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Despite the presence of smaller firms, biscuit manufacturing is moving toward larger-scale, concentrated production and consequently has significantly fewer firms than a decade earlier.

The biscuit industry’s top three players accounted for 86% of turnover in the past year. Typically, the larger firms in this sector, which tend to specialise in mainstream products, target the low to mid-price range of the final baked goods market. Smaller firms tend to concentrate on specialty products that require short production runs and lower volumes.

Today, fewer commercial biscuit manufacturers are also serving wider geographic markets. Improvements in transportation methods, ownership consolidation, and the development of extended shelf-life products, are enabling the industry’s largest manufacturers to reduce costs by centralising production facilities.

The biscuit industry accounts for around 24.8% of revenue within the bakery product manufacturing industry class, comprised of around 72 establishments that employ a combined workforce numbering approximately 6,162 persons.

The prospects for biscuit manufacturers are positive. The industry will continue to be characterised by growth in the medium term, according to IBISWorld, although in 2008-09, the biscuit industry will achieve a revenue decline of 0.5%.

Traditionally, research and development within the industry has been widely focused on improving ingredients and recipes. One major development in this area was the introduction of the Continuous Fermentation Mixing process. Pioneered by Arnotts, this process reduces the time required to prove yeast-based biscuit dough from 20 hours to just two hours. Moreover, the process has been found to have no adverse affect on product quality.

In response to consumer demands, food scientists are increasingly exploring ways to incorporate functional qualities into biscuits. In particular, public concern about the nutritional value of food is behind the development of functional products that have been enriched with vitamins or calcium. So far, most developments in this area have focused on savoury biscuits, to take advantage of the commonly held view that savoury biscuits have a greater nutritional value.

The industry’s adoption of new technology currently includes the up-take of computerised systems. The introduction of computer directed controls and computer aided design has helped lift equipment to precise calibration and tolerances. Ultimately this has allowed greater quality control in the biscuit production process.

With advances in production technology, the industry has also embraced new production methods. Resource and production management systems, like Just In Time Manufacturing, have helped producers reduce inventory levels, and therefore capital costs, allowing for smaller production facilities.

Similarly, the uptake of best practice programs is playing a key role in ensuring high product integrity in Australian biscuit manufacturing. The introduction of quality assurance programs like Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) has helped the industry improve food safety. Ultimately, high food safety standards play a vital role in preserving the industry’s reputation as a clean and reliable food manufacturer.

On another level, manufacturers are exploring better ways to package and preserve their products, especially biscuit lines destined for overseas markets. Across the industry, there has been considerable investment in packaging technology in the past ten years. Working with packaging companies, manufacturers of the more perishable biscuit items have developed new packing that significantly increases shelf life and reduce breakage during transit.

Generally, the industry employs world-standard technology. However, the presence of foreign owned firms means that much of this technology is owned by European and American businesses. Most Australian biscuit makers lack the critical mass necessary to conduct basic research in food science. This is especially evident in the development of new functional biscuit products.

Lena Zak is the editor of FOOD Magazine.

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