pollutants. With waste, there has been no debate, it has always been a negative.

Szaky believes that in the past two years it’s hit a point where it’s moved from a problem to a crisis.

“Three or four years ago I would have had to explain a photo of empty plastics bottles in an ocean to some people and what it represented. Now I don’t have to anymore,” he said. “I think it has tipped over because it such an easy topic to have an emotional perspective on. You could argue that sometimes that emotion is misguided. I don’t think plastic is evil. Plastic is just a material – whether it is an alloy, a fibre or polymer – but it is how we use these materials that is the real question we should be asking ourselves.”

One answer is to recycle, which is something that Australians have  embraced over the past decade. Yet, consumers realise that there is only so much landfill to go around, while there is also many applications that recycled material can be put to use. But is it enough to take those empty soft drink cans, or those soft plastic lolly wraps and put them to better use? Yes, but there is a problem arising, according to Szaky, and he gave the example of the city of Philadelphia in the US as to what is happening now.

“In 2013, the city was paid $67 per tonne for its recyclables – like PET bottles and aluminium cans,” he said. “Today, they have to pay $105 per tonne to get them recycled. Now the city is debating whether they should have recycling in the city at all. It’s a fair point because it’s now a big expense for tax payers – it’s gone from a revenue to a cost.”

TerraCycle has been at the forefront of recycling and has come up with many innovative ideas to make sure that landfills are kept empty, oceans free of plastics and other waste, as well as making sure that people are informed of the many ecological options when getting rid of waste. The company works with retailers to reinforce to the public that they have eco-friendly policies, and also help them not only keep market share, but increase it.

“We do aerosol recycling with Unilever through DM, which is a big pharmacy in Germany,” he said. “The message is you can bring in aerosols to be recycled – such as the propellent, aluminium and plastic – and turn them into bicycles for kids in need. But what is DM getting? Foot traffic – half a million extra consumers that would not have shopped at their store (according to them) and Unilever gets a huge display in the store all year round, which drives profit dollars.”

While TerraCycle started out as a recycling company – and continues to be so – it has started a new program called Loop, which is designed to take sustainability one step further. While Szaky embraces products that are made out of recycled materials – especially those that have been partially constructed from recovered ocean waste – his main plank is reuse. And this is what Loop is all about. So how does it work?

Take Häagan Daz ice cream for example. Instead of buying a tub of ice-cream in the usual cardboard/wax packaging, it will be available in a stainless-steel container. Once the ice-cream is finished, it’s ready to be picked up, returned to the Loop station, washed, and then returned to the brand for reuse.

In order to take the business to the next step, Loop has partnered in Australia with Woolworths, who is providing the online platform for the service.

“It begins with an online platform so users learn as much as they can,” said Szaky. “When the Woolie’s platform launches, customers will be able to access 200 Loop products on their website in home care, personal care, packaged food and beverages – where there are big waste issues. Once the consumer selects the items they want, you pay a one-time, refundable deposit for the tote bag, then Woolworths will deliver the products. And here’s the cool part – you’ll get a return bag and you put all your returned Loop products back in the bag – just like garbage. We do that on purpose so you feel like you are throwing something away. No cleaning, no sorting, just throwing it into a bin. It just so happens that the contents of the bin are reusable. During the next delivery, Woolies will pick it up for you from your home.”

One of the issues that is not lost on Szaky is trying to get consumers on board. This is why the company has tried to make it as easy as possible for those who are embracing the concept.

“Those bags of reusable garbage end up back at a Loop centre that we’re setting up, and will partner with DHL and Ecolab. They will be cleaning the containers and we will sort them out – a bit like a MERF. We store them, clean them and send them back to the manufacturers to be refilled. This is important, because every actor has normalised the process and they do as little as possible.”

The brands pay for it, but the idea is that they save money on not having to buy packaging. The manufacturer is filling units with only the difference being that the product will arrive in a slightly different form from its current configuration and will be more durable. Szaky said it is the same concept as normal shopping – take something that is bulk, put it in package, then on pallets and send it to a retailer. The retailer puts it on the shelf, the consumer buys it, but instead of throwing it in a recycling or rubbish bin they put it in reusable bag.

But will consumers take to the idea? Yet another thing to have to think about during the day – throw the food wrapping in the bin? Recycle it in the bin outside? Put it in the soft plastic pile to be recycled at Coles? Now, a reusable bag? Szaky is confident it will take off, not least because the brands have hit a nerve with consumers with something they didn’t see coming.

“Take the original Axe deodorant container, which has recyclability issues for a variety of reasons. It has a low cost, but that cost is in the whole price of the deodorant, which is ironic because you don’t want to own it once it is empty,” Szaky said. “The company designed a new deodorant exclusively for Loop, and it’s incredibly beautiful, stainless steel, which is not just design beauty but aesthetic beauty. It’s more expensive to make, no doubt about it. But what goes into the price of your deodorant is the depreciation of the container and the cost of cleaning, which allows the deodorant to be the same price as the disposable version.”

And while the design of these new products has had a huge impact on the psyche of the consumer and their willingness to embrace the new concept, there are also practical considerations about the design that make them different from its disposable counterpart.

Take the aforementioned Häagan Daz ice cream for example. According to Szaky, most Americans eat ice cream in their bedroom, with the average serving being a punnet. And the number one complaint of eating a tub of ice cream in bed is how messy it is.

“Condensation on the cardboard packaging is annoying, but the number one complaint is that their hand gets cold,” said Szaky. “Another complaint is that because your hand is warming the pack it melts from the outside so you have a bowl of ice cream floating in ice cream soup.

“Whereas a new container for ice cream designed for the Häagan Daz range solves this problem because it has two layers of stainless steel – the outside is warm, while the inside is -18˚C and melts from the top down not from the outside in,” said Szaky. “Even the inside is concave so you don’t have a concave angle at the bottom, which means consumers can scoop out every last little bit of ice cream.”

And what has been the overall reaction to Loop being instigated? At the time of writing, its roll out is being ramped up all over the world, including Australia. In the US, the world’s biggest supermarket chain, Kroger, is setting up Loop facilities at some of its west coast stores, while Walgreen is doing the same on the US east coast.

“In France it will happen in July while in Japan it will be October,” said Szaky. “And the most important part is that you can return the empty container to anywhere you want. You don’t have to remember where you purchased the item. You can buy your ice cream at retailer one and return it to retailer two, and then at retailer two you can buy your coffee and a reusable container and return it to retailer three and so on and so forth.”

If a brand wants to come on board with the Loop concept, there are a few rules that have to be taken into consideration, one being that the packaging/container that the product comes in must be usable at least 10 times. Another is that is that it must be cleanable to the standards in their category. Also, once its life has come to an end, the container/packaging must be recyclable unto itself.

“Loops fundamental role is not to be a product or a retailer but to be a platform for reuse,” Szaky said. “One of these ice-cream containers goes through a big reuse cycle, and then at some point it can be recycled. But the steel, for example, in the Häagan Daz ice-cream container will always be an ice cream container. That allows the materials to stay in a closed-loop fashion. We at TerraCycle call it a down cycle – it moves it into one lower category.

“Take paper. It goes from beautiful white paper to toilet paper or newspaper. If you look at plastic it goes from a water bottle to shampoo bottle to a frisbee or park bench.”

When all is said and done, Szaky sees it as a win-win-win-win situation. It is a win for TerraCycle, it is win for the consumer, it is a win for the environment, and it is a win for the brand.

“The reality is, if you put purpose into the product you can take down your marketing because mainstream media and social media will do more for you than marketing would. You can keep the price of the product the same if you spend the marketing dollars to fund the new polymer. And it ends up doing really well. A product acts like it is completely disposable but is actually reusable. And it also moves package from being a cost to an asset.”

Eloments covers all bases with Unleashed software

Starting a new company is risky – and the food and beverage industry is no exception. It pays to have done your research and development into the product you are hoping to sell.

If that isn’t hard enough, then adding in specific conditions to how the food is made produces a new set of challenges.

When Julie Hirsch and Nicole Lamond started tea company Eloments, they didn’t just want to make it different in terms of what it delivered in taste and health benefits; they also wanted to make sure that the ingredients for its range of patented vitamin- and mineral-infused teas were sourced ethically and via fair trade agreements.

“Tea is a beautiful, healthy beverage and we know that a lot of people like tea, enjoy tea, and love it for its health benefits as well as the taste,” said CEO Lamond. “It seemed like a perfect medium to add vitamins and minerals to. So, we developed Eloments, which contains nine essential vitamins in every cup.”

“We would often talk about how hard it was to focus on our health as busy professional women,” said COO Hirsch. “Sure, vitamin supplements were there, but we often forget to take them and didn’t like swallowing tablets. When we were looking at the fact that five per cent of Aussies aren’t eating enough fruit and veg for their general health, we thought we could combine our love of fair trading with our love of healthy products and put natural vitamins in a fair trade cup of tea.”

Lamond and Hirsch found it a challenge to blend the tea leaves with the natural nutrients so they could be put into teabags. They spent two years on research and development and came up with a patent-pending process on how to do it.

“We had a lot of fun blending. We partnered with members of fair trade collectives around the world to source some truly beautiful fair trade-certified ingredients,” said Hirsch. “We sourced vanilla from Madagascar, Egyptian mint and fantastic cardamom, cloves and cinnamon from Sri Lanka.”

With these range of self-imposed conditions for making sure the ingredients were sourced ethically, as well as making sure they were giving the consumer a refreshing and healthy experience, both Lamond and Hirsch knew the logistics of keeping track of all the different aspects of their business was going to be tricky. Enter Unleashed inventory software.

“When we launched the product we did a trial manufacturing run and then realised we needed a very good inventory management system,” said Hirsch. “One that could manage organic and fair trade inventory for us, such as batch numbers, multiple locations and multiple warehouses etc.”

Hirsch said the company didn’t have the time to trial any products but did do their homework on what sort of inventory system they wanted.

“We did quite a bit of research and Unleashed was the best option for us,” she said. “We started using Unleashed from the beginning. It’s a very powerful program. Once you have it set up and working well, it is easy to use.”

And what are the features that Hirsch and Lamond like best? There are a few that have piqued their interest and made life easier.

“From the sales perspective I find it absolutely fantastic for reporting sales figures,” said Lamond. “From that end of it, it is so adaptable and has a lot of great filters, so you can pull any information you want. I really like the interface too. In fact, the ease of use and the reporting are probably the two biggest things I like about it.”

Hirsch agreed, and added that, because of the way the company does business, this function is a necessity.

“Our sales are very complex,” she said. “There are seven territories around the world. We sell into Australia and the UK – both larger retailers and smaller retailers – so we need a lot of flexibility in being able to do different sales reports and sales templates for our various customers.”

Another reason Hirsch and Lamond decided to use Unleashed when they launched the business was that they knew that the business was going to take off quickly and they needed to be able to scale to demand immediately.

“We’ve been selling for about 14 months now, and we’ve got shelf spacing on more than 2,500 stores around the world,” said Hirsch. “If we had started out with an inventory management system with limited capabilities, we would have had to change it six months in. It was great how we started out straight away without having to swap it out.

“Because we are organic and fair trade certified, we have to be able to trace our product’s journey every step of the way. We need a package that has the ability to do that and Unleashed certainly does.”

Eloments’ raapid expansion means it has moved into overseas markets quickly. Again, Unleashed has helped them navigate the sometimes ever-changing landscape of exchange rates and foreign currencies.

“One thing we utilised with Unleashed was the foreign currency feature,” said Lamond. “We are buying in multiple different currencies and we’re selling in multiple different currencies, so having a programme that can support that is important.”

Hirsch explained further.

“Especially as a small Australian business, we don’t have lots of support, so it is really important and helps make the business possible,” she said. “And we can put in those different currencies and track sales and purchases directly to the Unleashed system.

“We partner with the Fair Trade Collective in Sri Lanka for most of our teas and spices. We purchase them in US dollars, Australian dollars and the UK pound. Having the flexibility to manage that in one system it makes it possible for us to run our business.”

Overall, Hirsch and Lamond are very happy with the software. Lamond has a final piece of advice.

“When you are assessing software, I would say make sure it does what you need and make sure the system you choose can meet your needs,” she said. “Unleashed ticks our boxes and is easy to use. Because when you are running a business, you don’t want to be sitting there working out how to use a piece of software. These days, software should be intuitive enough so you can mostly work out how it functions just by using it.”

Is that hissing noise the sound of money going up in smoke?

One thing that never fails to amaze Greg Gillespie is the amount of times he walks into a manufacturing or processing plant and hears hissing. It immediately tells him that they are running an air compressor or a bank of air compressors. It also tells him that the company is throwing money down the drain. That hissing sound is either one, or a series of leaks, coming from the compressed air system.

Gillespie, who is the national sales manager for air compressor manufacturer ELGi, said that in some cases companies are literally throwing thousands of dollars down the drain every year. Not only that, but when he hears that tell-tale sign of hissing, he knows that doesn’t include the ones he can’t hear.

“I’ve walked into a lot of different places – and to be fair my ear is tuned for it – and I immediately hear all the air leaks,” he said. “And I’ll say to the person on site, ‘you’ve got a few air leaks’. They generally reply, ‘no we don’t’. They don’t hear them because it is background noise to them.”

What he encourages people to do is stay back for five minutes after the work day when everything is quiet. He’s confident that they will then hear the noise.

“And the thing is, if you can hear an air leak, it’s a large one. There will be quite a few air leaks you’ll never hear without ultrasonic equipment, especially if they are inside a piece of equipment,” he said.

Gillespie said the culprits in these leaks are usually the same range of suspects – hose clamp connections, seals failing, and worn fittings. And he’s not saying that maintenance managers have to fix them all at once. He knows that, especially in the some of the bigger food and beverage manufacturing and process plants, it can be a big job. A maintenance plan is needed and such a plan is not something whereby a leak is fixed once and then forgotten about. It will depend on the size of the factory and plant and how many compressors are working. He acknowledges it would be a big task to do it all in one go, so maintenance managers would set about a plan to go and rectify the leaks starting with the biggest one first. Then they would just do a constant, weekly check. But what is the cost?

“If someone has an air audit done then they start to realise that ‘holy heck, we’re leaking thousands of dollar per annum’,” he said. “The more plant and machinery you have in place, the more the leaks are going to cost your bottom line.

“If you have a small place with a 2.2kW compressor, then that cost isn’t going to be that high. But if it is a larger factory with 100kW of installed compressor power, then it will cost a lot.

