Nut butter obsession turns into million dollar Coles deal

Nick Sheridan created 99th Monkey in Melbourne in 2013. His aim was to create a nut butter that not only tastes delicious but also that was good for a person’s health and kind to the planet.
“As a former journalist (The Age, Global Coffee Report) living in London and training for my first (and maybe last) marathon in 2012, I became obsessed with peanut butter. When my wife Tracey and I returned to Melbourne, I decided to turn my nut butter obsession into a business,” said Sheridan.

Sheridan started out selling in farmers markets then into local stores and online. At the end of 2017, 99th Monkey was in about 800 independent retailers around Australia.
In 2018, 99th Monkey was one of five Australian businesses that were selected to take part in the Chobani Food Incubator program.
“The program helped me to expand my vision for the business and gave me the contacts and confidence to take the brand to the next level,” said Sheridan
Read More: Australian wine company growing export sales
“2018 was also that year that I finally went all in on the business, leaving my job as editor of a coffee magazine to focus on 99th Monkey full time – it felt like a big leap at the time considering we had a two-year-old daughter and a mortgage.”
The leap paid off and by the end of 2018, 99th Monkey was stocked in Coles’ new format stores, Coles Local. This led to 99th Monkey securing three products stocked in 200 Coles stores in Victoria in 2019.
This past year, 99th Monkey have signed a million dollar deal with Coles. 99th Monkey Natural Almond Butter and Cacao Almond Butter will be stocked in 650 Coles stores nationally.

The essential sector

Knowing that you are able to walk into your local supermarket and buy what you want to feed yourself or your family and stock your pantry is something that we take for granted. Australia is fortunate that we make enough food to feed 75 million people, three times our population and that we have a strong and resilient food, beverage and grocery manufacturing sector in our country.
COVID-19 has taught us all many things about our sense of community, our vulnerability and not to take this $127.1 billion food, beverage and grocery sector for granted. We realise now more than ever how essential it is.
When there was panic buying in early 2020, when shelves were stripped, this was equivalent to three Christmas buying periods all at once, on the same day, with no notice. Retailers and suppliers were caught unprepared, and shelves were emptied.
However, the 274,835 people who work every day to make the food, drinks and grocery items to ensure our shelves are stocked stepped up – they are our essential heroes. This sector went into overdrive straight away to help meet the runaway consumer demand, working 24 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to make the products that Australians were wanting. The shelves have not been empty since.
The supply chain was sorely tested. Speciality ingredients not made or found in Australia had to be acquired in other ways, or substitute supplies found, as borders closed.
Movement of goods across such an expansive country is always a challenge but the logistics sector met the challenge to move more products, more often. Workers in the factories, who are the most important asset to our sector, split shifts, implemented COVID-safe plans right away and socially distanced to help ensure transmission of COVID-19 was kept at bay from our essential sector. Everyone met the challenge to keep the supermarket shelves stocked.
Australia’s food, beverage and grocery manufacturing sector works hard, and it has had to. Rising input costs and market challenges have long been an issue for the sector.
Companies in Australia want to invest in capital and invest in more jobs. They want to buy the exceptional, high-quality raw commodities from Australian farmers, transform them into products, and then send them around the country for Australians to enjoy. And they also want to export them around the world, capitalising on the international appreciation for the high quality and safe food products made here.
This is how traditional supply chains work but there needs to be certainty for business to invest. Certainty, through a stable economy, a skilled workforce and access to markets.
There also needs to be a responsive domestic market too, which will help foster innovation and business growth. As the world modernises and becomes highly automated, this sector strives to do so as well. This will help ensure the sector remains competitive on the world stage, innovation will flourish and jobs will grow.
To do this, the Australian Food and Grocery Council has called for the Federal Government to implement a Food, Beverage and Grocery Site Modernisation Program that provides short-term incentives for the food, beverage and grocery manufacturing industry. It does so by bringing forward investment in manufacturing plant infrastructure and equipment through an instant asset write off, or grants program for smaller investments, and targeted and efficient investment allowance for larger investments.
Without investing to improve efficiency and innovate, there is a real risk that businesses will either need to reduce the scale of their operations or move offshore.
Taking the jobs offshore would result in job losses at a time when we need to ensure job growth. While nearly 60 per cent of the sector’s jobs are in metropolitan areas, around 40 per cent, or 108,000 jobs, depend directly on this sector in regional Australia.
This sector is the backbone to regional Australia and the bond in so many communities – it is the heart of the community. The jobs and support services in so many country towns and regional centres rely on the economic contribution the sector brings through the wages it pays and the flow on to other businesses servicing the sector or the people who work in it.
In turn, the sector also supports the community through social, environmental and other outreach programs and direct contributions. This might include supporting the construction of local assets being built like a swimming pool, donating to local soup kitchens or getting involved in environmental programs like tree planting. This is happening right across the country with the support of this sector.
At the same time as strengthening our local economies and communities, the sector has seen a growth in exports. In 2020, food and beverage exports have increased 5.8 per cent, led by 7 per cent year-on-year increase in food product manufacturing.
Supply chain dependencies and priorities within countries changed with COVID-19 but recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data proved that COVID-19 hasn’t destroyed
our global trade. So, the trajectory of a growing and strong export market should weather the pandemic, even though it has definitely complicated things due to geopolitical developments.
A strong international trade system is crucial to maintaining global food security while Australia can benefit through local economic stimuli. Trade helps to stabilise food prices and supply volumes, which in turn improves social stability across the globe. During the 2007-08 food price crisis, restrictions by countries on exports of certain commodities led to significant increases in world food prices and intensified the impact on food insecurity and poverty. To date, we have not seen a repeat of this food price crisis and trade flows have continued, albeit with some delays at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we like to know that we can walk into our supermarket and buy what we want on nearly every occasion, we also need to stop and realise what goes into ensuring we can do just that. Australians should be proud of the food, grocery and manufacturing sector here on our shores, for what it makes, supplies us with and the value it brings to our local economy and communities.

Free trade agreements and stability key reasons to invest in agricutlure

The commitment of Federal and State governments to make infrastructure spending a priority to stimulate the economy through COVID-19, is key to attracting investment into the agriculture sector, according to a new report from MinterEllison called Ahead of the Harvest, 2020-2022.

MinterEllison commissioned Acuris to survey 100 domestic and international investors in agriculture assets to gauge their appetite for investment in the sector and the most favourable conditions that attract investment. The survey was conducted pre-COVID-19, however many of the investors’ observations point to a sector that has strong foundations for attracting investor confidence as Australia rebounds from the economic downturn.

“The fast-tracking of infrastructure projects by State Governments and the Federal Government’s $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors (including agriculture) will contribute to a stable climate for future investment,” said MinterEllison partner Matthew Cunningham.

In particular, infrastructure investment will help with agribusiness’s market distribution. Also required is stable, reliable internet. It is encouraging that before those factors came into play, the infrastructure currently in place was considered more than adequate by respondents, with 65 per cent nominating it as a reason to invest.

“Superannuation funds have also expressed an appetite for investing in infrastructure, further demonstrating confidence in infrastructure as an important driver of economic recovery for the economy at large, and specifically the agriculture industry,” Mr Cunningham added.

Australia’s success in negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs) is highly regarded by investors with 72 per cent citing FTAs as Australia’s top advantage when considering agribusiness investment.

Crucial to Australia’s international competitiveness is its 14 FTAs in key markets across the Asia Pacific (including China, Japan and South Korea) and the United States. Australia also has signed and concluded, but not yet put in force the PACER Plus FTA between New Zealand and eight Pacific Island countries (Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu) and is pursuing a further six (United Kingdom, European Union, India, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Pacific Alliance and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) that will open Australian agribusiness to export opportunities.

“Short term, these opportunities have been paused as global economies suffer the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, longer term, Australia’s negotiations to open more markets in the Asia Pacific region will be good news for agribusiness investors and mergers and acquisitions.” said MinterEllison partner, Glen Sauer.

