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.