“I know of a place that has three 55kW machines. One of those 55kW machines pretty much services air leaks. If they fixed their air leaks they can turn one of their compressors off. Do the maths of 55kW of power running all day. They operate 24/7 – not at full capacity – but they are aware of it. I’m sure if you put all the numbers down in front of the people running the place, suddenly it wouldn’t be too hard to fix.”

Education is also a key ingredient. A lot of places he visits think the air is free. Quite often Gillespie will see people “sweeping” the floor with an air gun. It’s convenient, it’s quick, but it does come at a cost.

“Some think it is quicker doing it that way because it reduces the labour cost involved,” he said. “I routinely see people cleaning down their areas using air. It’s not a safe practice to do it.”

But what causes the leaks in the first place? The leak itself is being caused by faulty equipment, but what caused that equipment to become faulty in the first place? Gillespie believes that not only does the factory need the right air compressor for the right job, but it is also the type of air distribution network that is being used that can be a problem. This includes not only the size of the pipe that is distributing the air, but what it is made out of, too.

“I talk to people about becoming efficient, which starts with the right compressor and the right distribution network,” he said. “That is where things like the pipe size, pipe type (poly, aluminium, copper) and how you articulate it comes into play.”

A good distribution system will be one that will be less likely to leak over time – what sort of pipe and the distance over which it is set up are important considerations to limit pressure losses.

“The type of pipe is important because with some piping temperature changes can cause it to expand and contract, and start to bend and twist, so I much prefer people investing in rigid pipe,” said Gillespie. “Depending on the type of rigid pipe system you go for – if you go for something like a braised copper, or stainless steel or even aluminium/copper pipe with fittings – these are going to be less leaks than some other methods.”

If it is the wrong size pipe it will put unnecessary load on the compressor under pressure, which can induce something called artificial demand. This can be magnified if there are multiple compressors in the system, which can be very costly, he said. Gillespie also pointed out that there are also lots of government grants that can help companies become more energy efficient. They change on a regular basis. At the moment there is grant that finished recently that was available for companies that were replacing existing equipment with more efficient equipment with variable speed drives.

“I helped a customer do that and they got nearly 50 per cent of the price of the compressor rebated,” he said. “There is another grant available at the moment which is up to $5,000 rebate for people to put permanent monitoring equipment in to their plant so they can monitor the efficiencies of their compressed air system. Compressed air systems account for about 30 per cent of all industrial power.”

As part of the government’s push to increase energy savings and reduce emissions, they are encouraging industry to work in a more economical way and an area to do that is air compressors, said Gillespie. A lot of people think these things revolve around lighting and solar power. However, quite often there are grants going around to make more efficient compressed air systems.

For the bigger companies that are setting up a new system or refurbishing an older system, Gillespie said putting some budget aside for a monitoring system is also a good idea.
“I have a company I’m dealing with at the moment and they are going to need about 300kW of power. It’s going to be a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth of equipment and I’m putting monitoring equipment in my quote – $6,000 worth. To me, it would be absolutely crazy not to do it. The advantages are a no brainer on a system that size.”

Gillespie also cautions against overthinking too much about what to do. An air audit is a simple thing to do and that will give a clearer indication of what a company’s needs are and how they can be remedied.

“I would try not to oversell it because sometimes you can take somebody down that rabbit hole and they can become overwhelmed because they have been inundated with the information and data,” he said.

“You have to find that balance. There are instances where you might spend $10,000 to modify pipework and save yourself $1,000. There’s no payback.”

There are lots of things going on with flow and thermodynamics, you could easily make someone’s head spin.

“At the end of the day, a well-designed and maintained compressed air system is going to be more efficient. And that will save money every day of operation.”

Simplifying and integrating the supply chain journey

Consumers’ daily lives revolve around trust. Every day, when peeling an orange, opening a can of baked beans or dining in a favourite restaurant, consumers put their trust in Australia’s food supply chain.

Behind every food and beverage product on the shelf is a supply chain journey that starts with ingredients. The Australian food manufacturing industry is an intricate maze of ingredient and packaging suppliers, most with different supply chain management solutions.

Today, sourcing ingredients without a traceability and food safety protocol invites counterfeit products onto the food chain and an increased risk of contamination. News of unsafe or spoilt food can impact business owner’s livelihoods and the industry’s broader reputation, along with disruption to consumer’s lives.

“To manage ingredient safety and increase the visibility of food ingredients and raw materials in these complex supply chains, a new initiative, the Supply Chain Improvement project, is being implemented using GS1 standards,” said GS1 Australian account director Andrew Steele. “The project’s objective is strengthening integration between the thousands of upstream supply chains in the Australian food manufacturing industry.”

An industry working group has been set up to drive the project using the GS1 global standards for product identification, data capture and data sharing. GS1’s Global Traceability Standard (GTS) is the foremost traceability framework, allowing businesses to track their products in real-time and have end-to-end visibility of the supply chain.

“The group will work to achieve consensus across the industry to improve food safety, deliver efficiencies and reduce costs,” said Steele.

Representatives from Nestlé, Ingham’s, SPC, Lion Dairy and Drinks, Sanitarium, CHR Hansen, Newly Weds Foods, FPC Food Plastics, Labelmakers, Matthews Australasia and Visy Industries make up the group.

The ability for companies to capture material movements from ‘paddock-to-plate’ provides data integrity and timeliness from receipt to delivery, with traceability back to the source. Through automation, many of the manual processes are eliminated and businesses can be proactive with inventory management and handling systems.

“As a food and beverage business it’s critical for us from a food safety perspective to be able to track ingredients all the way back to the origin,” said SPC’s national logistics manager, Christian Lecompte.

Also critical to business is the capability to support information and production flow within existing systems for integrated supply chains. The project has the capacity to eliminate waste within an organisation’s value stream, reduce non-value-added tasks and ensure cost-effective solutions for customers, leading to a ‘right-first-time’ approach for all deliveries.

“One of the things we found we could do to be more efficient was to look at opportunities to be able to electronically track all the product ingredients throughout the production cycle – how we identify a product coming into the warehouses, how we receipt goods, how we put our goods away, how we manage our inventory and how we deal with our suppliers,” said Lecompte.

The adoption of GS1 standards as the common language for the identification, data capture and data sharing will enable automation of key ingredient sourcing, and traceability between ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers. Using GS1 standards for upstream integration goes well beyond minimum standards and allows businesses to translate their internal processes and approaches into the one common language that all trading partners can use and understand, without having to translate data formats across different supply chain management systems. This is the key as Steele believes interoperability is essential to the future of data sharing.

“Establishing international standards to ensure transparency across the supply chain can help lower existing barriers to the exchange of data between suppliers, trading partners and consumers,” he said.

The Supply Chain Improvement Project has the potential to deliver many benefits to industry, including increased visibility of food ingredients and raw materials, unique identification and traceability to improve food safety, and reduced costs with automated business transactions.

Nestle Australia’s head of digital supply chain, Mandeep Sodhi pointed out the key to the project’s success. “By having consensus across the industry on how to interconnect electronically and exchange critical operational data, we can realise cost-effective solutions across the end-to-end – from manufacturers, to suppliers, to customers – everyone benefits from this improvement in standardisation,” he said.

Looking ahead, the industry working group is encouraging all upstream businesses to adopt the food safety and traceability protocol using GS1 standards.

“With an industry-wide solution in place, your trading partners will have more visibility of your products across the supply chain,” said Steele.

Food and bev fit out brought in on time and under budget

Most construction builds have challenges. But when there are a few hardcore caveats attached that will have an impact on getting the job completed on time and within budget, it is important to have people on the ground who are not only experts but can perform under pressure.

Food and beverage construction specialist Total Construction found this to be the case when it tendered and won a contract to complete a considerable alteration at an infant milk powder processing plant.

Total Construction’s national manager for food and beverage, Tony Tate, knew it would be a hard job, but one that the company and its staff would be up for. It would also prove that the commercial building specialist had what it took to turn a job around quickly and to the client’s specifications.

Tate and his team knew from the outset that if the job wasn’t finished on time, it would cost not only the client, but Total Construction, a lot of money. This was due to the penalty clauses in the contract. The main issue of concern was that the plant might become contaminated during the build, which means it would not meet Australian standards when it came to producing foodstuffs. This entailed a whole raft of restrictions to be put in place that meant Total Construction had to carefully plan and execute the build so as not to be liable for any overruns or contamination of the factory.

How does a company meet strict criteria, all the while completing a job to its own high standards?

Experience and planning were the two main components, according to Tate. They also had to persuade the milk powder manufacturer that Total’s methods of tackling the job were the best way forward.

“The plant had a shutdown period of only one month. For them to shut down for a month, meant they were losing a lot of revenue. It was a big deal for them,” said Tate. “The key driver for us was the plan of action. We had to incorporate building work, which can get messy, in a pharmaceutical area, which has to be spotless. The last thing that we want is any dust or contamination in a milk powder plant.”

There were five work zones at any one time with each of those work zones going from low to high care. Workers could walk around the low-care part of the facility – the warehouse – which was where the milk powder was already in sealed packaging, so there was little chance of contamination. It was the high-care areas where caution needed to be taken.

“Every day we were to make sure all the foreign matter – cable clips, cable ties, any debris that was left on the floor – was cleaned away thoroughly,” said Tate. “We had to captive vacuum every day and had to wear captive footwear. Even the builders had to change from safety boots to captive safety boots.”

When it came to making sure the project was going to come in on time some lateral thinking was required. Tate’s initial scope said the job would take 42 days. Even the independent design consultant could only see the job being completed within 46 days. The client initially thought that throwing more bodies into the project would help bring the alteration in on time. But as the Total Construction team pointed out, there were restrictions on space. Tate and his team came up with a solution that would make the job a little more costly, but not as costly to the client if they took an extra two weeks to complete.

“We started working with the design consultant and said we could expedite the process by putting two shifts on,” said Tate. “That is when we really started working with the client. You want to make sure you can take the client on the journey and build confidence with them. As you build confidence, you know what you are doing and you are then helping the client. So, we got the two shifts going as well as working Saturdays and Sundays.”

And while it was a precise process, there were a few issues that did arise along the way. At one stage, they managed to be three days ahead of schedule but the client delayed sign off on the HVAC installation, which put them back to the original schedules timeline. When the sign off was sorted out, there was an issue with the digger that was going to be used to dig out the new floor. It wasn’t cleared as a hygienic piece of equipment. It wasn’t until the Total team pointed out that the soil they would be removing would not be hygienic that it was decided that the digger – under amended conditions – could be used.

Another lesson learned was that even working under stringent conditions, the unexpected can occur. It pays to think laterally, and help the client out the best you can, said Tate.
“After we started, the client realised that once we finished up, they would only have five days to train on the new plant,” said Tate. “The staff not only had to be trained in the new equipment, but they had to validate the new equipment, too. They realised that the time they had allocated themselves to do this was not long enough. They then had to clean the facility and make it suitable to occupy.”

The client asked Total if they could use certain areas of the facility to do the training, but the penalty clauses in the contract made Total reluctant to do so. Total was within their rights to refuse but knew that it could cost the milk processing plant literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“So, we came up with a sequence on how to do the job and accommodate them,” said Tate. “First, we did the epoxy floors in the different areas on different dates. Once we completed certain areas, the hygiene teams went in and cleaned them up so they could be utilised. They then taped off the finished areas and they could go from there.”

And when it came to commitment, nobody was more invested in the project than site manager Craig Harkins.

“Craig lived and breathed it from six in the morning until eight at night,” said Tate. “There were times when we had to make sure that he was given time off because he was getting fatigued. When you’re struggling with fatigue, you get injuries and there are mistakes.”

It was a closely monitored build. The site manager knew at each stage exactly where the build was up to. If they weren’t up to where they should have been, all parties agreed on an action plan for the following day so they could catch up. They also had daily tool box talks to discuss contaminants and hygiene.

And the client’s reaction to the final product?

“If you look at the hygiene standards of the build, you could eat your dinner off the floor – it is that clean,” said Tate. “I think that because we have been retained for Stage 2 of the project means they were happy. It was a hard job, but we learned a lot from it. More importantly, we came in on time and on budget in what was a challenging build, so it was good news all around.

Apple flour making inroads into commercial baking applications

Forbidden Foods Group was launched in 2010 by Jarrod Milani and Marcus Brown who both share a passion to provide some of the best health foods across Australia and internationally. Forbidden Foods flagship product of Black Rice was released to the retail and foodservice market nationally and internationally.

Since launching, Forbidden Foods have expanded into supplying a range of speciality rice flours to food manufacturers. Its bespoke rice flour range has been used in baked goods, soups, baby foods, snacking and plant-based foods. Having success with their rice flours, Forbidden Foods explored the potential of releasing a range of Australian-made, new and exotic flours that are not offered in the global market.

In 2019, Sensory Mill was created under Forbidden Foods Group, to provide ingredients for the food enthusiast. Sensory Mill offers a range of alternative products for use in manufacturing including powders, grains and blends and its newest release of an exotic flour range.

The flour range accentuates the core belief of Sensory Mill, which is to strive towards improved sustainability and traceability of products, while providing enriching ingredients.
The company’s newest standout product – which was released in January 2020 – is its apple flour, which is available in the retail and foodservice market.

To promote the idea of Farm-to-Plate, Sensory Mill has collaborated with Bellevue Orchard and Australian Dehydrated Food (ADF) to promote and introduce Australia’s first apple flour to the market.

Bellevue Orchard is a third-generation, family-run apple orchard located in Victoria, Australia and have been producing apple juice since 1998.

The orchard is owned by two brothers, Robert and Joe Russo, who continue to work there, however now run by Joe’s daughter Bernadette and Robert’s son Nick.

ADF is an Australian company that specialises in advanced and rapid dehydration technology to produce the dried foods sourced from Australia.

ADF’s Chris Mamas worked alongside Forbidden Foods and Bellevue to meet outlined requirements and specifications.

“Our aim is to work with natural, unadulterated raw material inputs, resulting in the most aromatic, tasty and nutrient-rich powdered foods on the market, which I believe we have achieved with the apple flour,” he said.

Forbidden Foods, Bellevue Orchard and ADF all have a strong ethos against food wastage, which was the basis upon their collaboration for Forbidden Foods to release, market and promote the apple flour to the retail and foodservice market. Nick Russo indicated that food wastage avoidance has always been a priority of theirs.

“Our goal has always been to make use of every part of the apple. Working with Forbidden Foods and ADF is the final piece of making this a reality with Bellevue being a zero-waste facility,” he said.

“We hope to divert over 800,000kg of wastage per year, into a premium product for market,” said Russo.

Bellevue worked alongside Forbidden Foods and ADF, to initiate production of apple fibre from the pomace in a patented process.