Another key reason to invest in Australia’s agriculture sector is our political stability and legal certainty. Sixty-three per cent of respondents say governance, stability and transparency make Australia attractive for agribusiness investment. The cohesion between Federal and State governments in their response to COVID-19 through the National Cabinet has further emphasised Australia’s political stability during a time of crisis.

“Australia’s strong foundations, sound governance and transparency make it one of the safest places in the world to do business and with the politically bipartisan approach to infrastructure investment, this is unlikely to change in the near term,” said Mr Sauer.

“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has put a pause on the world’s focus on new M&A transactions and while it’s clear there will be significantly-reduced volumes of activity in the agriculture sector for the remainder of 2020, our expectation is that there will be a modest recovery in 2021, with further strengthening in 2022,” said Mr Sauer.

Medicinal cannabis was the sub-sector identified as having the most investment potential (85 per cent). The investment potential of viticulture was favoured by 74 per cent of investors.

Climate change and natural disasters were identified by 82 per cent of respondents as the main barrier to investment, closely followed by wage and other input costs (72 per cent). Australia’s ageing farmer population was identified as a challenge for the sector.

Montague constructing expansive fruit processing facility

Fruit Grower Montegue is  constructing a new fruit processing facility in Narre Warren North. It is a multi-use facility located on a 12-hectare plot of land at the boundary of Lysterfield Park and Horswood Road. The complex will process over 260,000,000 pieces of fruit annually, which will be distributed to markets across Australia and the world.  The project will also comprise a café, retail space, apple and stone fruit sales, public picking orchard, seasonal exhibition space, bike shop and open space lawns available all of which will be open to the public.

The project is planned to launch in phases with the build of the 53,200m2 fruit processing facility set to complete at the end of this year. Installation of packing equipment is scheduled to commence in mid-September, which will mean the new stone fruit grader will be operational from mid-January 2021 and all apple production lines fully operational from mid-March 2021, in time for next year’s apple season.

The development showcases local construction materials including recycled timber from the original barns that were located on the property and features natural products with distinctive earthy tones to reflect the surroundings flora from the recreational reserve and orchards. The internal and external concrete slabs will be completed in September with the main building structure and roof completed in early October.

The Montague hospitality development, which is the first public access amenity created by Montague, will be open by mid-January 2021. The name of the café and public orchard will be unveiled in November.

“Consumer research shows  that Australian’s want to know where their food comes from and how it is handled before reaching the retail stores,” said Rowan Little, chief innovation officer. “From February 2021, visitors can join us to learn first-hand about fruit production while enjoying a coffee and pick some apples for themselves.”

The project had been impacted by the stage 4 restriction in Victoria, with construction operating at a limited capacity since the 5th of August. However, the Victorian State Government recognised Montague as critical and essential providers of fresh fruit to Australians and granted special permission for construction to resume at an increased capacity.

Montague has implemented a High-Risk COVID-Safe plan and continue to adhere to all ongoing directions, recommendations and guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services regarding recommended measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission and ensure a safe working environment for everybody working on the project.

Bakers Delight celebrates 40 years

Australian brand, Bakers Delight, is celebrating its 40th year in business. What started from humble beginnings with one shopfront has grown to become one of the country’s most successful franchises.

Born-and-bread in 1980 by founders Lesley and Roger Gillespie, the family-owned business
now has 650 stores world-wide, spanning Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, with over 500 franchise partners.

In 1980, Roger and Lesley saw a gap in the market, with Australians seeking quality, well-priced baked goods that were convenient. With Roger’s heritage in baking – both his father and grandfather were bakers – he and Lesley opened their first store in Hawthorn, Victoria, followed by a further 14 prior to launching their franchise model in 1988. The origin of the name was conceived from the simple notion that they are bakers who live to delight.

With a national footprint in Australia that now sees most Australians having a bakery within their neighbourhood, the distinctive burgundy logo and extensive list of iconic products form a part of the nation’s collective memory.

Joint CEO Elise Gillespie – daughter of Lesley and Roger who took the reins in 2017 – said the brand has become a household name across the country, with this anniversary an opportunity to reflect on its rich family history and value the business brings to the Australian economy, while sharing future growth plans.

“Bakers Delight has evolved into somewhat of an institution in Australia. It’s likely most of us, both young and old, have a fond food memory that resonates with the brand. We’ve now been feeding Aussie households for four decades and we couldn’t be more delighted by it.” said Gillespie.

“For 40 years we’ve worked hard at establishing a reputation that we’re incredibly proud of. We started as a small family business, and while our presence has continued to grow throughout Australia and beyond, our core values and community-focus still rings true today.

“Some of our franchisees have been with us since inception and seeing these guiding principles still filter through each and every story has been very rewarding.”

Today, the global business remains family-owned and operated and directly employs almost 400people with a further 8,000-9,000 bakers and sales staff employed across more than 650 bakeries. As a result of the widespread success of Bakers Delight, the company has become a contributor to Australia’s franchising sector and the wider economy, paying approximately $250 million in wages annually and generating more than $250 million in
business expenditure for their trusted network of suppliers.

Talking to the future, Joint CEO David Christie – husband to Elise – believes the strong reputation of the business will drive continued profitable growth for current franchisees, further franchise opportunities in North America, along with different offerings locally.

“Since launching our franchisee model, we’ve been committed to supporting each individual business, to drive their own profitable growth. This will continue well into the future, supporting hundreds of Australian families and small businesses,” said Christie.

“We have an impressive footprint of bakeries in Australia, and we hope to be able to replicate that in the US and Canadian markets. We are working towards our American footprint being similar to Australia, which could see us having more than 1000 stores.

“In our first 40 years we’ve seen the majority of our growth in traditional bakeries, but I believe the future will see us expanding in different channels to keep up with the changing lifestyle of the Bakers Delight customer. Whether it’s delivery, smaller kiosks or a more sophisticated online presence, the business is evolving to ensure we are interacting and communicating with our customers in the best way possible.”

As a result of COVID-19, Bakers Delight’s push towards online ordering, its utilisation of food delivery platforms and click-and-collect systems has accelerated, with further digital
advancements to be rolled out across all bakeries in the near future.

Family, passion and community formulate Bakers Delight’s recipe to success, with the guiding principles continuing to play a significant role in the decision-making processes at all levels of the business – from corporate operations to franchisees – to ultimately continue to drive profitable growth for franchisees.

When the business was founded, there was a passion to support the community. This has remained a key focus for 40 years, with the business playing an important role in supporting grassroots sports, schools and community groups – with many franchisees donating bread not sold, to locals in need every day. 2020 also marks Bakers Delight’s 20-year partnership with Breast Cancer Network Australia, raising more than $20 million in funding and services across two decades.

Global effort delivers technology to enhance the cooking processes

Most major food safety authorities around the world are aware of acrylamide and its potential health danger to consumers and it has now become a growing concern for snack food manufacturers.

Snack food producers are challenged with finding ways to reduce acrylamide formation during frying without making fundamental changes to their manufacturing process, and without compromising on taste or quality.

To meet this challenge, food processors looked to equipment suppliers, such as Heat and Control, to work with them to develop equipment solutions for potatoes.

A global collaboration
In one such collaboration, Australia-, US- and the UK-based Heat and Control teams worked with a European snack processor and a Swedish tech company ScandiNova to bring to market a solution that has enhanced the cooking process. It made the reduction of acrylamide possible and provided potato processers with a host of valuable additional benefits including improved yield and product quality, increased line efficiency and reduced operational cost.

It came about after research and development, the result of which was an equipment solution that would apply Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) processing to potatoes prior to manufacturing in order to reduce acrylamide. This solution became the E-FLO system, by Heat and Control.

The science of PEF
PEF is a unique non-thermal method of inactivating microorganisms, including many common food pathogens, without heating the product to the usual pasteurisation temperatures.

The destruction or inactivation of the microorganism is achieved by the breakdown of the microorganism’s cell membranes during exposure to electric fields.

PEF has previously been used in the food industry with juices, wine and olives as a means for sterilisation, preservation and for retaining nutritional values.

Heat and Control’s innovation was by the use of this method in a new application and for a different purpose.

For potatoes processors, the use of PEF treatment delivers cell disintegration, in place of the preheater operation. In this application, pulsed electrical fields create micro-pores in cell membranes, which enable the loss of primarily of liquid contents such as asparagine and reducing sugars but not starch loss. Structural and textural changes are also realised, reducing wear on cutting blades, increasing line yield and reducing water usage.

The benefits of this processing method have seen food processors across various industries incorporate this technology into their processing lines.

A January 2020 report by Technavio stated the global food industry PEF systems market is poised to grow to more than $325 million during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of about 24 per cent during the forecast period.

Developing E-FLO to deliver PEF
Partnering with ScandiNova, a provider of solid-state, high-power pulse modulators and RF systems, Heat and Control developed the patent-protected E-FLO Electroporation System to deliver the PEF process to the new product of whole potatoes and with the overall goal of reducing acrylamide levels in potato chips.

The technology worked by sending PEF through the cell walls of the potatoes to perforate cell membranes with microscopic holes.

This allowed sugars and asparagine to be released from the vegetable before it was cooked, thereby reducing the harmful acrylamide.

The process
Peeled and washed potatoes are supplied in measured quantities by upstream equipment and delivered to the E-FLO infeed chute.

The rotating E-FLO wheel transports the potatoes through the processing area as a compact, packed bed through a water bath.

Processing takes place in a water bath so that the electrical pulses can influence the product as desired. After a short exposure to the electric field pulses, to perforate the cell walls, the potatoes are lifted and discharged from the water bath by the continuing rotation of the wheel into the discharge chute. The potato then continues down the production line where greater amounts of sugars and asparagine can be removed during the slicing and washing stages.

In the case of the European snack processor, E-FLO saw excellent results with a reduction of acrylamide in its potato chips. As have other E-FLO installations, with some processors experiencing a reduction of acrylamide (in most cases) by over 50 per cent in their potato chips.

The E-FLO had met the original goal of reducing acrylamide while ensuring no degradation to the original taste and texture of the product. To the delight of the Heat and Control design team, the technology was able to offer other benefits.

Lower processing costs
In addition to reduced acrylamide formation, the use of PEF technology in the E-FLO system was shown to also provide yield savings with faster processing of the potatoes, cutting improvements for a longer blade life and lower oil content in the final product.

Aside from reducing acrylamide and creating a healthier product, other benefits of using electroporation included increased line efficiency and reduced operation cost. In addition to a return on capital investment due to increased yields processors enjoyed the following benefits:
• Reduced acrylamide allowed them to meet EU legislation.
• Reduced preparation time, water and energy usage.
• Less blanching – electroporation allows the tissue of potatoes to become more permeable removing the need for blanching before cooking. With less blanching, starch loss was avoided and yield was increased
• Reduced wear and tear of slicing blades – slicing thousands of potatoes daily results in dull slicer blades. PEF processing softens the tissue of the potato, allowing blades to slice between the cells of the potato rather than through them. This lessens the pressure and friction on tools, which equates to less down time and longer equipment life.
• Reduced oil use – slicing between the cells of the potato also produces a smoother chip surface. A smoother surface means the chip absorbs less oil, which significantly reduces oil expenditure in the long run.
• Health benefits – PEF treatment typically reduces fat content of the final potato by two to three per cent. This is due to increased starch content in the outer cell layers of the potato slices and smoother surface after cutting, which enhances the oil drip-off effect after frying.

This creates a more desirable, crunchier and premium product.

Today, the European snack processor continues to use the E-FLO to produce its potato chips with less acrylamide and meet EU regulations. The E-FLO Electroporation system is an example of innovative technology made in Australia with the help of global partners.
The right partner

Reduction of acrylamide is an important issue and one that industry is beginning to embrace on a global scale, regardless of regulation.

Potato processing is a significant investment and the key to success is choosing a supplier who can work with a company to meet their objectives.

The right partner can create a line that meets performance, quality, and efficiency targets from the outset.

Importantly, the total cost of ownership, rather than the individual cost of single pieces of equipment, should be considered.

New Bürkert BDM – building relationships key to success

Luke Houlihan has spent most of his working life around wine and wineries and up until recently had his own boutique brand vineyard producing vintages out of the Yarra Valley.

With a Bachelor in of Applied Science in Wine Science, it made sense when a position became available to become part of the team at process, automation and control specialists Bürkert’s Australian operation. He jumped on board in a heartbeat and he couldn’t be happier.

“There’s such a huge amount to get my teeth into,” he said. “There is massive scope for me and Bürkert to cover off, so I have a lot to look forward to. We are already getting traction from a large international wine group and the momentum is just starting. The next five years is going to be extremely exciting.”

One of the key focuses for Houlihan is to help winemakers, brewers and distillers streamline their production using innovative process and automation equipment. Houlihan said the industry is traditional, but it is about balancing the art of winemaking with the science of winemaking.

“It’s about maintaining that natural, organic way of winemaking with new processes that will help improve product,” he said. “By maintaining or improving quality, you end up with a better proposition for your customers, in the sense you are offering best value for money in terms of your product. It is in a winemaker’s interest to look at those things. And I think the industry is at a stage where they are in a real consolidation phase. There are a lot of medium-sized and upwards wineries that are ready to recapitalise. They’ve paid down their debt on infrastructure and are in a position where they can put some more money into improving their processes.”

What makes Houlihan stand out from other BDMs is that he has on-the-ground experience in making wine so is well aware of some of the pitfalls that can occur in the process. He knows how important it is to have reliable equipment that won’t fail at a critical stage – something that Bürkert has in abundance.

“A key for us is also being able to offer for example, a simple valve that is good for five million cycles,” he said. “They can put it into place and forget about it. It’s not going to pack up mid-vintage and cause grief because their cooling system has gone down because they’ve put in a cheap valve. The unseen thing is about offering a value proposition to a winemaker and saying ‘Spend a little bit extra now. Put this valve in and forget about it. It’s not going to cause you grief.’

“Mid vintage there are times when you’re running around seven days a week, working 20-15 hour days. If something packs up, you don’t want to try getting hold of a plumber at 11 o’clock at night to sort it out. It is a pain and is not what you want to be doing.”

It has been a baptism by fire of sorts for Houlihan as he came on board in May, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant he couldn’t get out and meet clients. However, that is about to change.

“I’m really keen to get out and look at the different control systems that are in place at the different installations. It is much easier to talk about those applications when you can see them in situ rather than on a PDF file, which is how I’m seeing a lot of things at the moment,” he said.

In 2012 Houlihan took a new role in the wine industry with a company that provided technical support and wine supplies, such as yeast and wine additives, as well as filtration equipment. In that role, he developed a strong technical understanding of water treatment for various industries including brewing and distilling. Having offered such technical and sales support in the past, Houlihan knows a lot of people in the industry and has the expertise to help.

“I especially love the integration with network technologies to do jobs remotely,” he said. “I love that stuff. There’s such a huge amount for me to do.”

Houlihan also believes in a holistic approach when it comes to helping clients out. He thinks it is important to develop a long-term relationship and strategy with a client, as opposed to fixing an issue and then moving on. And he has his own reputation to think about, too.

“My goal is to partner with companies,” he said. “Most of my friends are in the wine industry, I couldn’t on face value go to a friend and say ‘buy this valve, you’re helping me out’. I’m not going to burn my friendships over dodgy products. Being able to represent a company that is the Mercedes of process control is really exciting. You’re putting your reputation behind a really strong product. We look at their processes and rather than going into a winery and saying, ‘Right, here’s this valve.’ Or, ‘Buy this or that.’ We’re looking at asking the questions; ‘Where are you guys going? What do you want to achieve and how do you want to get there?’”

Bürkert puts a lot of effort into refining and developing equipment that will suit the customer’s needs. Houlihan sees himself building on the networks and relationships he has already to talk to winemakers, brewers and distillers and help them develop strategies that will help their business grow.