Bellevue realised the apple pomace wastage remaining after the juicing process was becoming costly to re-distribute to farmers for feed, or to move to landfill.

Moving the apple pomace was starting to take a strain on the local environment surrounding the orchard, with potential of having widespread effects.

After 18 months of trials, technology was developed for efficient dehydration of apple fibre to produce a food ingredient for human consumption.

The wasted apple pomace from juicing was drained and ground into a thin layer to be dried out and dehydrated. Once the pomace was efficiently dried, it enters the multi-step milling process that produced a fine flour ready for packaging and manufacturing.

Incorporating apple flour into products on an industrial scale can reap many nutritional benefits to the population.

Finished products with apple flour acting as a core ingredient will provide a nutritionally rounded profile.

Due to the high dietary fibre content of the flour, it has a wide range of antioxidants that are believed to assist in the reduction of cholesterol. The soluble and insoluble fibre within the flour will regulate the digestive system while promoting bowel health and growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

Milled apple flour is extremely fine, allowing it to be versatile in manufacturing and production.

It has many applications ranging from acting as a thickening agent in sauces and mixes, to being incorporated into bakery and snacking products.

The by-product flour is a great absorber of liquid causing this product to be an efficient binder in recipes, particularly in raw snack products that undergo minimal heat exposure.
Having a low sugar content accompanying the high soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, this flour can help control blood sugar levels.

Having low-fat content, it is a suitable ingredient when manufacturing low fat products for consumption.

The properties of the flour allow it to act as a replacer while extending shelf life for long-lasting and shelf-stable products when stored in ambient temperatures.

Apple flour is said to have a naturally sweet flavour that is not overpowering to the palate. The inclusion of the apple flour in baking may avoid the need for additional sweeteners.

Being gluten free, apple flour can be blended with all-purpose gluten-free flour to become a baking staple for the gluten intolerant community. This product can be blended with an array of flours for usage in baking to create high fibre goods.

ELGi determined to make impact on the industrial compressor market

Being a lesser known brand in a competitive industry can be an issue. But if there is a sure way to prove to an industry that you are serious about being a point of difference, while also trying to build your brand, then winning a prestigious award is a good start.

That is what happened to ELGi, the Indian-based manufacturer of high-quality industrial air compressors. When the biggest competitor is German engineering in the form of Kaeser, it can be a hard row to hoe when trying to convince potential clients about the comparitive benefits of your gear. However, winning the coveted Deming Prize for Total Quality Management – the first industrial compressor manufacturer outside of Japan to win the award – goes a long way to show how committed ELGi is to making a dent in the market, including in food and beverage manufacturing plants in Australia.

Having bought Pulford Air & Gas and its subsidiary Advanced Air Compressors in 2018, the company has an ambition to become the second biggest compressor company in Australia.

It concedes that number one, Atlas Copco, is almost unreachable, but the company is keen to get higher on the ladder. ELGi national sales manager, Greg Gillespie, and business development manager, Brian Vegh, both know that they have a hard job ahead of them going from sixth in the pecking order up to number two. However, they also have a belief and confidence that the product not only has the ability and technology to do the job, but the manufacturing process is second to none.

“Atlas Copco is the Empire State Building on the graph you see on a piece of paper,” said Vegh. “We are number six at the moment, but there is not much difference between number six and number three.”

And in order to get up the pecking order, ELGi’s strategy is to espouse the benefits of its products such as the standards they are manufactured to, and the importance of the total quality management measures it has in place when it manufactures the compressors.

“ELGi compressors meet every international standard that any other company meets,” said Gillespie. “They control 100 per cent of the manufacturing process, from the sand they collect for the castings right through to the final product.”

Both Gillespie and Vegh know that there is a perception that compressors not manufactured in the US and Europe are somehow not up to scratch. This is why the company introduced Total Quality Management processes, which culminated in winning the Deming Prize in 2019. Not only that, the company has so much faith in its compressors it offers a 10-year warranty, something most of its opposition don’t do. There is also the perception that their compressors are made to Indian standards, which can sometimes be at odds with Australian regulations.

“A domestic product in India will have a metal starting box on it, which is acceptable over there, but you can’t have a metal starter box here in Australia,” he said. “The ones that arrive on these shores are all up to Australian standards already.”

Two of the key attributes of the compressors are the aforementioned 10 year warranty and their operational efficiency. Gillespie said the efficiency is about 10 per cent better than most similar products that are on the market. There is a reason for this.

“ELGi manufactures all the main components themselves. They mainly use Siemens motors and contactors,” said Gillespie. “We manufacture our own air end, which is the most expensive part of the machine – from the sand to the finished product. The design work they put into the air end to make it more efficient is top notch.

“Then there is the efficiency. Over a five year period, the cost of compressed air is 85 per cent of the cost of electricity/power. If you get a machine you start talking about 200kW of installed compressed air, and they run 24/5 days a week or 24/7 – which is anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 hours a year. We can supply customers with a machine that is going to be anywhere between 3 and 8 per cent more efficient than some other machines out there. That is a lot of money over five years.”

The most expensive part of compressor is the air-end, which is important when it comes to the 10-year warranty. This is the actual screw where the air gets compressed, and in the case of ELGi, it is one the company has designed itself. It is for this reason they are happy to offer such a long warranty period for their compressors.

“We have heard of situations where only a 12-month warranty on air-ends was offered,” said Gillespie. “The warranty ended on midnight of that day. If it failed the next day, you have got nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

And how suitable is the company’s range for the food and beverage industry? When you’re talking its oil-free range, they are perfect, said Gillespie.

“When it comes to working in food and beverage, our compressors are Class 0,” he said. “With the quality system we use, everything is 100 per cent trackable and traceable. If you open up a machine you will see every screw, nut and bolt hallmarked in yellow.”

“That means every part has been checked. Every single one,” said Vegh. “If you have been in the factory, everyone who works at the foundry is on a production line. They go through a comprehensive checklist when the machines are being manufactured.”

The company is also aware of the impact its manufacturing will have on the environment and have measures in place to make the least amount of impact as possible.

“The sand they use to do their casting will only come from a reputable source and they recycle over 90 per cent of it because of the environmental issues,” said Gillespie. “It is also cost-effective. They’ve built the plant around that supply so they only have to use the minimal amount of sand they need.”

Finally, there is the back-up service that is available. Both Gillespie and Vegh point out that while the product is very good, if there are not people on the ground to help customers, then that can cause a whole range of problems.

“One of the hardest issues with industrial compressors in Australia is retaining and getting good service personal,” said Gillespie. “Most of them started out as fitter and turners. That is what I started out as and there are not of lot of us that stay on the tools their whole career.”

He believes one of the reasons it is hard to employ service technicians are the specifications of the job.

“Being a service technician means you are on the road a lot,” said Gillespie. “You have to like that. Some guys get sick of the travelling and driving. You have to be very autonomous.
“You do routine maintenance of products but then you have to walk into a business where everybody is looking at you. There’s 30 people standing out on the street like there is a fire drill waiting for you to fix it for them. When that machine is down, the down time is so costly to a company they want it fixed now. And some tradies are just not interested.”
Vegh reiterates that you can’t underestimate the back-up service.

“Some of the bigger air compressor manufacturers, for want of a better description, are just selling boxes. That is all they do,” he said. “Once that is done, they are onto the next customer and that’s it. One of our biggest selling points is our after sales service. We have the Advanced Air and ELGi distribution network. We have 52 service technicians nationally, as well as New Zealand.

“If you need help at 11.59pm just before the whole country is waiting for the fireworks to go off on New Year’s Eve or 9.32am on Christmas Day, we will be there to help you. It’s the 24/7, 365 days a year help and support that we pride ourselves on. Selling a compressor is not the hard thing, it’s what you do for the customer in three years’ time that makes a difference.

“Each person who works in the plant prides themselves on the quality of the product.
“We have a rigorous checking process here in Australia when it comes to the ELGi gear we bring into the country. If it is not up to scratch we send it back.”

How to grow overseas market share

Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Fiji, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam – if there is one thing Trisco knows about, it’s exporting.

The Queensland-based company is a fifth-generation company that has been producing food and beverage products for more than 140 years and is always looking for new markets in which to expand.

CEO Mike Tristram has a plethora of dealing with the red tape and bureaucracies when sending products overseas. The first thing he points out is that no two countries are the same – whether they be first or third world. With some countries, getting approval is easy, another might be require more time, while yet others may rely on another country’s approval system.

READ MORE: Anthony Pratt: Value added food will pave way for Australian exports

“For example, the US,” said Tristram. “Officials in another country might say ‘well, if you’re approved by the FDA in the US, there’s no problems here’. Every country has its own little idiosyncrasies. In Pakistan, you need to have specific approval by some office that has to have a physical stamp. Trying to get that physical stamp instead of a photocopy and approval is very difficult. Dealing with those sorts of idiosyncrasies from country to country, can be interesting.”

One of Tristram’s favourite quotes is from LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman, who described start-ups as like jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down.

“Exporting is a little similar but not quite as dramatic,” he said. “It is one of those things you have to figure out on your own depending on your market and depending on where you are going and what you have to sell. It is how unique or not unique it might be and where your strategic advantage is.

“You need the boldness to be able to go into the adventure and find your own pathway within that and be prepared to solve those problems as and when you see them. Even with speed bumps along the way, you need to keep going and learn from them and not give up.”

He believes resilience is the biggest thing that gets a company through the export journey. Also, it is important to get someone on the ground. It is not something that can be discovered, nurtured and expanded upon while sitting in an office in Australia.

“That is the hardest thing – staying on the path and keep slogging,” he said. “You can’t follow a market you don’t understand so you have to go there. And if you are not prepared to go there on a regular basis, then don’t attempt that journey. If you are not prepared to leave the country – at least initially and put a good bedrock down – you will not be successful.”

However, once the connections have been made, it is possible to tone down the travel schedule as long as there is someone on the ground that can be trusted. These are usually locals who know how local regulators and the laws surrounding imports work.
“Some of those places you can handle through agents once you have forged a relationship,” said Tristram. “As long as you have a trusting relationship with the local agent you can pull back a little on those sorts of visits.”

What does help is Australia’s reputation not only as a quality food producer, but as being upfront and honest.

“Australian products are recognised throughout the world as high quality,” he said. “And being relatively clean and green, we’re recognised as being reasonably easy to deal with and we are straightforward. There are a lot of advantages to being Australian.”

The main reason companies try and get into exporting is to grow their company financially. Australia has a finite number of markets within the continent, so expansion is the only way to grow. And while Trisco is happy to manufacture in Australia, the company is going one step further to magnify its footprint in the US – building a plant over there.

“One of the disadvantages is we are still one of the highest costs of manufacturing in the world,” said Tristram. “Until we solve some of these issues, such as energy and utility costs, we are going to continue to struggle. And until we are competitive with the rest of the world on red tape and tax and that sort of thing, there’s not a huge incentive to come to Australia and manufacture. We need to change that.”

One of the products that the company produces is Thick-N Instant, which is under the company’s Precise brand. It has been on the market for three years and doing well. It is designed for those who have dysphagia, which is a condition whereby people have difficulty swallowing. There are many different types of dysphagia, but it usually impacts on those who are aged over 65. It also has a high correlation with people who have Parkinson’s Disease, motor neuron issues or are a victim of a stroke.

“The market that manages the condition, thickens products to four distinct levels that are internationally recognised as part of the diet,” said Tristram. “We take those products up to those viscosities depending on what the problem is. Then they can swallow safely, which means the food goes into their digestive tract and not into their lungs, or into other areas that can cause fluid on the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia.”

It is this demand for the product stateside that lead the company to build a plant over there. Thick-N Instant is protected by intellectual property including patents, some of which are still pending.

“We need to build a plant a little closer to one of our largest customers in the US,” said Tristram.

“And we’ve done that for a couple of reasons. First, Thick-N Instant is a product that is unique and is for a vulnerable population and there is nothing like it in the world that we compete against. Nobody makes anything like it.

“The other issue for us is that you have to have some redundancy, so if something catastrophic happened to the plant we would be in trouble. You have to have that redundancy. Plus of course, seven to nine weeks on the water to another country is a long time for something that only has a shelf life of 12 months.”

Does Tristram feel the company has reached the apex of its export potential? No, but there are other issues he can see on the horizon

“The food industry is contracting a little bit,” he said. “What we are seeing now is ingredient suppliers not being as flexible as they used to be. The variety of the products on offer are there. They’re bringing them in from all over the world – Europe, Asia, US – everywhere.

“But getting consistent supply and variety that we can use to draw off the same sort of spec is becoming more difficult. For example, if you have 40 tonnes of strawberries and you need another 20 tonnes, trying to find it locally is going to be difficult.”

Why making a profit is no longer enough for big brands

When you’re one of the world’s largest confectionery brands, you’re under the microscope. We live in a time where a more discerning, informed public are not only interested in the products a company is producing, but how they are making them – where are they sourcing their ingredients? What sort of packaging are they using? What are the products nutritional health benefits?

It’s not lost on Nestlé’s Oceania director of eBusiness, strategy and marketing, Martin Brown. It’s his job to not only sell the company’s message in the local environment, but make sure it is adhering to the best practices he and other strategists have put in place.

Brown knows that the younger consumers are the ones driving the conversation – and not only in terms of whether a product tastes good or not.

“If you look at the diversity of our population and the expectations, it is the younger consumers that are shaping our industry,” said Brown. “They are shaping a couple of key forces that are really important for us to consider. One is, they make choices on brands and consumption based on beliefs. They’re very much looking at the actions of the brand – what is behind the brand – particularly with the supply chain.”

No longer is it good enough to make a great tasting product under the banner of a worldwide known and trusted brand. A lot of food and beverage companies – and those in peripheral arenas like packaging – are employing people whose sole purpose within the conglomerate’s structure is to look after sustainability and traceability. This is because companies like Nestle know that social media and other modern trends have a huge influence on purchasing decisions.

Nestlé is looking at a variety of ways of making sure that it not only provides products from sustainable sources and can be traced back to the farm, but it is also taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint.

“As a company that operates 10 factories in the region, we have plenty of scope to influence that commitment. Part of those commitments is accelerating the use of renewable energy,” said Brown. “For instance, we use the spent coffee grounds in our Gympie factory as fuel to drive the energy in that factory.

“At our Smithtown factory, which is the home of Milo, we use sawdust from the local timber industry to power 85 per cent of the energy in that plant. These are good examples of clever renewable energy sources. We’re also committed across all of those operations to have zero waste to landfill by 2020 and are pretty close to achieving that.”

Globally, Nestlé has signed up to the RE100, which is a group of companies that have pledged to use 100 per cent renewable energy. The accord means that Nestlé has agreed to zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as part of the pledge to hold to the 1.5˚C maximum temperature increase through climate change.