“They need to have a blueprint in place so that when they are going forward, they are putting infrastructure in that will support where they want to be in another five to 10 years,” he said.

“At the end of the day we’re here to help make beverage manufacturers lives easier,” he said. “We are focusing on increasing and improving their production processes and reducing overall costs of production as well as simplifying production, too. We are also looking at ways automation and control can help improve their processes. It’s also about making them more sustainable environmentally, too. Reducing wastage in areas like energy costs, excess compressors – there’s a whole range of ongoing savings with the right fit out. In summing up it’s about Bürkert making their lives easier in partnering with them for the long haul.”

Gas provider helps businesses diversify during COVID-19

Change is something that can be embraced, or seen as an unnecessary disruption that can cause anxiety. But what happens if that disruption is unexpected and takes away, literally, your whole market share.

COVID-19 has had a negative impact on a lot of industries and businesses. And while food and beverage have generally come out of it okay from a consumer point of view with regard to supply and demand (pasta anybody?), there are certain sectors that have suffered considerably. Imagine you are a caterer who specialises in weddings, or a major supplier to airlines. One way to try and make up the deficit is to diversify.

And quite a few companies have, according to food-grade gas supplier Air Liquide’s Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) specialist Remi Saget. Like a lot of companies hit by COVID-19, Air Liquide has seen a downturn in some of its areas of business, but there has also been interest in other aspects.

Some impacted food manufacturers have decided to expand offerings and started looking at other markets, whether it is online with home deliveries or via retailers. Supplying food products to such channels helps tremendously when shelf life is extended, which is possible using MAP. And in order for MAP to work, you need a good gas supply, which is where Air Liquide comes into its own.

Saget said there has been an increase in queries from SME manufacturers about how they can get longer shelf life for their food. Indeed, supermarket chains and independent grocers need products to stay on the shelf for longer than a day or two, often making it part of their requirements.

“We have had an upturn in requests,” said Saget. “We have seen more demand for food-grade gas, especially for ready meals. For some companies this is already their business, but many restaurant chains and catering companies had to change quickly to the same business model that would allow for home deliveries, selling at supermarkets, or selling online.”

In order for a company to be able to pack ready-to-eat meals, it needs to have a packaging machine that is capable of getting the meal prepared for being sold in store.

“It’s not a difficult transition to make if you have the correct packaging machine,” said Saget. “Obviously, you need to have one that has a gas flushing capability. You cannot gas flush manually.

“Packaging machines come in all sizes. Even your local butcher has a bench-top vacuum machines that could gas flush, or be retrofitted to do so.”

He said that gas is the last piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, manufacturers need to have the food right, then the packaging machine, the plastic tray and film, and then the gas. For ready meals, Air Liquide recommends a mixture called Aligal 15, which is made up of 50 per cent food-grade nitrogen and 50 per cent food-grade CO2. But this ratio may be adapted on a case-by-case basis.

“How it works is that the machine takes all the air out. It is the oxygen that will spoil the food eventually,” he said. “Then you add the gas. It takes a few seconds. The gas is food-grade, it is not chemical or anything like that. It’s considered a processing gas, so it is not an ingredient or a preservative and does not need to be on the label.”

Saget is confident that while some of these companies have had to look for new markets out of necessity, he doubts they’ll stop producing gas-flushed food products once the industry gets back to normal.

“It’s probably going to be the case for most companies that have gone into the ready meal business that they will stay in there once things have gone back to normal,” he said. “They have been doing it for a few months now and they realise that it is working well, and it would allow them to have an extra stream of revenue. People are used to buying online, so they can easily keep their online shop open and keep delivering to people.”

One such firm is catering company Harvest By Darren Taylor, which saw the bottom fall out of its business, with 100 per cent cancellations of weddings and other events it had been booked to supply food prior to COVID-19.

“They also operate a bakery and make great pies and croissants for cafes across NSW,” said Saget. “The sale of bakery products they did went down by 95 per cent. They had to rethink their business model.

“The good thing was for founder Darren Taylor, he could start pretty much right away thanks to a machine he purchased earlier.

“I helped him with the right gas mix according to his food. We did some tests together to make sure the gas was flowing okay. Now he is selling online and is also selling to independent supermarkets across NSW. He also sells to a big chain of butchers where his packed dishes are available in the open fridge next to the counter where you buy your meat. He is very happy.”

Taylor said he got an opportunity to get into the ready meals market in late 2019 and was planning on getting started halfway through 2020, but due to the effects of COVID-19, he decided to enter the market sooner.

The majority of outlets require prolonged shelf life to avoid dealing with products that are past their use-by date. This is especially true for ready meals, where they are packed in air, and they usually stay fresh for only a few days. A preservative-free conservation method like MAP helps.
“We got a packaging machine in Melbourne, and we looked at all the ways of extending the shelf life of the product and we decided to go with the MAP method,” said Taylor.

“We went with MAP because of the look of the product, it keeps the integrity of the product and it is very safe and reliable. After ordering the machine and getting it in, we did a whole lot of tests. We developed a product that we thought would suit that application.”

Taylor was very pleased with the service from Air Liquide in terms of getting it all set up.
“Remi and his team were amazing,” he said. “Remi was extraordinary. He came in at the very beginning and we got the machine working in a way we were happy with it. Remi helped us with our gas levels, our oxygen levels, etcetera. ”

The beauty to the system, according to Taylor, is that he cooks the food, trays it up straight away, puts it in the blaster until it comes down to 1˚C, and then packs it.

“It’s as good as you can get in terms of packaging. The film, the tray and the label – which is stuck on – are all microwave-oven proof. It has zero additives or preservatives,” he said. “By using MAP, you don’t have to put any chemicals in it.”

With the eyes on the future, Taylor and his food manufacturing business emerges from the COVID-19 crisis better positioned to face ever-changing market demands. The fact that he was able to swiftly adapt his operations is a reminder that tight partnerships with suppliers goes a long way when help is required to come out of a dark time, pandemic or not.

Food manufacturer works around the clock to fulfil orders

In the wake of Victoria returning to stage 3 COVID-19 restrictions, local Mexican food producer El Cielo say that it is more important than ever for Australians to support local businesses with their purchases.

“It is important for everyone to do what they can to support local Australian businesses. Even other businesses can do their part by forming relationships within complementary industries, we all need to work together to get through this,” says Javier Calzada, El Cielo co-founder.

El Cielo were one of the many local businesses forced to fully digitise their business with an ecommerce website due to the COVID-19 restrictions that began in March. When restaurants, cafe and bars were forced to shut, 68% of El Cielo’s business stopped overnight. While online stores have kept El Cielo and countless other Australian businesses running during lockdown, Javier says that small businesses across the country are supporting Australians with the lockdowns.

“At El Cielo, we have opened up an easy-access online store that is providing authentic Mexican food delivered straight to your door. Orders have been flooding in and we are proud to be supporting our community and are doing everything possible to deliver our fresh Mexican nixtamalized tortillas, corn chips, tostaditas to our wonderful customers.” said Czalzada.

“In addition to this, to support other business owners across the country we launched the online wholesale store so that independent supermarkets, restaurants, cafe and bars gain instant access to products at a discounted price.”

“There has never been a more important time to support each other”

“Local business across Australia and within Victoria are struggling due to COVID, and the only way some businesses are going to survive is with the support of their local community. We hope that Australians continue to choose to buy from local brands and get meals from local independent cafes and restaurants”

With larger retailers beginning to experience shortages due to increased ‘panic buying’, shopping online may prove the better option for consumers looking to stay safe and stock up on their weekly product needs.

El Cielo have been working around the clock to fulfil their online orders, the demand has been amazing!

El Cielo became the first authentic Mexican tortilleria in Melbourne upon opening in 2012, offering Mexican nixtamalized tortillas, corn chips, tostaditas, salsas, and more. While their range of products are supported through quality suppliers in Mexico, their core products are hand produced in Melbourne using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.

Cannoleria opens stand-alone factory in Melbourne

Created by That’s Amore Cheese, cannoli producer Cannoleria has moved to its own independent factory and head office in Heidelberg West.

Cannoleria’s popularity grew after its launch due to the fresh That’s Amore Cheese Ricotta used with natural ingredients to fill the delicate tubes of pastry.

Now with stores in South Melbourne Market, Preston Market, Watergardens Shopping Centre and Highpoint Shopping Centre, as well as a number of pop-ups and a catering service, Cannoleria outgrew its space within the That’s Amore factory.

Co-owner Dario Di Clerico explains “Being part of the That’s Amore family is fantastic, but it was time for Cannoleria to set up in its own factory that could facilitate further growth.

“Our new location in Heidelberg West is perfect for us to be able to produce more Cannoli, experiment with more flavours and expand the business. The Heidelberg West factory is 500sqm and currently we work 200 of wheels of ricotta a day.”

 

Western Meat Processors Cowaramup welcomes state government grant

Western Meat Packers Group has welcomed last week’s WA Government $300,000 grant which will help facilitate further processing of offal and other products at its Western Meat Processors’ Cowaramup abattoir operation as part of a $10 million expansion of its integrated operations.

WMPG CEO Andrew Fuda said that investing in this new manufacturing capability would help fully maximise yields from each beef animal and open up new markets, resulting in at least 50 full time new jobs and a host of indirect opportunities for the company and the local community.

“We’ve identified strong demand from our existing customers in Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, plus we’re optimistic we’ll receive export license approval for China, a key target in our marketing strategy,” he said.

“I sincerely thank the State Government and Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan for their support and recognition of regional businesses such as our’s.”

WMPG’s Cowaramup operation has built its operational capacity over the past 15 years to 70,000 cattle per annum, with most selected from south-west beef producers and distributed domestically and internationally under the Margaret River Fresh brand.

Manufacturer can offer bespoke solutions for food industry

For more than 40 years, Victorian-based Enmin has been building custom vibratory and material handling solutions for a myriad of applications and environments.

The company’s knowledge and expertise in this area has seen their list of customers grow to include most of Australia’s leading food industry manufacturers.

Enmin’s range of product handling and vibratory equipment includes the Mi-CON modular conveyor – a hygienically designed full wash-down system to offer multiple standardised components – plus a range of hopper feeders and screeners, spiral conveyors, conditioning conveyors and more.

“All our products are designed and constructed first and foremost to meet the rigorous requirements of the food and pharmaceutical industries such as maximum hygiene, ease of cleaning and the reliability essential to meet the demands of continuous 24/7 operation,” said Enmin general manager, Anthony Gallaher.

Over the years, the company has earned an enviable reputation for designing and building equipment to the highest standards using the finest materials  to provide complete reliability and longevity.

Supporting other local manufacturers is a priority for Enmin and the company currently purchases 304 stainless steel, various steel and plastic machined parts, castings, coils and electrical components as well as outsourcing their laser cutting, all domestically.

Gallaher sees several benefits to customers of purchasing Enmin’s locally made equipment. These include the ability to offer individual design and customisation, expert local advice, consistency of supply and outstanding back-up and support.

In many cases Enmin is the only Australian company manufacturing specific material handling components.“We are the only company manufacturing electromagnetic drives in Australia and our many years in application experience will ensure the right drive is nominated for the tray requirements and process,” he said.

“Our equipment is designed to provide years of trouble-free operation with minimal moving parts, next to no on-going maintenance and, best of all, low energy consumption. All this ensures a reliable, low-cost method of product handling,” said Gallaher.

“Customisation is an important part of our business; depending on a customer’s requirement we can recommend either standard equipment components or design bespoke equipment,” Mr Gallaher added.

“A recent example was a requirement for a hopper feeder where the depositing system dictated a height that would be unergonomic for the production line staff to easily and safely access the storage hopper. Using our design expertise and state-of-the-art software, we designed a mobile unit with retractable operator steps. When not required, these steps can be folded out of the way quickly and with very little effort thanks to pressurised struts on each side,” Gallaher said.

“Another benefit of being a local manufacturer is being able to see first-hand a customer’s existing production line set-up to ensure our equipment will integrate seamlessly with other components already in place. We can ensure that mechanical components fit with minimal or no modifications and electrical interfaces are all talking to each other,” Gallaher said.

“There are many pieces of non-branded equipment brought in from overseas and these often need replacement parts; this is where our knowledge and expertise also comes into play to ensure that the right part is specified,” Gallaher went on to say.

“And of course, being a local manufacturer means we are only a quick phone call away to immediately respond to any customer query or provide service and parts support throughout Australia,” he added.

Enmin also invests heavily in R&D to provide Australian manufacturers with the latest developments in materials handling solutions and improve production efficiencies.

An example of this is Enmin’s design and development of a range of modular components. “The key benefit of modular components is that it eliminates equipment redundancy and expands with the customer’s business. It can be added to, extended and modified in the years ahead as a company’s production needs evolve,” said Gallaher.

“Whilst lower cost equipment from overseas may initially seem an attractive proposition, it is ultimately false economy. In the long term delivery turnaround, the ability to work closely with us during every phase of the project combined with the quality, reliability and opportunity to easily add to or modify years later as production needs change, far outweighs any price difference. In terms of return on investment, there is simply no comparison,” said Gallaher.

Enmin also has a range of Industrial vibrators to suit any industry that handles bulk material. The range is designed to suit Australia’s environment and covers a multitude of applications such as mining, quarrying and agriculture.

Agtech Australian first: more crop per drop

A new partnership between Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and local agtech company Goanna Ag will see sensors and analytics combined to maximise every drop of irrigation water used to grow crops.

In an Australian first, ‘WaterWise’ is the only water-use efficiency product for irrigated crops that measures crop water stress and predicts future water needs in real time. The tech is set to help growers save water or produce more crop per drop.

Goanna Ag, which produces agricultural sensing systems for water-use efficiency, will be delivering WaterWise’s smart analytics as a data stream to their on-farm customers.

CEO Alicia Garden said that for Goanna Ag and its customers, being involved in this innovation means they can access brand-new, Australian-made, science-based technology and incorporate it into their existing GoField system.

“Being able to predict when to irrigate will allow our clients – farmers – to plan based on what the plant needs,” Garden said.

The WaterWise system ‘lets the plants do the talking’ with in-field sensors that measure the canopy temperature of crops every 15 minutes. It then sends the data to CSIRO’s sensor data infrastructure, adds in the weather forecast and uses machine learning to apply CSIRO’s unique algorithm to predict the crop’s water requirements for the next seven days.

WaterWise team leader Dr Rose Brodrick explains that predicting the future is the real breakthrough science. It means for the first time, growers can see the water stress of their crops at any point and predict their future water needs.

“Just like humans, plants have an optimum temperature. When things are normal it’s easier to predict when a plant will need water. But when conditions change – like with a new crop, a new field, or unusually hot or cold weather forecasted – farmers want backup with their decision making.”

“The usual strategy is ‘if you’re unsure, just add water’. This is where using high tech can help give them data and more confidence in their decision making, because every drop counts,” she said.

Developing and commercialising breakthrough agtech like WaterWise is a feat CSIRO is one of few organisations capable of achieving. It involved a range of skill sets from agronomists to plant physiologists, data and machine learning experts, software engineers, social scientists and innovation specialists. And it was done in record time.

The next steps for WaterWise are to take it from in-field based canopy sensors to drones or satellites.

Goanna Ag expects the system incorporating WaterWise will be commercially available in time for the 2020 summer cropping seaso

Improved dairy prospects see milk price forecast increase

Global COVID-19 restrictions are easing, food service sales have resumed and dairy prices look to be on the rebound, however Rabobank’s Q2 2020 global Dairy Quarterly warns it may still be too soon to assess the true strength of the global dairy market.

Global dairy markets have, though, performed better than expected thoughout the pandemic’s disruption, with the report, titled Waiting for the dust to settle, revising up Rabobank’s milk price forecast for Australia and New Zealand.