When it comes to another hot-button issue for consumers – recyclability – Nestlé is committed to meeting its 2025 responsibility of its packaging being reusable or recyclable. Currently, 50 per cent of the materials it uses is recyclable, while 40 per cent is partially recyclable.

“We’re going to focus first on the 10 per cent that is non-recyclable,” said Brown. “We’ve got a negative list of materials that we are removing from all of our packaging. The cardboard is fine, however not all of the substrates used in flexible packaging are recyclable.

We have multi-layers of material that are not recyclable. That’s where we need to find solutions.”

These solutions will not appear out of thin air. Investment is needed, and Nestlé doesn’t mind putting its hat in the ring when it comes to spending money to find the answers that will lead to more sustainable packaging. Brown also realises that there are other issues that need to be addressed with packaging – recyclability is but one aspect.

“This is where the science comes in with regard to coming up with new packaging solutions because they’re not available right now,” said Brown. “We’ve invested in the Nestlé Institute of Packaging to work with the science community and the rest of the packaging community to develop novel solutions that are fully recyclable and/or compostable. These will be the replacement solutions for that 10 per cent non-recyclable packaging.

“If we can come up with solutions that meet consumer expectations of quality, tamper-proof food safety, and is relevant in a category that can fully eliminate packaging, that would be a good thing. We’re trialling those solutions already.”

Another hot topic is food trends. Two that have caught the eye of Nestle’s hierarchy are confectionery products with less sugar [see box story Satisfying the Sweet Tooth], and plant-based proteins. Again, it is the younger consumer driving the issue. In the case of the latter, it is not about getting rid of meat altogether, but about replacing one or two meals a week with plant-based proteins. Brown thinks there are many reasons for the growing trend.

“There’s health reasons,” he said. “They may also connect the dots between meat and greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, for them, it might be about living in a more sustainable environment. With our Harvest Gourmet products, and along with the rest of the plant protein industry, we are providing alternatives that make that transition seamless in a way that is pretty surprising. We think that it is going to grow quickly as a market opportunity.”

Brown said that Nestlé is looking to develop a range of meat alternatives – from chicken breasts to mince – that will give customers versatile options for food consumption. Then there are dairy alternatives, too.

“You can expect we will bring plant-based dairy options across a range of our beverage products,” he said. “We’ve seen that it is becoming popular in the way people are adopting plant-based milks into their out of home coffee consumption. That is definitely an opportunity for in-home coffee consumption as well.”

And what about another, albeit minor, trend of insect-based proteins? Brown acknowledges that it is an idea the company might look at in the future, but there is nothing in the pipeline at the moment.

“We’re aware of insect-based proteins. They’re probably not mainstream enough for us to look at yet,” he said. “We’re blessed at being in a pretty resource-rich environment so we’re not quite yet at the insect level. It’s an imaginative solution, which is arguable very sustainable and we should never rule it out.”

Brown is confident that Nestlé is on target to not only continue meeting the needs of its traditional consumers, but also encompass new food technologies and trends that will be entering the food chain over the next 5 to 10 years. It is not only about keeping the taste great, but making sure the brand keeps its reputation.

“As we continue to offer more choice and lift the nutritional credentials of all our products, it is important to remember that any change has to be underpinned by great taste. And with that, will come trust – something that is very important to any brand like Nestlé.”

Social responsibility
Chocolate and coffee – two items that tick all the endorphin boxes when consumed. Debating traceability of products, sustainability in packaging, and energy efficiencies during the production process are all well and good, but what’s the point if the key ingredients no longer exist? No ingredients means no products. Coffee beans and cocoa plants are grown in a narrow window of land on the equator. The main producers are in sub-Sahara African and the equatorial climate of South America. A recent article in Business Insider titled Chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 years, concentrated on how the aforementioned strip of land is set to shrink due to climate change. Cacao plants, which product the cocoa for chocolate, need certain temperatures to grow and that is starting to change. However, that is not the main issue, because if humanity does get to reverse the more undesirable effects of climate change, there is another more urgent problem – will there be cocoa farmers to produce the crop?

It is an issue that the likes of Nestlé and Mars are taking head on. They realise without cocoa, a large portion of their business is affected. It is with this in mind that Nestlé’s Martin Brown explains why the company’s attitude towards its primary producers is holistic. The company knows that trying to buy the biggest amount of cocoa at the cheapest price possible is short-sighted. Long-term viability is needed and is something that the company champions. With more than 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa being produced on two million small farms in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, logistics can be challenging.

“The reality is that a lot of these communities are in undeveloped economies and live in challenged social spaces, so we have to help them resolve things such as unsafe work practices,” said Brown. “They’re complicated problems to solve that need total integration by the government across all industries.”

Brown said that in 2014 Nestlé was one of the first major companies in Australia to use 100 per cent sustainable cocoa. He said the company is committed to paying a premium to all farmers it buys through. The company also likes to make sure its suppliers are in compliance when it comes to eliminating unsafe child labour work practices and ensuring children go to school.

“We are also eliminating the use of unsafe pesticides,” said Brown. “We’ve built schools in farming communities to ensure that their kids are getting educated. We’ve distributed new cocoa plants. We’ve renewed the cocoa plantations to drive productivity in their farms. We’ve educated farmers on how to look after their farms better.”

A lot of actions undertaken by food conglomerates are driven by consumer expectations. However, Brown also knows that goodwill in these communities goes a long way. Because if climate change does get addressed, and the standard of living is accelerated, there are other issues that will also need addressing. Only collaboration between the farmers and businesses will solve them.

“There are a numbers of reasons why the cocoa supply has been under threat,” said Brown. “First, cacao trees are at their most productive between 2-20 years of age. If they are not renewed and the tree is not continuously replenished, productivity drops, and drops away sharply.”

Next, if the farming methods to optimise the layout of a farm – from ventilation between trees, right fertilisation methods, pruning and cropping of the trees – isn’t maintained, the productivity of the tree is reduced. Then there is the issue whereby farmers might not grow the crop anymore because they are not getting the economic outcome of it that another crop might provide.

“Another reason why you might have a compromised future with the cocoa crop is that the next generation don’t want to farm,” said Brown. “The next generation might leave farm communities because the conditions are just not good enough. They are not liveable and those meant to be taking over the farm have higher expectations of quality of life. And that should be everyone’s expectation – that the next generation gets to lead a higher quality of life or has the opportunity.”

Getting the specifications right for an F&B build

For food and beverage facility owners, navigating compliance requirements when building or renovating a new building can be tough at the best of times, especially in a constantly changing regulatory environment. Bill Franks is a founding shareholder of food and beverage construction specialist Total Construction and is also member of the Australian Institute of Building. He has been involved in the industry for more than 30 years, and has some interesting insights on how some of these pitfalls can be avoided, especially for some of the smaller, up-and-coming food and beverage enterprises.

“Whereas a big multinational company has a team of people checking compliance, if you’re a mum-and-dad business, or own an industrial unit where you want to produce food for sale, you don’t have access to that kind of resource,” he said. “For starters, it’s important to understand which regulations you need to comply with. A commercial building comes under the Building Act and National Construction Code (NCC); what was known as the Building Code of Australia.”

A couple of regulations in particular, can cause issues because people don’t know some of the minute details – the fine print – that can be hidden in the regulations.

“For example, Section J (energy efficiency) of the NCC, along with essential fire services, have been catching people out for a number of years now,” said Franks. “Plus, with the ‘Access to Premises’ standard, a minor addition or alteration to a commercial building can now involve some serious upgrades to services like water, electricity and insulation just to mention a few.”

Franks adds that, while a lot of people know that buildings require fire sprinklers, there are other accessories that need to be added, too. “For example, water pressures have changed, and sprinklers now require water storage tanks and a set of pumps, which can sometimes cost around a half a million dollars.”

Then there is disability that needs to be added to the mix of potential changes some sites that are being renovated. In some cases, councils will require a lift to be installed, doorways and corridors widened and disability amenities added to satisfy current building codes.

Other considerations that need to be considered when planning to convert a brownfield site into a food and beverage facility include the noise and odour impacts. Many councils insist on obtaining noise and odour statements as part of the any submission. Although the consultant fees to produce these statements can be relatively low, the resulting adaptions to the building can be significant. In one instance a client was required to install 6.2m high exhaust flues to ensure that odours from their cooking processes were dispersed effectively and not impinge on neighbouring residential properties.

“You may say that is fair enough,” said Franks, “however, the residential properties were almost a kilometre away, yet the odour report indicated that with the right conditions the cooking odours could travel that far.”

Any new facility in the industry will need to comply with a Council’s Health Department requirements, so this means effective drainage, washing and waste disposal areas need to be well-defined to comply. Generally, to accommodate new drainage runs and wash areas in brownfield sites, a company needs to cut into the slab. Also, depending on the amount of drainage required, the existing slab could end up looking like “swiss cheese”. These drainage runs will then need to be reinstated and pinned back into the existing slab. In some instances, combining this with set down areas for any freezers, it can be cheaper to lay an entire new slab.

Apart from Council and NCC requirements, brownfield sites can also have issues with the roof weight capacity, as the majority of industrial units available are only designed to support roofing sheets and not much else. To enable the roof to support numerous services and insulated panel ceilings etcetera, the roof structure generally needs to be strengthened – sometimes dramatically.

Then there is another set of key criteria in deciding on premises to convert – power and gas availability. Again, the majority of industrial units only have access to approximately 100amps supply and no gas feed. Food and beverage facilities can require in excess of 500amps and a reliable gas supply to effectively run their operations. The time and cost associated with upgrading and installing these feeds can be exorbitant, and have caught out many proponents, causing delays in establishing operations.

So, what can you do to make sure your building ticks all the boxes? “The first thing is to establish the scope of the development, then work out where it might be non-compliant and if your budget stretches to bringing it up to standard,” said Franks. “You can find a copy of NCC online, but it can be difficult to make sense of it if you’re not a lawyer or building professional. My advice would be to get a report from a building certifier and engage an appropriate food and beverage builder to advise. By enlisting theservices of professionals, you can avoid a host of problems in the future.

“The key to ensuring you mitigate risks in your project is to involve your builder early in the process commonly known in the construction game as early contractor involvement or ECI.”

According to Franks, having a builder involved during the scoping and design stage can allow critical cost items in any build/fit out be identified and alternatives discussed.

“For instance, you may have a plan to construct a mezzanine level in your operations, this although perfect for the intended process flows can be extremely costly to construct,” he said. “Sometimes, a client cannot see the forest for the trees so to speak – they are so intrenched in their business that they only see one aspect of the project – being to increase efficiencies in their production.”

Involving a builder with process engineering capability in the food and beverage industry, such as Total Construction, can allow a different set of eyes to see the requirements and suggest alternatives to the building layout that just don’t reduce the need for costly building works, but can improve the process flow overall.

How ECI works to develop an achievable budget.
First, a site investigation is carried out by the builder on the existing and proposed facilities to detail and identify all services required and what is available at the new site (power, gas capacities). It is important to note that to increase power or gas supply to a site can be very costly to the project and create delays. Another area that needs consideration in the case of an existing building to be fitted out is the structure’s integrity. Having to strengthen this to cope with the additional weight of fit out and services can often blow out project costs.
Then a workshop is carried out with all stakeholders to identify required efficiencies, confirm proposed outputs and flag any potential limitations. As part of this workshop, all production processes are mapped and detailed for both the existing and proposed operations.

A list is made of the capacities and dimensions of all equipment both existing and new is developed. This helps to identify all utilities and services that are required. It also sets the benchmark for power and gas requirements at the proposed site.

This process helps identify potential bottle necks in current processes and helps highlight any potential hygiene requirements in the new fit out. Getting all this data captured is critical in maximising efficiencies of the new facility.

A review of the buildability of the facility is done and sketch design layouts are completed to optimise process flows to best fit the client’s objectives. A building/fit out SWAT analysis is carried out and build/fit-out costs are derived. Through close consultation between the builder and client, this process allows savings to be identified early on in the design and layout of the facility.

A detailed design including all services and requirements is then developed and put to the market for live market costing. This will give the client a firm understanding of what they can get for their dollar.

Finally, this is where working to a budget comes in – once the ideal building and fit out costs are established it is possible to derive further reductions in the overall project spend through rationalising the design. This includes, but is not limited to, reducing the number and sizes of rooms, freezer/cool room capacities and locations, and finishes in the design. This can be done while keeping future expansion capability intact in the design and maintain the client’s required production output for the new facility.

The importance of food and beverage labelling

Food labelling – it can be a minefield. In an era of food allergens, many imported products, as well as a bevy of health and safety regulations, food and beverage manufacturers have their work cut out for them to make sure they create products that meet a wide range of food regulations.

It’s something not lost on Fiona Fleming who is the managing director of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST), which is the body for food industry professionals who work in many different fields within the food and beverage industry. Fleming knows that food labelling can be a difficult subject to navigate, especially for those just starting out in the industry.

What are the main issues surrounding food labelling? Correct labelling of imported foods and declaration of food allergens provide significant challenges, according to Fleming. Australia does appear to be the food allergy capital of the world, with Melbourne leading the way.

There is no single reason for this, more a myriad of causes – peoples’ diets have changed, more sufferers are reporting their allergies and, in the case of Melbourne, some researchers believe low levels of vitamin D contribute due to the city’s cooler climate and children spending less time outdoors in the sun.

READ MORE: Six reasons why food labelling is important

Whatever the reason, consumption of a food allergen can have fatal consequences for those who are allergic to that food or foods. For someone with a severe allergy, exposure to the allergen can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis which affects the whole body, often within minutes of exposure.

“They key allergens of concern in Australia and New Zealand are egg, milk, peanut, fish, crustacea, peanuts, soybeans, sesame seed, tree nuts, wheat and other gluten containing cereals, and lupin,” Fleming said.

“These are required to be labelled when present in a food under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. And just to add to the confusion, both for those on the ground in Australia and those wanting to import food products, allergens required to be labelled in one country might not always be required to be labelled in another.”

For example, in Europe, mustard and celery are allergens that must be labelled, whereas in Australia they are not on the list of food allergens required to be labelled.

“Any ingredient that is in a food product has to be labelled, and it is up to the importer to ensure that foods they bring into Australia and New Zealand have the correct allergen declarations to comply with ANZ requirements,” Fleming said.

“Australian and NZ manufacturers have gone further with labelling following best practice guidance developed by the food industry. For example, allergen names are highlighted in bold text in the ingredient list which helps consumers when purchasing products.”

Food allergens are not the only important piece of information that needs to be put on food labels.