In Southern Australia, the modelled price is AUD6.35/kgMS – the minimum price announcement set for the new season above expectation, suggesting limited upside in the season ahead.

The just-released report also forecast milk production to continue expanding across the dairy-exporting regions, despite weather-related issues, lower milk prices and efforts to bring supply back in balance with demand in many areas.

Rabobank forecasts a one per cent year-on-year increase in production across the ‘Big-7’ dairy regions (US, EU, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, New Zealand, Australia) in the second half of 2020, and 0.9 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2021.

Rabobank senior dairy analyst Michael Harvey said while the northern hemispehere recently experienced a rebound in milk and dairy product prices, it may be too soon to call a true dairy market recovery.

“We are on a path toward recovery, but we are not out of the woods,” he said.
“Much of the price support has been driven by government intervention in the market whether through dairy purchases, direct income payments, and managing surplus stock, combined with the reopening of foodservice outlooks that has helped jump-start demand.”

Dairy in a slowing economy
Government support will likely slow in the months ahead, at which time, Mr Harvey said, global market fundamentals would again take hold – and in a slower economy still healing from the pandamic’s economic distruction.

“Much of the world will emerge from the COVID-19 lockdowns into economic recession, and this slower growth will weigh on dairy demand and will curb import purchasing in many regions,” he said.

An expected decrease in demand from South East Asia – a key driver of import
opportunities for many milk-producing areas – plus lower Chinese import needs could lead
to a surplus of milk, and contribute to high stock levels in the second half of 2020.
Mr Harvey said this inventory build would put downward pressure on dairy commodity
prices in the months ahead due to this heightened levels of stocks and competition for
reduced import demand.

Foodservice vs retail demand post COVID-19
As lockdowns are lifted, Mr Harvey said, the imbalance between heightened retail sales
and lower foodservice sales will begin to converge, however finding this balance would
take time.

“There will be limitations preventing a complete return to previous norms, particularly in
foodservice sales – new habits may have formed, and we may find people continue
preparing more food at home on an ongoing basis,” he said.

Australian Outlook
Harvey said Australia’s milk production recovery in the southern export pool was
gathering pace, up 6.7 per cent in April year-on-year.

Season-to-date milk production was 7.5 billion litres, down 1.6 per cent year-on-year, with
exceptional gains in Tasmania and Gippsland leading this growth.

Rabobank is forecasting milk production to finish at 8.7 billion litres, representing a decline
of just 0.7 per cent, expanding by 3.4 per cent in the 2020/21 season.

“Favourable seasonal conditions will support milk production growth into the 2020/21
season, bringing national production back above nine billion litres and a return to growth in the exportable surplus from Q2 2020 – for the first time since 2018,” Harvey said.
Better seasonal conditions have also slowed culling rates, as Australian dairy farmers look
to rebuild stocks, with lower purchased feed markets providing margin support for dairy
businesses.

Shoppers change behaviour as COVID-19 takes hold

New research from consumer intelligence specialists, Mintel, shows that there has been changes in consumer sentiment and behaviour as a result of the spread of COVID-19 across Australia and New Zealand.

“With the COVID-19 novel coronavirus continuing to spread in Australia and New Zealand, government-imposed social distancing measures and a stimulus package to safeguard jobs, the impact of the virus on the economy is already starting to show. However, effects vary by sector; while some industries are fighting for survival, others have proven their quick adaptability to the new environment,” said Elysha Young, Mintel trends manager for APAC.

“Our research shows how changing consumer sentiment and behaviour in reaction to the virus is having profound effects on certain sectors. In response, we’re seeing some companies and brands adapting to meet new – or newly important – consumer needs.”

Concern is on the rise
Mintel research shows that over half of Australian consumers (63 per cent) are concerned about the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. In the 48 hours from 25-27 March, Google Trends reported the search “symptoms of coronavirus” by Australians had spiked by 1,180 per cent. However, as the curve begins to flatten, there is an expectation that concern around exposure will similarly ease off, replaced with concern over the effect the outbreak will have on lifestyles. Australian consumers are worried how the outbreak might impact their lifestyle, with over one third (36 per cent) saying they are “extremely worried”.

Given the speed of the crisis, it was noted that almost one quarter (24 per cent) of Australian consumers remained unsure whether to be worried about exposure, even as they entered the third week of restrictions. As government shutdowns remain in effect indefinitely, the lack of a clear end-date left many consumers concerned about both their day-to-day lifestyles and their longer-term economic prospects.

Good hygiene and avoiding crowded places are top priorities
“Mintel research shows that the majority of Australians are making changes in light of the virus, with increased hand washing, use of hand sanitiser, and avoidance of public places the biggest behaviour shifts,” said Young. “Within a week of restrictions, we saw personal hygiene behaviours increase, with 80 per cent saying they washed their hands more often and 75 per cent reporting they used hand sanitiser more often, up from 64 per cent and 55 per cent respectively.”

Consumers are also increasing their use of household disinfectants and cleaners, with 45 per cent reporting they had done so in response to the outbreak. Moving forward, as social distancing becomes further normalised and consumers continue to stay indoors as much as possible, we expect to see consumers continue to look for products that help them keep their environments as hygienic as possible.

Changing behaviours around grocery shopping and online shopping
Consumers aged 35-54 were most likely to indicate that they are stocking up on groceries and other supplies with two in five (38 per cent) saying they have changed their purchasing behaviour in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Non-perishable items were cleared from the shelves almost immediately as consumers swept through in search of staples to stock up on,” said Young. “As a result, purchases of rice, pasta, canned vegetables, tinned meals and fish, breakfast cereals, biscuits, coffee and yeast were all restricted early by supermarkets. As shortages continued longer than many had predicted, both younger and older cohorts have similarly adopted more of a stockpiling mentality. For many millennials (b. 1980-99) this could be their first real experience of planning out and bulk buying groceries, as we’ve seen a preference for smaller, more frequent shopping trips over the past few years.”

From in-store to online shopping, while millennials led the eCommerce charge with 23 per cent of those aged 25-34 saying they have increased the amount of shopping they do online in response to the outbreak, older consumers followed suit – 16 per cent of those aged 45-54 and 12 per cent of those aged 55 plus have increased online shopping due to the spread of COVID-19.

“We also found that family health and high living costs are of top concern to Australian consumers,” said Young. “Twenty-one per cent of Australian consumers expect to spend less on food (excluding takeaways/delivery) in the next month, and that 44 per cent of Australians are expressing little confidence that their financial situation will improve over the next few months. Overall it seems that while fresh will be important, especially as it relates to health, what will be of highest consideration is value, whether that is fresh or non-perishable.”

Twenty-six per cent of respondents also expressed concern about the safety of their food products, which could contribute to a broader trend we’re seeing around localism – potentially a way for products to demonstrate their value will be through local/provenance claims for greater transparency.”

Lessons learned from China
“COVID-19 has created an unprecedented situation that will impact the Australian population and economy. China was the first to deal with the crisis, hence, it is worth looking to China to see what lessons we can learn to help Australian businesses find ways to deal with the immediate impact of the crisis,” said Young.

“Speaking to our colleagues in China, once the initial consumer panic of stockpiling groceries and other supplies faded, they observed a counter trend: the aforementioned increased emphasis on fresh food. More people working at home means more time for home cooking, and there’s an inevitable tendency for people to try to eat as well as possible during a time of elevated fears over health and well-being.”

A desire to support local businesses was clear in China, and Young is expecting to see the same thing in Australia and New Zealand.

“As shoppers, we are entirely reliant on businesses’ ability to supply the goods and services that allow us to survive and thrive,” she said. “And as businesses, we are entirely reliant on our customers’ support. Post-isolation, expect to see Australian consumers focus more on supporting their communities in search of authenticity, transparency, and sincerity. A move towards more human connections will influence Australians’ perception of value in their interactions with every brand.”

Sensors designed for rugged food and beverage environments

With its new compact series of VEGABAR pressure sensors and VEGAPOINT level switches, VEGA has now advanced to full-range supplier for all applications in food production. These instruments are aimed at standard applications in automation – and designed to meet the latest requirements of the industry.