For imported foods, all of this information is required to be provided in English, meaning labels must be translated accurately and completely. Failure to include all of the information can potentially result in a costly product recall and injury to consumers.

Importers of foods into Australia have to be responsible and realise that ignorance of local labelling laws is no excuse if the correct information is not available to the buying public. There is an over-riding premise in law that ignorance of law is no defence.

“All food companies have an obligation to know the regulations under which they must operate, and they have an overriding obligation to provide food that is safe and suitable,” Fleming said.

“Accurate food labelling is important for ensuring food safety, and ignorance of the labelling requirements is no defence.”

First and foremost, manufacturers tend to initially concentrate on the product itself. Is it tasty? How much will it cost to produce? Where can we source the ingredients? Can we outsource the manufacturing of our product, or can we set up or own manufacturing facility?

Once a manufacturer gets their head around what is involved in crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, correct labelling can sometimes be intimidating and time consuming. But there is help available.

Fleming is the first to acknowledge that there no easy route to labelling food and beverage products.

“Food labelling is quite complex,” said Fleming. “I do recognise that it is very hard to start up a food manufacturing enterprise because sometimes companies don’t know where to go to find the information they need.

“There are certainly organisations that provide training in food labelling. If you are in NSW, for example, you can go to the NSW Food Authority’s website where there is a lot of good information for starting a business, and they have some basic information around requirements for food labelling.”

The final piece of advice Fleming would give is with regard to preservatives and additives in food products. They, too, have to be approved for use, and labelled as part of the ingredient listing on products.

“Australia is a small country, population wise, and we import a lot of our products,” Fleming said.

“It is important to remember that just because something is approved to be used in a food product overseas, it doesn’t mean it’s been approved to be used here.

It can be challenging negotiating the regulations, but it is very important for companies to be aware of the requirements and put steps and processes in place to ensure they have the information and knowledge they need to ensure their products are fully compliant.

“I know that sometimes information is not easy to find, but there are also food consultants out there who can assist. The AIFST website has a page that lists members who are consultants and provide this sort of assistance to food companies.”

There are also tools available to food manufacturers developed by the food industry to assist with collection of information and labelling. For example, the Product Information Form, or PIF, is an industry-agreed questionnaire developed by the food industry, for the food industry, in Australia and New Zealand.

The PIF allows companies to include a variety of information about food products and ingredients in a single document that meets information needs for legal and regulatory compliance in Australia and New Zealand, in a standardised manner.

The PIF is an industry tool that can improve company efficiency and reliability in managing product specification and other related data when applied across the sector.

With respect to allergen management and labelling, the Allergen Bureau has a comprehensive website and tools available to assist with allergen risk assessment and labelling (https://allergenbureau.net).

“At the end of the day, as a food manufacturer, whether big or small, Australian or not, you have an important role in ensuring that consumers continue to enjoy a variety of safe and nutritious food that will contribute to their wellbeing,” Fleming said.

Mandatory requirements for labelling – the Big 11

1. Name of food
2. Name and address
3. Lot identification
4. Allergen declaration
5. Ingredient list
6. Date marking
7. Storage and usage instructions
8. Nutrition information
9. Characterising ingredients
10. Country of origin
11. Quantity marking

Why the food packaging industry needs to sell itself better

Keith Chessell is a packaging evangelist. Being in the industry for the best part of 50 years, he was there at the beginning when consumers and manufacturers alike knew that packaging sustainability was going to be an issue going forward for many industries, including food and beverage. He was there when the Keep Australia Beautiful campaign was launched and knows that the image of the packaging industry isn’t what it could be.

As well as being a consultant at Sustainable Packaging Design, Chessell is also heavily involved with the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) – you could say that packaging and all its issues are in his blood.

Generically, packaging doesn’t have the greatest of reputations among consumers these days. At best, it’s seen as a necessity to transport products from the factory to the retail outlet, while others at the other end of the spectrum see it as an unnecessary pollutant that chokes our waterways, oceans, parks and other recreation areas.

Being in an industry for five decades gives Chessell a unique insight into the issues, not just on what they are now, but how far the industry has come. And while he’s not about to sell packaging as a brilliant accessory to human endeavours, he said that the industry itself needs to do a better job of informing the public of its true role in the wider scheme of things.

At a recent SAI Global Food Safety conference held in Sydney, Chessell outlined some of the issues facing the packaging industry. One of the key discussions at the moment is in the area of reducing packaging. For example, Chessell compares opening up some toys to that of unpacking a piece of IKEA kit. While some may nod in agreement, a large number of companies have spent years reducing the amount of packaging in a product – not that the public would know.

“The focus from many in industry over the past 20 years has been on removing and reducing packaging where possible,” said Chessell.

“ Some companies are now at the stage where they have reduced everything they can. I can remember eight years ago saying, ‘I can’t take any more out of my packaging with my products’. If the boss wants me to save another $2 million, I’ll start having other issues, such as maintaining the integrity of the packaging.”

Chessell also pointed out that most companies now do not want to overpack a product because it is becoming economically unviable to do so. This is where it is necessary to start educating people on the why. He cites the examples of cucumbers and bananas that have plastic packaging.

“Why are some cucumber wrapped in plastic? I know the answer, but most people don’t. Why not put a sign above that cucumber saying, ‘We’re doing this because it extends the shelf life of this cucumber’. It’s the same with wrapped small bananas. People ask ‘why?’ Well, it protects the fruit, stops it from bruising and is designed to reduce food wastage and spoilage.”

However, lauding the innovations that packaging can sometimes have unintended, negative consequences. He talks about a recent entrant into the AIP’s Packaging Innovation and Design (PIDA) awards.

“One of the companies that entered this year’s awards was a fish company with a fabulous innovative pack that extended the shelf life by 15 days,” he said. “But the company chose to not communicate this significant benefit to the consumers on-pack as they did not want a perception that their fish wasn’t fresh. For this company by promoting the extension of shelf life to the customer potentially offered a negative connotation.”

And it’s when Chessell starts throwing out stats on food waste that you begin to appreciate his frustration at how packaging is undersold. Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted at an estimated cost of $1.3 trillion.

According to the National Food Waste Baseline Executive Summary, Australia generates about 7.3 million tonnes of food waste annually. Of that, 1.2 million tonnes is recycled, 2.9 million tonnes is recovered, while the remaining 3.2 million tonnes is disposed of at landfills. Households contribution is 34.3 per cent and primary production 31.3 per cent, while manufacturing comes in at third with 24 per cent. With figures like that, it is no wonder Chessell is passionate about reducing food waste.

“Unfortunately, many consumers see all packaging as a negative. They don’t see any useful purpose for it and don’t understand the true role of packaging. I believe we can change that if we start to communicate better to customers about why we use certain types of packaging. They might then understand there are other benefits of packaging if we start to put more information on our packaging.”

Are there other answers? How can food and beverage companies sell the role of packaging in the food chain to the public? How do we better communicate that packaging plays a huge role long before the pack needs throwing away once the food has been extracted? There are several things, according to Chessell, and it’s all about education, education and education.

Packaging’s main role is to contain and protect goods and keep them in perfect condition until they are consumed. It also carries important information on the label that gives insights into the ingredients. Adding the Australasian Recycling Label on-pack to communicate the true recyclability of the pack is also important.

The final part of the jigsaw is the on-pack communication, that allows the manufacturer to expound the virtues and benefits their food or beverage encompasses. These criteria need to be explained loudly and often, said Chessell. Getting the public educated is one way of reducing stigmas surrounding packaging, and Chessell points out the AIP itself is taking the initiative by developing a set of Save Food packaging design criteria for reducing food waste for the industry. This criteria includes improved barrier packaging and processing; retaining nutrition; active and intelligent packaging; utilising skin (vacuum), MAP and EMAP packaging formats; portion control packaging; easy opening/resealable packaging; and controlled dispensing, which will mean all the product will be consumed as opposed to leftover product being thrown out (i.e. sauce bottles etc).

Chessell believes that the AIP has started the conversation and he wants it to continue.
“Packaging is a difficult topic these days and the important question we need to ask is, ‘What is the consumer’s view on packaging and how can we help change the perception so that they start to understand that intuitive packaging can actually help minimise and prevent food waste?”

This is something the AIP and Chessell are well on the way to doing.

Why St.George funds food and beverage enterprises

With interest rates at an all-time low – and some industry pundits stating they might go lower – the opportunities for growth, especially for an industry like food and beverage, are enormous.

Mark Burgess is the experienced and affable relationship director – consumer goods leader at St.George Bank. His portfolio of customers are in the food and beverage arena and he sees solid opportunities within the industry over the next 12-18 months. It is one of the bank’s growth sectors, mainly propelled by the domestic and global demand for quality Australian produce. He’s also a good gauge of what other factors are propelling the market at the moment, and Burgess cites new technologies and food trends as being market drivers.

At a recent St.George Signature Food Event, Burgess talked of not only how the food and beverage sectors are looking healthy, but how the role of banks has changed over the past decade.

“I think within the last few years – the banks have shifted away from being what I would call ‘order takers’ – like at McDonald’s – to that of being more trusted business advisors. That is one of the reasons St.George moved to an industry model four years ago because we wanted to have industry experts to not just be there to take orders from customers, but also have insightful discussions with them about their industry as well as their growth plans and where they see themselves going. Then talking to them about how we can support them to grow and prosper. It’s really about that. It is one of the reasons I joined the bank.”

READ MORE: How a 1960s cartoon predicted the future of food

Having been a director at Ernst and Young and a senior corporate advisor, Burgess likes helping businesses grow. It’s another reason he likes the food and beverage industry.
“While we are seeing growth with our customers who are the larger players in the market, as a bank we also focus on family businesses and the middle marketplace, too,” he said.

Why? Burgess sees them as lean, hungry and leading the charge when it comes to some of the newer market sectors within food and beverage.

“Those companies are really nimble, and quite dynamic and they are looking at new areas that they can diversity in,” he said. “For example, a lot of my customers look to supply Coles and Woolworths, and it is those customers who are leading the charge in the healthy alternatives market. Then there is a push for the vegan movement, as well as alternative substitutes for meats and other core products.

“Some of those businesses are ahead of the curve and have a huge focus on innovation within their organisations. I’ve got one customer who is a traditional meat supplier and they are now getting into non-meat products.”

Although Burgess is excited about the market and where it is headed, this doesn’t mean the bank has a laissez-faire attitude towards doing business. There are still systems that have to be followed. A large portion of food and beverage businesses involve the manufacture of perishable items, not exactly great assets to put in the ledger when talking to your bank.

So what does a company have to do with regard to getting a loan if they need to recapitalise, or more often than not, expand their business?

“If we’re doing cash flow lending as opposed to bricks and mortar property lending in the food space, we look at your working capital cycle. We are relying on your debtor book to fund your business,” he said. “We look at the strength of your relationships and what your terms are like with those debtors. We then look at how efficient your supply chain is. It’s also about the experience of the management of the company, too.”

And how does the bank find the attitude of the big players like Woolworths and Coles when it comes to helping out not just those who are regular brands on their shelves, but those new to the market? Burgess works closely with them and said they are very supportive of entrepreneurs because they want to see new products on their shelves.

“They want to get onboard because an entrepreneur could produce a new product that might fly off the shelves, and that product might also be a reason why consumers go to a Woolworths store instead of Coles or vice versa,” he said.

New technologies are also a driver for the industry, and Burgess and his team are seeing those innovations first-hand from their customers.

“I was talking with a customer today who specialises in ready-made meals, and he has
been flat out,” said Burgess. “His product had a shelf life of three to four days, but because a packaging specialist brought out a new technology, his product now has a shelf life of 7-10 days. Something as simple as that has made a huge impact on his business in terms of wastage and time savings from deliveries.”

Burgess loves the industry, not just because he’s a foodie, but because it is dynamic, ever changing. He is very excited about the future of banking in the sector, and the industry itself.

“The thing I love about this role is that it is all about seeing the customers grow and prosper and supporting them in their growth plans,” he said. “Given my corporate advisory background, I can provide meaningful insights around business strategy and direction. The food and beverage space is a rapidly changing environment and it’s exciting.”

How a 1960s cartoon predicted the future of food

Sharon Natoli loves food. Which is just as well when she makes her living as an author and speaker specialising in the food and beverage industry.

At a recent event held by St.George Bank at urban farm, Cultivate, which is based in the Sydney CBD, Natoli spoke about the future of food and some of the challenges processors, retailers and manufacturers face.

Her first point was that the future – in general – is coming faster and faster. The Human Knowledge Curve has shown that in 1900 humanity’s knowledge was doubling every 100 years. In 1945, the rate was doubling every 25 years. By 1982 it was down to approximately one year. Today, it is estimated that what humans know is doubling every day, while deep learning platform IBM Watson predicts that our knowledge will double every 12 hours by 2020. What is driving this alarming rate of change?

“It is around data collection,” said Natoli. “The fact is that every day that we use our laptop, our phone, we buy things, and we click purchase things online. We use our credit cards, that’s data that is being collected all the time. Wearables, sensors – so much technology around us, and so much data to collect. The key is keeping up with the rate of knowledge that is happening in terms at which it is doubling.”

READ MORE: Federal funding announced for aquaculture development in Northern Australia

And with all these changes starting to occur, it is important that food and beverage businesses don’t get caught ‘sheep walking’ – a term that Natoli said is similar to sleep walking, except people are wandering around with their eyes open.

“We have our eyes open and we are conscious, but it is hard to see the future coming at us because we are surrounded by the status quo,” she said. “If we get caught sheep walking, then it is harder for us to innovate and keep up.”

She gives the example of French yoghurt manufacturer Yoplait, who up until 2015 was the number one brand in the United States. Over a few years it lost 33 per cent of its market share, with 23 per cent of that coming within one year. The equated to about $500 million in revenue. What happened? A rival read the future.

“Chobani came along with a better tasting yoghurt, a lower sugar yoghurt – the kind of things consumers were looking for at that time, and so they took a large chunk of that market share away.”

However, one topic that Natoli covered could have consequences for food processors – 3D printing. Back in the 1960s the cartoon television series The Jetsons had the Foodarackacycle, a device that, with the press of a button, would produce food for the family. Fifty years later, similar technology is coming to fruition with the Foodini.

“Foodini is a 3D printer that enables us to serve food, freshly printed,” said Natoli. “It is a smart kitchen appliance using 3D printing technology that enables us to personalise our food. Not only the amount, but a personalised nutritional profile of the food, and we can personalise the way that it looks.

“It is also attractive to health-conscious people because it puts food production in the hands of the consumer. You can print things like crackers, wraps and pizza bases – some of the things you would usually buy prepared from the supermarket.”

With the future fast approaching, it would be easy to put your head in the sand and say “it’s all too much”, especially as Natoli has already stated, our knowledge is almost doubling every day. However, she also said there are three “plates that need spinning” if the food and beverage manufacturers are going to keep ahead of the knowledge curve. They are: what do you need to keep? What are things that these companies need to keep up with? What do they want to create?

When she talks about what companies need to keep, it is more about their legacy, their history – it is about a company’s culture, both past, present and looking to the future.
Probably the most important of the three “spinning plates”, is keeping up with trends, something that could be argued Yoplait failed to do when it lost its market share in the US. There are lots of trends and different businesses need to keep up with them, said Natoli. She said there are three areas of macro trends that will be relevant to the food and beverage industry.

“The first is this rising rebellion,” she said. “What we are finding is that we have the means and the motivation more than ever to stand up for the things we believe in. We are seeing a power shift from organisations and institutions through to individuals. And this is being shown a Colmar Brunton’s Millennium Monitor. What they monitor is Australia’s changing social sentiment. What they have found, is we are moving from an era of conformity where we had trust in institutions and organisations, through to this rebellious era. What we are valuing is empowerment and individual responsibility and taking on change ourselves.”
This is leading some food and beverage brands to adopt a rebellious approach, such as the likes of Soul Fresh, which owns the brand The Milk Thief.

“They’re saying, ‘we’re a movement, not a corporation’. They are saying they are a disruptor of the status quo versus doing what we’ve always done,” said Natoli. “They’re focussed on creating healthier and better foods for consumers instead of focussing on delivering foods and beverages at the lowest cost possible.”

The second macro trend is the idea of getting more from less. This is around the intersection between disquiet about the state of the environment, combined with consumers concern about their personal health. It’s about growing things with less impact on the environment but also being healthy. She cites the example of Mike Lee from US-based Alpha Food Labs, who is looking at the biodiversity of the supermarket shelf. Natoli said he has flipped things on its head. Usually, when it comes to new product ideas, it is marketing or product development people who come up with new concepts and go out and tell the farmers, or the suppliers, to grow this or produce that.

“What Alpha Labs is doing is turning that around and going out to the farmers and saying, ‘what are you growing? What is good for the soil? What is in season?’ and then the company takes that and makes a product from it. It is the opposite of what we would usually do from a food production perspective,” she said. “They want people to see that these products are not just made from wheat, rice and oats, but they are made from things like lentils, fava beans and moringa powder, millet – all kinds of different grains and that is a way to introduce biodiversity into the food chain.”

The final part in the macro trend equation is the expectations that people have when it comes to what they are consuming. Natoli said they have high expectations of food producers as well as high expectations from their food.

“This is where transparency and knowing where your food comes from – who made it, what’s in it – comes in,” she said. “Also the use of technology in terms of things like augmented reality, where you can scan a barcode of a product and find out the story behind it. Also around health and wellbeing and how we can really improve it through what we eat.

“Companies like Habitoir, which is a US company that takes some of the insights around genetic testing, and develops personalised nutrition plans that meet peoples’ expectations around how food can deliver better health to them.”

Natoli also believes that even though there is a lot of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality creeping into the food processing and manufacturing space, there is still room for human interaction. Some companies even make it part of their marketing plan.

“Harris Farm, they often put themselves forward – like one of the brothers Tristan Harris – as commentators,” she said. “They put a face to the brand. It gives it that human element.”
And getting back to her point about the rebellious disruption going on, The Havas Media Group recently completed a survey that involved 300,000 consumer and 1,500 brands across 33 countries. What it found was that brands that are more meaningful outperform the stock market by double over a 10-year period. Being meaningful meant contributing to the collective well-being of society.

“Overall the future is coming at us quite rapidly and we don’t want to get caught sheep walking. We have to be really future ready. If we can spin those three plates together at the same time, then that is going to help us navigate in this decade of disruption. Many a false move was made by standing still, so whatever you do, just don’t stand still.

“It is really great for food businesses to have the opportunity to come together, to network, and connect, particularly over a meal. To create those social connections over food and to share their ideas and learnings.

“I think the way of the future is really about collaboration and so an event like this that St.George has put on is really beneficial for helping to do that.”

Unleashed a game changer for award-winning bakery

Located an hour’s drive south of Perth, Pinjarra is a little town with a huge drawcard – its renowned bakery run by the Pantaleo family.

Founded just over 22 years ago by patriarch and former panel beater Larry, the bakery has not only put the town on the map, but has won a bookshelf-full of national awards for its pies. Its award-winning ways were capped off this year by taking out the Best Meat Pie award in the Great Aussie Meat Pie Competition at the Fine Food Australia Exhibition held in Sydney.

Like any company, growth is key, and since starting the business in 1997, Larry and the rest of his family, has grown the business to include stores in Maddington and Waroona, also in Western Australia.

However, while expansion is exciting, it does come with a set of challenges, one being more paperwork. When in its infancy, dealing with spreadsheets wasn’t a problem for the Pantaleo family. However, as the business expanded, so did the bureaucracy of keeping it running. The bakery’s general manager, Larry’s son Daniel, knew something had to be done to streamline processes with paperwork. Enter Unleashed Software’s solution.

READ MORE: Integration and easy of use key to cloud solution

“The old system that we had of dealing with the paperwork and spreadsheets was no longer going to work,” said Daniel Pantaleo. “It was very inefficient and time-consuming for us. It all came to a head when we opened our Maddington store.”

Unleashed’s inventory management software was a perfect solution for the family, and Pantaleo noticed the impact straight away.

“What we like about Unleashed is that it is a hosted solution, which means I can jump on it from anywhere in the world and I can check what is going on,” he said. “I can update my prices. I can contact my customers through the CRM. So it allows me – as someone who is here, there and everywhere at any given time of the day – to jump on any time anywhere and see what is going on. This is very important for me, because the last thing I want was a dedicated software solution on one computer at one location. A key to me was having that flexibility.”

According to Pantaleo, the system also streamlined a lot of processes that the bakery had, which were old and clunky. Many mistakes were getting made and Unleashed allowed Pantaleo to enter all the parameters he needed to cover in one place. From there, he could control the ordering of stock, see what stock he had, as well as the taking feedback from the other two stores.

“Everything became a lot clearer as to how we were operating that business,” said Pantaleo. “You need to keep control of your numbers otherwise it is pretty daunting feeling when you think you are losing control of the stock, the numbers and what is going on with that side of the business.

“Unleashed is quite precise in what it does. It is flexible, too. Not only in terms that we can operate it from anywhere, but also how you can tweak it to your style of business. It tells you everything you need to know. If you manage your stock and distribution correctly, Unleashed will do all the hard work for you. It allows you to customise and design your own purchase orders, invoices and stuff like that, which is very handy.”

Pantaleo is confident that Unleashed is capable of being used in many other industries. He said that it takes a while to set everything up, but once it is up and running it is a powerful tool.

“The biggest issue we worried about was that we had all these items that we needed to enter into it, which we thought was going to take forever,” he said. “But we were pretty much given a template of a spreadsheet and then told how we needed to enter the data. And from there, once we had the 1,000 plus items in there – the product, the supplier, the prices, the sell price tiers etc – we uploaded it to Unleashed and then we were ready to use it.”

With more than 70 staff onboard, Pantaleo knows that he is not the only one who needs to know how to use the software, which means he has had to teach others how implement it, too. He said that he has found teaching others how to use it easy for a couple of reasons.

“Unleashed is really easy to teach, because they have a lot of online training tools,” he said. “They have what they call a university that shows people how to use the software. If I do need to onboard somebody to use it, I usually send them to do that training first. From there, I manage them for a couple of days to give them pointers of the little intricacies of how we operate our business. It’s fairly straight forward.”

There are several highlights that Pantaleo points out. This includes being able to run a reorder report, which reads all the stock levels the bakery has at any given time.

“From that report you can generate a purchase order to all of your suppliers with the levels you require,” said Pantaleo. “That saves us a lot of time and this is why it is one of the main highlights of the product.”

The other feature that Pantaleo loves is its business-to-business portal that was released a year ago, which is an online ordering platform. It was a real game changer for Pinjarra Bakery.

“Initially we got Unleashed because it was reducing the paperwork, but as we increased our stores that paperwork was starting to increase again, just through the volume of the stores we had,” said Pantaleo. “Having that online portal allowed us to place our orders online and that would then pull the orders straight in as a sale order, which saves us possibly two or three hours a day of not having to enter stock manually. The orders that come in are now a lot more accurate and saved us a tonne of time and allowed our distribution manager to focus on more things to improve the distribution as opposed to being stuck behind a computer all day.”

Preparing for the future: sustainability, digitisation, and an aging workforce

Supply chain, factories of the future, Industry 4.0, and an aging manufacturing workforce – all subjects that recently have started to have an impact on the food and beverage industry. It’s no longer enough to go after market share; processors and manufacturers in this space have to play the long game and ask themselves some questions about where they are heading, such as: What does the future hold in the supply chain space? Do we need to adopt an Industry 4.0/Internet of Things (IoT) strategy? Does it even affect my business? What is a factory of the future?

Pollen Consulting Group is a company that specialises in value chain transformations in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. It recently hosted a networking event where a panel consisting of some of the brightest minds in the digitisation area came together to discuss some the issues that both multinationals and SMEs are facing within the sector.

Facilitated by Pollen’s managing director, Paul Eastwood, the event showcased insights into the aforementioned issues.

Linda Crowe, head of supply chain at wines and spirits producer Diageo, knows that the company has to get onboard with sustainability initiatives –but at what cost?

READ MORE: Branding and supply chain: Why they matter

“We had our global supply and procurement director out recently and we talked about sustainability,” she said. “And the biggest message he landed was that we don’t have a choice anymore, but we need to find a way to be sustainable without impacting costs. Or, if it’s going to be more costly, then we have to pull it out of the profit and loss (P&L) somewhere else. We definitely need to start looking within to get ahead of the trends and do it in an intelligent way.”

And while some talk the talk, as James Magee, CEO of Operations Feedback Systems (OFS), explained, when it comes to walking the walk, some baulk.

“From my time working in Visy’s recycling department, there were many brand owners and organisations that came in and said they wanted to go down the path of sustainability,” he said. “They wanted to promote it, but of course it came at a higher cost. When that resolve was tested, in many cases, neither the brand or consumers, despite outwardly promoting it and testing at shelf, decided they would go for the cheaper option. It’s interesting to hear Diageo’s approach. That is a breath of fresh air because a lot of companies will chase profits over sustainability.”

And while it is easy to be cynical about costs over profit, at least one person on the panel was not willing to compromise when it came to making sure her company was minimising its impact on the environment, even if it affects the bottom line. Diem Fuggersberger is the CEO of Berger Ingredients and food company Coco & Lucas, and her values in her home life cross over into her professional life.

“I have certain values in my personal life, so I have to make sure those things are the same in my business,” she said. “When I started Coco & Lucas I wanted sustainability, but it has hurt my profitability by at least $250,000 a year. All the packaging used in Coco & Lucas is biodegradable. Instead of paying $0.12 for a plastic food tray, I’m paying $0.28 for a biodegradable one. Initially my family wondered why I was paying all this extra money but I was determined to be the first national brand that doesn’t have plastic going into the earth. I felt it was my responsibility for me to have a biodegradable tray.”

The executive general manager at CHEP Australia, Lis Mannes, brought up the issue of waste in the food and beverage industry. Mannes was involved in companies that have had a large sustainability arm, yet the infrastructure within some of them has not been mature enough to handle the amounts of waste being created.

“We are in a lag position where we do not have, as a country, the infrastructure to handle the amount of waste we create,” she said.

To take it one step further, not only do companies have to think about what side effects waste will have on the environment, but there is a generation of younger workers coming through that are interested in their employer’s stance on the environment.

“I did an induction recently for some new employees, and one of my slides goes, ‘Why CHEP?’” said Mannes. “As I went around the room I asked people why they joined us. I would say over half of the room actually cited [the company’s attitude towards] sustainability as one of the core reasons that they joined the company. I don’t think I would have had that answer 10 years ago.”

Another point up for discussion was the role of technology in the supply chain, something that manufacturers and distributors in the food and beverage space need to take into consideration as digitisation starts to take hold. There were duelling trains of thought with this aspect of business in general – digitise completely now, or do it gradually.

Pollen Technology director, Oliver North believed that because technology is ever changing, there is a conundrum, which is that nobody knows what these changes will entail when it comes to supply chain.

“Nobody can predict what is going to happen,” said North. “The only thing we know is that it is going to change. The question being asked was, ‘How do we as a business adopt these changes?’ And when it comes to technology the first thing you should be looking at is where the pain points are in your supply chain.

“You need to look internally at a business and understand the areas where we have a problem, and where we can use technology to solve it. Then you look at the market and understand what technologies can help us there, and what technologies will fix that need.”
Mannes also delved into a few issues that need addressing within the Australian food and beverage industry – distance that products need to travel; legacy plant and machinery that needs upgrading; the need to diversify outputs during production; and an aging manufacturing workforce.

“When I look around the infrastructure in the food and beverage industry in Australia, there is a lot of legacy assets that exist, and one of the challenges of our economy is the distances versus the population that we are trying to service,” she said.

Mannes also touched on Australia being in a unique situation whereby the nature of the country – its size and the supply chain distances travelled – creates natural constraints that have to be considered. According to Mannes, some start-ups are often scared off by the scale of economies that exist in the country and the possibility of making a business work where they are servicing so many locations.

“To establish a fresh sandwich factory in Sydney, and to service the country, you just can’t do it, because you can’t get it with a three-day shelf-life to Perth,” she said.

Then there is the issue of the condition of the some of the plant and machinery in some factories, as well as the aging population of workers in the food and beverage processing and manufacturing industries.

“We have factories in many of our food industries that have these legacy assets that are looking tired,” she said. “Then, you have the generation of workers coming through who don’t want to work in them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been in endless discussions about aging employment and aging workforces and what that is going to do the economy, because we have a generation of people coming through who don’t want to work with our aged assets. But we have an economy that makes it really hard to have a business case to keep industry here. I don’t know what the solution for that is.

Generationally, as we start to adopt Industry 4.0 in the appropriate places, we will gradually get a younger segment coming though that do want to work in those kinds of environments.”

Eastwood then touched on workforce issues and how automation would affect factories of the future. In 2018, a Swiss think tank, The World Economic Forum, released a statement that stipulated that half the work force could be replaced by robots by 2025. However, it also said that robots could create twice as many jobs as currently exist now.