The quality demands on food are higher today than ever before with it becoming a matter of course to be able to choose freely from a variety of foods every day. Products are being manufactured more according to individual tastes, which makes faster batch changes necessary. Consumers trust that everything is safe and hygienic at all times – and rarely think about the extensive network of safety measures that make it possible. Intelligent system design is one of them. It supports the reliability, efficiency and hygiene of manufacturing processes – with the help of hi-tech sensors and their reliable measured values.

On the basis of the modular plics instrument series, level and pressure instrumentation from VEGA has been making a contribution to safety and efficiency in the food industry for many decades. The compatible design and standardised adjustment concept create flexible application possibilities and allow individual configuration − from selection of the right measuring principle, to installation and setup, to service. Operators benefit from fast product changes, continuous plant availability and process reliability.

New standard sensors with a focus on hygiene
Just like other sectors, the food industry does not seek extreme solutions, but, in many areas, just simple optimisation and efficiency improvement. Here, less is usually more. VEGA has expanded its product range to include a compact instrument series. It proves that automation can be both simple and highly efficient without sacrificing dependability, hygiene or accuracy.

Standard applications, in particular, can be automated economically with the new compact pressure sensors and level switches. Integration into the system, as well as adjustment, are easy to carry out. In this performance class, multi-device connection options are also available, which supports the continuous improvement of production facilities. The focus here is on compactness, flexibility, safety and optimised hygiene.

The new VEGABAR and VEGAPOINT instrument series are the answer to the growing demand for simple sensors with optimised variants that support increasingly efficient food production. This requires more standardised products that are as easy as possible to use but still cover all the basic hygiene requirements. It also calls for better networked products with easy connectivity to existing control systems and mobile devices.

Standardisation gives birth to efficiency
A uniform standard extends through all areas of application. This applies especially to the fully hygienic adapter system, which is designed to be compatible with the new sensors and capacitive level switches as well as the existing VEGASWING vibrating level switches.

Not only can it be flexibly selected according to individual needs, but also adapted to local requirements and – if necessary – quickly exchanged. All the new instruments are built to withstand intense clean in place(CIP) processes. And not least due to their hygienic design and surface finish, they comply with all standards and approvals of the industry.

The acid test of CIP cleaning
Time is becoming an increasingly important factor in food production processes, and hygienic production in particular requires a lot of it. CIP cleaning is one of the most necessary but time-consuming process steps. The potential for savings here lies in cleaning and sterilising systems more quickly, through consistent hygiene standards and system design. However, this assumes that the cleaning process can be fully relied upon once completed. And this in turn requires components whose geometry does not allow microorganisms to collect in dead spaces and which are also capable of withstanding the cleaning and sterilisation processes themselves.

Processes and media that demand a lot from the materials of the measuring instruments are, for example, substances with a high fat content as well as aromatics. The consequential aggressive cleaning agents required also make correspondingly high chemical resistance necessary. The VEGABAR and VEGAPOINT instruments are resistant to both demands. The pressure sensors and level switches can tolerate high temperatures without loss of function, and even cope with the combination of both high temperature and long exposure times.

Hygienic design down to the last detail
What does “Hygienic by Design” mean? In real terms it can be seen even in the smallest components of the new sensor series. All surfaces of VEGABAR 29 and 39 sensors that come into contact with the product are made of stainless steel and feature optimal surface roughness values. What is more, VEGABAR 28 and 38 are available with high-strength ceramic versions and VEGAPOINT sensors in high-resistant PEEK material.

All materials are approved and tested according to FDA and EC 1935/2004. The design of the instruments is certified according to the European EHEDG Directive and the North American 3-A Sanitary Standards. Both standards prescribe the use of corrosion-resistant materials only and the components are also designed in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practices regulations so that all micro-organisms are reliably removed by cleaning and cannot multiply on surfaces or in gaps.

Visible all around: illuminated 360-degree switching status display
Sensors are often used in very large spacious areas or in tight spaces. The effort involved in reading a sensor quickly becomes considerable when a hygiene barrier has to be overcome. However, it is crucial to be able to see sensor readings quickly and easily, so that operators can react as quickly as possible, especially in the event of a fault.

To ensure that the status of a process can be recognised at a glance from as far away as possible and from any direction, the development of the new sensors focused on simple handling – and the fast and easy readability that comes along with it. Thanks to the round, 360-degree display, all switching states can be visually detected from any direction. The colour of the illuminated ring, which can be freely selected from 256 different colours, remains visible even in daylight. This allows the operator to choose the colour that is best visible in that particular environment, and it is up to the operator to choose the colour that best suits their needs and offers maximum additional safety and distinguishability in critical situations. It immediately shows the user if measurement is taking place, if the sensor is switching, or if there is a possible malfunction in the process.

Fit for the future with IO-Link
In their maintenance decisions, plant operators rely on status data, which forms the basis for optimal planning of shutdown times. Almost all system builders now implement intelligent sensors with IO technology for this, as it offers universal advantages when it comes to data availability. Not only can these be quickly and cost-effectively installed using standard three-core cable, but, with IO-Link, sensors can also be replaced without the risk of errors. The system can be put into operation faster with the standard protocol, which reduces production downtime.

The option of having all sensor parameters written automatically into the new instrument by the IO-Link master, or the controller during a replacement, also makes for additional efficiency. Fast format or recipe changes, which are typical in the food industry, can be carried out quickly and centrally in this way. The bottom line is that using IO-Link saves time while reducing the potential for errors to zero. This ensures higher product quality, more optimal utilisation of the machines and increased process speed.

Wireless transmission of measured values
Both the VEGABAR and VEGAPOINT instrument series can be easily read out and configured with a smartphone or tablet. Especially in environments such as clean rooms, where physical access involves a lot of effort, it means setup and operation become faster and easier. In combination with the VEGA Tools app, which has already won an App Award, the sensor data enquiry over shorter distances in these areas also becomes convenient.

Future-oriented automation from a single source
Hygienic design, system availability, modularisation and networking are the decisive factors for greater efficiency in food processes and for standing out in the face of growing competition. With its decades of experience, VEGA offers level and pressure measurement technology for the automation and monitoring of future-oriented production systems. It has sensors optimised for operating under extreme conditions and meeting strict requirements on system safety and flexibility.

Because of the increasing requirement for standard applications and open control platforms, VEGA has added these compact pressure sensors and level switches into its portfolio to help meet this. The new instruments are tailored to these standard applications that nevertheless involve high quality.

The universal adapter system of these compact devices provides the flexibility needed to keep inputs and costs at a minimum level through optimised spare parts stock-keeping. This provides process fittings that can be selected “off the shelf” and adapted directly to individual requirements.

There is also a great deal of sensor intelligence on board – the standard IO-Link protocol ensures especially simple, intelligent communication. The wireless communication provides easy and fast access and setup.

This means that the instruments have a multi-layer communication platform that enables seamless data transfer and simple integration into control systems. They are prepared for the production processes of the future – and are already making their contribution to the implementation of Industry 4.0.

Grants keep food supply businesses going

Food production businesses and farms in Victoria will be supported in making their workplace safe and keeping supply chains uninterrupted due to support from the Victorian Government.

Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, Jaclyn Symes, recently launched the Business Adaptation grants program – part of the Working for Victoria Agriculture Workforce Plan – to support food supply chain businesses in rural, regional and outer metropolitan areas.

Under the program, individual grants of between $10,000 and $300,000 will support eligible businesses to meet the costs of adapting their workplaces to meet health, safety and social distancing requirements or adapt to business changes imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Adaptations may include changes to transport used to take employees to and from work to ensure physical distancing, changes to employer-supplied accommodation, or the creation of extra washrooms and other facilities.

Grants can also be used to buy machinery or appliances needed by businesses to adapt to maintaining operations during the pandemic.

Each grant will cover up to 50 per cent of the costs of individual adaptation projects, with the remainder to be covered by the business.