“I think the main problem is going to be a race between technology and education and which one is going to win,” said Eastwood. “I think if technology is going to win, you are going to have people without skills; if education wins then we might be okay. At the moment, technology is winning.”

This was backed up by productivity expert Ishan Galapathy who said we should be working smarter, not harder. “If we can build the capability of our frontlines leaders to problem solve, they will be using the skills that won’t go away – like empathy and courage,” he said.

The next topic on the agenda was about working in a factory of the future from an employee’s point of view. They would be ripe for the gig economy, said Magee, with gig referring to independent workers who contract their services out for short-term jobs.
“I would say that in the future an opportunity exists for manufacturing employees to share in the gig economy,” he said. “Why couldn’t there be a star rating where I’m an employee, or a hired gun, who can work in any factory. If you only need me for five hours, you don’t have to pay me to sweep the floor to fill out the contract if I finish early. I’ll walk across the road and go and work at another place for few more hours.”

A similar scenario could be played out for excess factory floor space. Diageo already thought ahead before it built its new distribution centre, according to Crowe. It intentionally built the factory bigger than it needed because it was taking into account the growth of the company. For about four months of the year it runs at full capacity, while in the other months it runs at about 50 to 60 per cent. It can rent out the extra space to, as Crowe puts it, “sweat the asset to make it profitable”.

The final point of the discussion, made by Eastwood, was about food and beverage processors and manufacturers taking on digitisation – don’t rush into it, he said.

“I don’t think you have to worry too much about being left behind because it takes time,” he said. “You won’t change the world tomorrow, but you do need to start thinking about it, because some companies are clearly starting to nudge ahead. There is no one that is miles ahead at the moment. Think about it. Take your time. And get it right. It doesn’t cost millions.”

A2 disruption to milk market not a bad thing

A2 milk had a rocky start when New Zealand businessman Howard Paterson and research scientist Dr Corran McLachlan founded the A2 Corporation in 2000. The milk, which claims to help reduce the risks of digestive problems, diabetes and heart disease because it is said to contain only A2 beta-casein, seemed to hit a nerve with people who were sceptical of its health benefits. Three years after the founding of the company, both men died, which left the company in a state of flux. It went through several highs and lows – including going into administration in late 2003 – before becoming The a2 Milk Company, which now is based in Australia. It is run by Jayne Hrdlicka, who started at the company just over 12 months ago.

Hrdlicka was the CEO of Qantas subsidiary Jetstar before joining the milk company, and has held positions at Ernst and Young, Bain & Co, and was a director of Woolworths between 2010-2016. At the Global Food Forum held in Sydney, Hrdlicka spoke about where A2 milk is headed, why it is seen as a premium brand in China, and the science behind the milk’s claims.

It’s a risky strategy to base your whole business model on one product – more so when some are a little uncertain of what makes it different from similar products. It’s share price has fluctuated over the past 12 months, but it does help when news gets out that discerning Chinese consumers think the milk is a premium brand. It has entered two of the most lucrative markets in the world – the US being the other – and Hrdlicka sees nothing but growth in the company’s near future.

READ MORE: A2 Milk expands range to make milk powder with Mānuka honey

“We’re not talking specific numbers, but we’re playing in the two biggest consumer markets in the world,” she said. “We’re building a deep franchise with those consumers and we’re really excited about what the possibilities bring to the brand and shareholders.”

When it comes to the science behind A2 milk, Hrdlicka makes no apologies about its brand strategy and indicates that it is the disruption that A2 milk is bringing to the marketplace that is causing the issue. Most of the noise about the benefits, or lack thereof, of the milk, is coming from those who have a vested interest in the milk not being commercially successful. The irony being that this is also keeping the brand in the spotlight, which is not a bad thing if you are Hrdlicka.

“We are quite comfortable with the company getting beaten up by big legacy players who feel uncomfortable because we are doing something different,” she said. “It happened in Australia, it happened in New Zealand. We expect it to happen everywhere we go and that is what happens when a disruptive approach to a category that has been around for a long time unfolds.

“It happened in aviation, and it is happening across all consumer products, not just milk. We expect that it is part of the process. The crazy part of it is that it draws consumer attention to the choices, including ours. It causes consumers to do their research and we’re the beneficiary. It is part of the process of evolving the category.”

Hrdlicka said the company worked hard in the early stages to ensure there was enough science for consumers to educate themselves. She said there are a number of studies that have been completed by independent research markets that came to similar conclusions that the founders of the company did.

“What is fantastic for us at the end of the day, is the impact it has on the consumers,” she said. “And consumers are telling us they are enjoying a functional benefit and they can enjoy fresh white milk again where they weren’t able to in the past. Or, they were fearful of the impacts of dairy products, and this has given them new confidence to re-enter the new category.”

What is helping the brand, and something not lost on investors, is its foray into the Chinese market. With milk powder a hot commodity, it seems the affluent middle class in the Middle Kingdom can’t get enough. Hrdlicka knows how important the market is, so much so that she spent her first week working for the a2 Milk Company in Sydney, then the second week in China. She goes up there every six weeks or so, not just to be seen, but also to meet with their partners, listening and learning on the ground and making sure the company’s strategy in the area is sound.

“We are doing some really exciting things in China,” she said. “We spent the first half of the financial year really understanding consumers, talking to mothers, talking to parents, talking to grandparents – really trying to understand the decisions they are making and how they we making them – where they like to shop. That gave us a lot of clarity on how to constructively build the brand and how to leverage our multi-channel strategy.”

And what about the US? Retail giant Costco started selling the milk in parts of the US at the end of the 2018, but Hrdlicka isn’t getting carried away just yet.

“We were deeply appreciative of Costco’s support in the US,” she said. “The success story for a2 milk in the US is in its early stages, but the signs are impressive. A2 milk is sold in 12,400 outlets across the country today and Costco is part of that story. It is taking the product to consumers who are interested in different pack sizes and are value driven, but they are a big and important format in the eyes of consumers and play a meaningful role in the repertoire. They are important players in the natural channel and they have helped us build our brand.”

Finally, there is the online presence of A2 milk. Hrdlicka knows that part of the company’s future success lies in the less tangible online marketplace.

“Alibaba is a really important trading partner of ours as is Amazon via its Whole Foods portal,” she said. “I will say, as a matter of course, that we are multi-channel company – ecommerce is a really critical channel for us as a business today and will be going forward. And if you listen to your consumers, it plays a really powerful role for them in their day-to-day lives. You don’t quite have the same choices in leveraging direct deliveries in Australia that you do in China and the US, but it is a changing canvas and digital players are changing the world for consumers at a very fast pace.”

Does plastic get a bad rap?

Director of sustainability is an unusual title, one that is not common within a multi-national company. But not only is that Alan Adams’ role for plastic packaging specialist Sealed Air, he is also part of the leadership group for the company’s APAC region.

At a recent conference at FoodTech Queensland, the education director of the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP), Pierre Pienaar, made the point that, “plastics are not going anywhere’. And he is right. The thin, mainly oil-based product has a multitude of uses in many industries including food.

“Plastic is, and will remain, in my view, really important within the industry,” said Adams. “In fact, it is probably more important than ever when it comes to reducing food waste, and enabling our lifestyle. What we have to do though, is drive it to a circular economy so we can utilise those resources.”

With China and other Southeast Asian countries declining to take Australia’s recyclables, sustainability is more important than ever. However, it is something that Sealed Air saw coming over six years ago. The then recently appointed (but now retired) CEO of Sealed Air, Jerome Peribere, knew sustainability was going to be an issue, and one that needed addressing sooner rather than later.

READ MORE: Plastic waste: why every gram counts

“Jerome came out with this idea that we should think about ourselves as a sustainability company,” said Adams. “That was controversial and confronting when you think we are predominantly a plastics manufacturer, so it didn’t necessarily resonate with the average person back then.

“However, his reasoning was sound because if you look holistically at our impact on the world, we have a positive impact on the environment. If you think what Jerome was thinking back then, it led to us redefining our vision and mission. Our vision became to create a better way of life and today this continues with our CEO Ted Doheny and our purpose statement that, ‘We are in business to solve critical packaging challenges and leave our world better than we found it’. And it is through enabling efficient supply chains for food and goods without damage, that we remove a lot of the wastage that can be created in many industries including food.”

These company ideas backed up the sustainability minded Adams’ thoughts on what the future would hold. Adams was already a member of the Bioplastics Association for Australasia and served as president for four years. The association introduced standards for compostable and home compostable packaging for Australia during that time. Adams not only talks the talk, he walks the walk.

“I have a personal zero food waste policy at home,” he said. “It makes for some interesting food, and it has gotten easier to make it zero since I started composting. But we had herb salads from time to time, and it’s questionable how nice they are. Plus we grow a lot more food of our own now.”

Adams believes that there is a disconnect between people’s perceptions of plastic and how it can also be a sustainable product. But that is because there are a couple of issues that need addressing. The main one being that the Australian recycling industry is still immature.

“The problem is we don’t have great infrastructure and sustainable recycling industry developed yet,” he said. “If you talk about what plastics are recovered and recycled in Australia – and turned into something useful, and not landfilled or shipped overseas – you are talking about 4.6 per cent of rigids and 1.2 per cent of flexibles. It is tiny.”

How can such a perception of plastics be changed? Adams believes it will take a change in mind-set. Too often, there is a myopic view, which is not telling the real story.

“Any supply chain, or any product has three big buckets,” he said. “First is inbound resources. What are the products made from? How are they made? How efficient is that? Then you have operational efficiency. Does it do the job? How well does it do the job? Does it deliver performance? Then you have end of life. What happens to it after it has been used? Equating sustainability just to the end of life is really missing most of the picture.”

This is why he thinks Australia needs a mature recycling/circular system in place. What has also changed is how much people now rely on plastics in everyday life, especially when it comes to the food industry. Adams grew up on a farm in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand. The lie of the land was a lot different back when it came to food waste. He remembers having a shepherd’s pie on most Monday nights because it was a left-over from the Sunday roast from the day before. People rarely eat like that these days, he said. It’s all about lifestyle, too.

“We had very low food waste back then,” he said. “Can we wind back the clock 30 or 40 years ago and live that way? No we can’t. People will not stand for it. We want to have the eating experience we want but also be able to recover those resources at end of life. Otherwise, you are asking us to unwind the lifestyle we really want, and that generally ends with quite a big consumer backlash.”

How does a company like Sealed Air develop sustainability around a product that is continually under the microscope? For a start, it develops packaging solutions that can help products last longer on the shelf, such as its Cryovac brand food packaging range. If product can last longer on the shelf, then there is less chance of it being thrown out before it is eaten. Adams also realises that the way people consume food is changing.

“We have to be creative in our solutions and the recovery of the materials we generate – and plastics is a big part of it – to enable us to efficiently have the food where we want it, when we want it and the size and quantity we want,” he said.

But do people want to eat food that is staying on the shelf longer. Hasn’t the public been told again and again, that fresh is best? Sure, said Adams, but not all foods. Back in the day, a butcher would cut the customer a piece of meat, wrap it in paper and it would be taken home to be eaten. However, new packaging technologies not only mean the aforementioned longer shelf life, but it can “fool” the meat into thinking it is still relatively fresh.

“The meat is dead when you have carved it and served it up and exposed it to the atmosphere,” said Adams. “It was as good as it was going to get at that moment. From then on, it is going to degrade. If, however, you vacuum pack it, the meat still thinks it is the bigger part of the piece of meat it used to be. Because oxygen is not getting to it, atmosphere is not getting to it so, it continues to age and continues enzymatic action.

“There are case studies that will show you that the eating experience of vacuum-packaged meat with a longer shelf life is better than MAP packaged meat. Certain cheeses like to be aged, too. In the past it has been wax coatings and wax papers and things that helped keep longer shelf life. So there are efficiencies in a lot of this as well as potentially eating experiences. It isn’t like that with all foods. I’m not sure vacuum-packing apples will make for a good experience a few weeks down the track.”

Adams knows that there is a long way to go, especially in the recycling stakes. Even though there are challenges, he knows Sealed Air is on the right track when it comes to sustainability – it is what drives him every day. “I think what is really important is that Sealed Air clearly understands – and many people don’t see this – that sustainability is everything. It’s an umbrella over everything we do,” he said. “If you look at our core values and drivers – which are about food safety and shelf-life along with operational efficiency, package optimisation and brand experience – all of those things are sustainability endeavours in their own right. But I am very aligned with it, which means I love my job and I’m very happy working towards those goals.”

CSIRO: four new technologies for food processing

The CSIRO’s Ciara McDonnell talks about new technologies that are having an impact on the food industry.

When people think of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO as it is affectionately known, most have images of boffins in white coats working in laboratories with Petri dishes, beakers and Bunsen burners busily inventing new gizmos and gadgets for an array of industries. And while this is accurate to a degree, it also is a multi-faceted institution that has more than 5,000 dedicated staff spread around 57 sites throughout the continent.

It has more than 690 patents including the one that encapsulates its most famous invention, wifi, and covers many research spectrums including mining, manufacturing and food. Most recent figures state that it returns about $4.5 billion to the Australian economy annually, and partners with more than 1200 SMEs per year. It’s a very busy place, and one that attracted Irish research scientist Ciara McDonnell to Australia.

McDonnell works at one of the three food sites CSIRO has set up throughout Australia. They’re at Werribee in Melbourne, North Ryde Sydney and Coopers Plains, Queensland, where she is based.

McDonnell spoke at a seminar at the recent FoodTech Expo held in Queensland. She talked about four food technologies that could have a lasting impact on the food industry.

Various Business Units in CSIRO welcome collaboration, and the Agriculture and Food Unit is no different.

“Coopers Plains is home to one of our food pilot plants that we share with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries,” she said. “At that pilot plant, CSIRO have an emphasis on meat processing, so we have a suite of conventional pilot scale meat processing equipment. This can enable food processors to conduct trials at reduced batch sizes until the process is ready for scale-up. Then we assist companies with that scale up to ensure the best route to commercialisation.

“When we do any kind of R&D, we do take a multidisciplinary approach. We have a lot of expertise in house and we understand the importance of each aspect – from safety, nutrition, processing, food chemistry and more.’

Future trends are very important in the institution’s work because CSIRO want to conduct research with impact for current and future markets. And what are some of the pressing issues in the food and beverage space at the moment?

“We can certainly say that environment, sustainability, health, clean label and minimal waste are some of the top food trends that we drive towards,” said McDonnell. “CSIRO sees itself as bridging the gap between academic research and commercialisation into industry. We have access to a large suite of innovative processing technologies ranging from pulse electric fields, advanced spray and convection drying, high pressure processing, – the list goes on. In addition, we look after pilot scale conventional processing technologies as well.”

One way of gauging where a technology is at in terms of its development towards commercialisation is the Technology Readiness Level (TRL). This can be 1 or 2, which means it is at the beginning of its research level up to 9 or 10 where it is being commercialised.

High-Pressure Processing
High-pressure processing (HPP), which it is now commercialised for many food applications, was on the CSIRO radar almost 20 years ago. What exactly is HPP?

“HPP can offer an alternative to heat pasteurisation by inactivating microorganisms. A pre-packaged product is placed into a liquid-filled chamber where it gets treated, but there’s no re-opening of the pack, so no recontamination,” said McDonnell. “Pressure is applied instantaneously and uniformly so it is evenly transmitted throughout the product, usually at about 600 megapascals (MPa), or 6,000 bar, for a few minutes. The effectiveness of the process is dependent on the product type and its different properties like pH and water activity.

What makes HPP so attractive is that the high pressure affects non-covalent bonds only. This means that small molecules that give consumers health benefits, micro-nutrients, colour to the product and the flavour molecules, are unaffected. HPP offers a means of maintaining the fresh-like characteristics of the product – better colour, extended shelf life – it fits with the clean label and fewer additives trend that is now part of the food and beverage landscape. Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 2 million tonnes of HPP products produced per year globally. It is estimated that the industry will be worth about $80 billion by 2025. It is broadening into new product sectors, with its main application being shelf-life extension of refrigerated products.

However, McDonnell points out there is a catch. The technology doesn’t inactivate bacterial spores, whereas thermal pasteurisation can.

“So for those foods – low acid food, mainly with a pH greater than 4.6 – it will not work at reducing spore-forming bacteria” said McDonnell. “Any manufacturer that is interested in making products where spore control is required would have to limit the shelf-life, add preservatives, or the alternative is to heat the product, which could result in reduced flavour and nutritional value.”

McDonnell’s colleagues then started to experiment with a combination of heat and pressure, or, high pressure thermal processing (HPTP). They simultaneously applied moderate heat and pressure, and reduced the spore load with less overall thermal load than would typically be required to pasteurise or sterilise a product. What they found was that if they applied HPTP at 550 MPa for one minute at 87.5°C, they could achieve the same inactivation of Clostridium botulinum spores as a thermal-only process of 10 minutes at 90°C. They refer to this phenomena as HPTP synergy.

“You have less thermal load, so you are maintaining the nutritional molecules value, while achieving a significant increase in Clostridium botulinum inactivation” said McDonnell.

But there was another catch. As mentioned, the CSIRO sees itself as bridging the gap between research and commercialisation. And it knows that companies that have invested in HPP, have units without heating ability, and this limits the scope of products it could potentially process; in fact, there are no HPP machines available at commercial scale that have heating capability.

“In order to commercialise the HPTP, we need some processing adaptation,” said McDonnell. “CSIRO developed an insulated HPP canister that, after a pre-heating step, can be inserted into a conventional (cold) HPP unit to deliver a HPTP process. This is something that is going to be licensed by CSIRO and it will allow HPP units to be adapted with a simple drop-in solution.”

Ultrasound
Another technology finding its feet within the food industry is ultrasound processing. It has commercial applications in several processes in the food sector including emulsion breaking and separation, mixing, , homogenising and degassing products.

How does it work? Ultrasound pressures can be created in gas or liquid media  at frequencies in the range of 20 to 100 kHz with traditional transducer devices. As the soundwave travels, it oscillates above and below atmospheric pressure. When this occurs in a liquid, any microscopic gas bubble, which can be dissolved gas as well as water vapour, present in that medium will go through the cycles where it expands and contracts until it reaches an unstable size. It then goes through a final cycle, this causes the bubble to implode on itself. This is known as cavitation. It is not visible to the eye, but it is a very destructive microscopic mechanism. There are other effects caused by ultrasound, such as microstreaming, caused by the sound waves as well as the cavitation, that can be used for a range of applications. During the last decade CSIRO has created applications with frequencies from 400 kHz to 2 MHz, where smaller and larger amount of bubbles are created. In such cases, very mild cavitation occurs, if any, as bubbles do not reach their unstable state and transition back into compression.

CSIRO has filed a patent application based on the innovative application of ultrasound to dry foods far more gently with less energy consumption for sustainable manufacture of premium food products & ingredients.

The ultrasound-assisted drying technology has been shown to be highly effective in intensifying low temperature drying (from 40°C to below freezing) of various food materials (e.g., fruits, coffee, and meat products) resulting in up to 57 per cent reduction in drying time (i.e., corresponds to 54 per cent reduction in energy consumption) with better product quality by minimising thermal degradation.

The technology can be applied to enhance the drying processes of other heat sensitive non-food materials (e.g., bio-pharmaceuticals, medicinal crop, petfoods, etc.), providing further commercialisation opportunities across a broader sector. The patent also covers a novel use of the system in pretreatment processes for improved drying efficiency.

CSIRO is currently partnering with equipment manufacturers to develop and build a pre-commercial pilot prototype of the system to help prove its scalability and commercial viability.

CSIRO has also patented a process that enables oil recovery during both aqueous based edible oil extraction processes and oil refining by application of high frequencies beyond 400 kHz, also known as megasonics. The megasonic equipment is now commercially used in the palm oil industry to recover 200,000 litres extra crude oil per annum in a traditional palm oil plant or an additional 1 per cent oil loss reduction (saving about USD 500,000 per annum). The process consists of passing pre-macerated oil palm fruit through the megasonic unit to enable oil removal from the vegetable biomass, thereby enhancing oil recovery after the centrifugation step. The technology has also been proven to aid the olive oil process. A megasonic treated olive paste can provide an additional 4 per cent oil recovery at 3 tonnes of olive paste per hour, with a payback time of 3 years in a middle sized olive oil plant. Another use of the technology is in avoiding oil losses during the refining process by treating the emulsified oil with megasonic waves before gum removal. The technology has enabled reducing up to half of the oil trapped in gums, obtained as a refining process by-product.

Pulsed Electric Fields
Another innovative processing application is pulsed electric fields (PEF) processing, which is based on placing the food between two oppositely charged electrodes.

“If you imagine a bacterial cell filled with charged ions – positive and negative – and we apply very short pulses of very high voltage so we don’t generate heat. Typically, we apply several thousands volts for a few microseconds – this results in the ions moving towards the oppositely charged electrode until they permeate the cell membrane of the bacterial cell,” said McDonnell. “Just like HPP, it is a way of targeting those micro-organisms without affecting any molecules that contribute to flavour, colour and nutritional value of a product.”

The technology is high on the TRL scale as it has already been commercialised for fruit juice use. It can extend shelf-life significantly for preservative-free juices, while preserving nutrients. In addition, it has helped companies achieve up to 6% increase in extraction yield.

‘’We’ve looked at other applications, like non-thermal milk pasteurisation and improving the texture and quality of meat.”

Shockwave
Shockwave technology is the most novel of all those discussed by McDonnell because it is at proof-of-concept stage. It is the CSIRO’s newest investment, with the government entity having acquired a second commercial prototype, the first outside of Europe.

The idea of shockwave technology first came for meat applications around 1997 when scientists decided to put pre-packaged meat under water and detonate explosives to see if they could  tenderise meat.

“When I spoke about HPP I was talking about static application of hundreds of megapascals,” said McDonnell. “With shockwave technology, high pressures are applied for a shorter time – micro seconds. In previous studies, 100gms of explosives, placed underwater, were used to tenderise meat. Scientists thought, ‘this is great, but how can we commercialise something with explosives?’ For that reason the speed at which the idea progressed has been slow because, as you imagine with explosives, there were a lot of safety concerns.”

In 2001, dielectric discharge came into being, which helped recreate the shockwave. The technology uses two electrodes to generate a similar effect to the explosives. The scientists put voltage through the electrodes and the resulting arc causes very high pressure under water.

“We have acquired a commercial prototype from Germany, which can allow for continuous processing by a conveyor system. We can place a product on it, allowing it to go into the water tank, exposing it to shockwaves and come out at the other side,” said McDonnell. “At the moment, we have a lot of concepts to prove with the technology.

“We think it might cause tissue disintegration so we could accelerate the tenderisation of meat. The first application we are studying it for is meat processing through an Australian Meat Processor Corporation-funded project.”

McDonnell said that when it came to modelling and pressure, the scientists aimed to understand shockwave distribution in the treatment chamber and to identify the area of maximum impact.

“We used the information from the modelling and conducted trials with meat. We had a tenderisation effect which was measured objectively using a Warner Bratzler shear test, where the peak force required to cut through treated meat samples is recorded,” she said. “And now we are working towards optimising this effect.”

McDonnell is hopeful that a lot of these technologies will come to fruition. Some will take longer than others to be realised, but that is the nature of science and discovery.

“There is a future for some of these novel technologies as they provide an opportunity for clean labelling, either by changing the food structure or inactivating microbes,” she said. “Certain applications have already been commercialised and there are good opportunities for all these technologies to be taken up by the food industry. Who knows what else is to come from TRL 1 when new ideas are generated at research? They all certainly fit with the trends we are aware of, and they could help with regard with things like having less waste. It could allow us to have more food for increased food demand. Also, with globalisation we need extended shelf life to reach new markets so it will really help us on the supply chain and yield, as well as having healthier products and more efficient and sustainable processes.”

 

 

Change of direction for Coles

As one of the three big players in the supermarket space, Coles is always under the microscope – usually via headline-grabbing mainstream news, such as the furore surrounding its and Woolworths getting rid of single-use plastic bags, or criticism over its Little Shop plastic toys not being environmentally friendly.

It is something that the company is aware of and knows it needs to improve on. James Whittaker’s role as the company’s head of responsible sourcing and quality has many facets – ones that are increasing, shifting and malleable at the same time. Over the past decade, Coles has put a lot of effort into not only being seen to be doing the right thing, but actually doing it. He cites the company’s policies on cage-free eggs and RSPCA-certified chickens. Then there is its decision to stop using the aforementioned single-use plastic bags, as well as its more recent foray into utilising solar panels on its buildings, and implementing the more environmentally friendly LED lighting in many of its stores.

Addressing a packed room at the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s Sustainability Seminar at the Novotel in Sydney’s Olympic Park quadrant, Whittaker laid bare what the company is planning to do over the next few years. Not only in terms of sustainability but how it can change the public’s perception of what its whole corporate philosophy entails.

He first asked a question of the audience. “What does sustainability actually mean?” There were no takers, so he gave his interpretation.

“Sustain means to keep doing something for a period of time,” he said. “For example, I could run for an hour, maybe two. But I couldn’t do it for 24 hours.”

He then put his definition in context when it came to Coles’ business and how it approaches sustainability.

“We could continue to put petrochemicals [in the form of single-use plastic bags] in landfill,” he said. “We can do that for a period of time, but eventually the raw material is going to dry up and the landfill is going to become full and we won’t be able to do it anymore.”

Whittaker and his team knows that the public is becoming more discerning about the environment – part of the umbrella that sustainability falls under. This is why the company needs to start spruiking its ideas on the environment and sustainability more fervently. Although he feels it has been transparent when it comes to corporate responsibility, getting the message out hasn’t worked as well as it could have, said Whittaker.

“Last year, we did a study and talked to about 30,000 customers every week,” he said. “We wanted to see how customers perceived Coles. We think we are doing a great job because we have all these great initiatives, yet when we talked to customers they came back with ‘You’re all about down-down (ad campaign). You’re about cheap prices. You’re a big corporate giant’.

“We thought, ‘We’re doing all this stuff, but we are getting very little recognition for it’. We realised we needed to do things differently. This resulted in Coles working to build a new strategy, which was launched recently at our investor session.”

Part of this strategy included concentrating on driving the health agenda, especially when it comes to Coles’ home brands.

Whittaker said that the company’s mission statement is, “to feed all Australians to help them lead healthier, happy lives”.

As far as sustainability goes, he admits that Coles has made the odd mistake in the past, even when it’s had the best intentions.

“I think back to when we launched our Kids with Bananas program,” he said. “When the team developed the product we looked at how we would send the bananas out, so we wrapped them in plastic. They arrived in big cardboard boxes and we were pleased because we said, ‘We can do away with all of that cardboard, and we can take the smaller bananas and we can put them in the kids’ lunch boxes. And if you look at the lifecycle, we are using less packaging’. Of course, all the consumer saw were bananas wrapped in plastic. You can imagine what they thought of that.

“Now, we have committed to all our Own Brand packaging to being fully recyclable by 2020. The Redcycle program has been a key enabler for us. On top of that, we’re committed to the Australian Packaging Recycling Scheme. I think consumer confusion over labelling and what to do with that packaging is an issue that needs addressing.”

Whittaker said the company is setting itself a goal of being Australia’s most sustainable supermarket – in every way possible. It’s an ambitious goal, and one that he knows is going to be hard but also achievable.

“We usually focus on price and other elements, so this is really a change of direction,” he said. “What this means for us is to focus on something that differentiates us from other retailers. It’s going to take a lot of work and there are lots of elements in delivering that.

“But we do have three main pillars in place that are going to help get us there. The first is working towards sustainable communities. The second is to make sure we are supporting Australian farmers – so we have an Australian-first policy. Finally, we need to be a key contributor to the communities in which we operate.”

Another aspect the company is keen to highlight is the safety of the products that are on its shelves. Whittaker said that both safety and sustainability go hand in hand.

“We decided that safety had to be part of the sustainability drive, too. Because at the end of the day, if products aren’t safe then the sustainability of the business is affected,” he said. “Then there are sustainable environmental practices. And this is far reaching. This goes right the way through our store network, our fuel business and working with our suppliers.”

And what about carbon emissions? This is something that the company has not taken for granted, and it has sought to identify where most of the emissions are coming from in its business. They have identified the main causes – now it’s a matter of putting in place policies that will address those issues.

“I was looking at some data early this week and found that 97 per cent of the carbon emissions that we produce are coming from our supply chain,” he said. “While we can do some of these changes ourselves, we also have to make sure we are working with the right partners and the right industries.”

And the transparency part of its new strategy?

“My team is committed to transparency. This is an important point. We are building our software solutions to be able to understand where all our products are coming from,” he said. “Take our Graze product, which is grass-fed beef – we have line-of-sight of all the livestock producers, and what that allows us to do is gather a lot of information about best farming practices. For example, our Graze beef producers have planted three million trees since the program began. That kind of information is very powerful.”

Time will be the measure of how successful Coles’ new strategy pans out, but in the meantime Whittaker knows what the endgame needs to be.

“We are hoping that it will change the way we think about business and about how our team members and our customers see us.”