The Business Adaptation grants are part of the broader $50 million Agriculture Workforce Plan supporting regional businesses across Victoria during the coronavirus pandemic. The Plan is supporting businesses within key agriculture and food processing industries through job-matching, case management, worker relocation needs, transport and training.

Patience wins through with industrial freezer build

Building a commercial freezer is no easy task. The amount of work and effort that goes into making sure all the specifications are met can be arduous. This is not lost on the team from Total Construction, a company that specialises in food and beverage builds.

In 2015, a baking company wanted to build a new freezer due to its business expanding and so began a consultation process with Total Construction’s Engineering Construction Group (ECG).

“We began talking with them five years ago about building a 500 sqm freezer on an adjoining site to its current plant,” said Rob Blythman, general manager for ECG. “The client makes par baked bakery products for the café market and their point of difference is that each individual product has its own unique shape and look – the real homemade appearance.”

It was for this reason that the bakery needed to expand. With orders up, and the uniqueness of some of its products, space was at a premium. The scope of the job was nothing new to ECG, so they started to scope the project with the client.

“The Total Construction team worked with the client’s operations staff extensively through workshops and discussions to develop a profile of what the client needed by way of a freezer build and how this could be achieved with maximum efficiency at the lowest cost,” said Blythman.

Total Construction was up for the challenge, and presented four design options to the client. The point of the four different options was to provide a variety of possibilities when it came to costings. This would allow the bakery to enable the best process flow while maximising the pallet capacity of the facility.

“After much discussion on the cost, the client decided to go it alone and manage the construction with his own team,” said Blythman.

“As you can imagine, we were extremely disappointed to have missed out on doing the build. However, we were quite philosophical about it too, as we well know, in the food and beverage market, this frequently happens. This is mainly due to many clients being privately owned medium-sized businesses that want to save money wherever they can. We respected the client’s decision and said if they needed any help at all to give us a call. Little did we know that a few years down the track we would get that call.”

Three years later Blythman was with some colleagues at a food and beverage trade show when they ran into the owner of the bakery. They talked about the state of the industry, but the discussion soon turned to the freezer project that had been on the cards back in 2015.
“It turned out the client was at his wit’s end with the project, as he had experienced nothing but trouble trying to get it started,” said Blythman. “To top it off, he had been pinged by council for conducting building works without approval.”

Blythman and the Total Construction team knew in the back of their minds that this kind of issue could come to the fore because Total Construction has had extensive experience in how councils work, due to being in continual contact with various councils on a weekly basis on many projects and fully understood what type of issues could arise going it alone. However, Total Construction wasn’t the type of company to bask in the misfortune of others, instead it saw an opportunity to help.

“Within a few weeks we had signed them up for design works, a DA submission and CM contract for the construction,” said Blythman.

The scope that the owner gave Total Construction was extensive. It was to construct a new freezer in the neighbouring building with all council approvals completed; make sure there was access from the existing premises through to the neighbouring premises; make sure there was a provision of an air lock ingress/egress in the new freezer; ensure that there was sufficient area allocated for the dispatch of receivables; provide a series of layout options for the freezer size and additional production locations; and makes sure that the freezer racking design could accommodate long-term and short-term pallet storage (400 pallets) within 500 sqm.

The biggest issue that needed solving was the final instruction in the scope – accommodating the pallet storage. Space was at a premium and they had to come up with a strategy to make sure it met the specifications. They did this using some lateral thinking.
“To maximise pallet space, we came up with a design that allowed the freezer space to follow the existing building roof line to allow sufficient space for the required evaporators. This posed a problem of potential issues with the EPS panel ceiling joints not sealing properly due to the acute angles involved,” said Blythman.

“To counter the potential of icing of the joints, particular attention was given to the over sealing done on each joint to ensure no air would penetrate, so the freezer would not only function properly, but provide room for more pallet space.”

In the end, the project was completed on time without a hitch and not only to the customer’s specifications but meeting all council and building standards.

“Needless to say, the client was impressed with the final build as were we,” said Blythman, “We found the project interesting from a build point of view – with regard to the acute angles – and the client ended up with a freezer that will help move the business forward.”

Enmin electromagnetic drives suitable for range of industries

Enmin’s range of electromagnetic vibratory feeders has a new way of controlling the flow of product, parts and bulk materials. Products can be screened, sized, or accurately metered to ensure a smooth, uniform and fully variable flow.

Enmin’s EMA drives utilise the power of electromagnetic energy to generate a vibratory force to the conveying tray of the vibratory feeder providing stability, control and accuracy in the delivery of product to a secondary process. The cyclic operation is simply controlled from a range of electronic controllers that will vary the feeding rate in a manner to suit the specific application.

Enmin’s extensive range of models and tray configurations will convey a vast range of different sized products and ingredients and are suitable for basic to complex applications.

Enmin’s drives are designed to provide years of trouble-free operation with minimal moving parts, next to no on-going maintenance and best of all, low energy consumption, ensuring a reliable, low cost method of product handling.

“All Enmin drives are designed and constructed to meet the rigorous requirements of the food and pharmaceutical industries such as maximum hygiene, ease of cleaning and continuous 24/7 operation,” said Enmin general manager, Anthony Gallaher.

The drives maintain constant flow into elevating and belt conveyors, multi-head weigh scales, filling and seasoning applications. The conveying-by-vibration method provides smooth product transfer without degradation.

“We are the only company manufacturing electromagnetic drives in Australia and our many years in application experience will ensure the right drive is nominated for the tray requirements and process,” Gallaher added.

“In addition to the food industry, virtually any industry that handles dry bulk material, processed products or parts can employ the use of an EMA drive. Our drives have been successfully utilised in the metals, ceramics, chemical and plastics industries in an extensive array of applications.”

As with their EMA drives, most of Enmin’s product range is designed and manufactured in Australia. This allows for individual design and customisation, expert local advice, consistency of supply and outstanding back-up and support.

“As part of our ongoing product development and response to customer requests,  new products are being developed that utilise our EMA drives. These include an electromagnetic bowl feeder range (EMA-BF) and a bin vibrator (EMA-BV),” said Gallaher.

Enmin’s range of product handling and vibratory equipment includes the Mi-CON modular conveyor – the first ever hygienically designed full wash down system to offer multiple standardised components – plus a range of hopper feeders and screeners, spiral conveyors, conditioning conveyors and more.

Why manufacturing transformation will change Australia’s economic trajectory

Manufacturing and automation is now more top-of-mind than ever before.  As Industry 4.0 takes root in businesses across the globe, the opportunity to embrace highly-advanced technology and new, forward-thinking ways of working has never been greater. From smart cities and cashless payments to autonomous vehicles, there is no shortage of buzzworthy, headline-grabbing advances in modern industry.

One innovation that has become particularly important is intelligent manufacturing or smart factories. A combination of cyber-physical systems, automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT), these facilities have the potential to rapidly transform business. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Australia has identified and embraced the benefits that this industrial wave holds. Automation adoption among Australian manufacturers has picked up substantially in recent years. According to the Australian Manufacturing Forum, there are around 83 robots per 10,000 employees in the country. This trumps the global average of 74 robots per 10,000 employees.

Global consulting company, Mckinsey, has also identified the economic potential that the rapid introduction of robots could hold for the country. In its 2019 Australia’s Automation Opportunity: Reigniting opportunity and inclusive income growth report, the agency noted that this opportunity could add $1.1 trillion to $4 trillion to the economy over the next 15 years, providing every Australian with $4,000 to $15,000 in additional income per year by 2030.

“As the country faces a modest 2 per cent GDP growth this year, and some economists speculate that the country could even face a recession in the wake of the recent bushfires and the coronavirus (COVID-19), is it perhaps time that Australian manufacturers grab hold of this automation potential and reshape the industry?” asks James McKew, regional director at Universal Robots.

Curbing Economic Concerns
As close economic allies, China’s halt on production has had significant impact on the local supply chain. Here, McKew notes that advancements in AI and specifically, cobotics, can be used in areas where it’s unsafe for humans to work or more simply Australian workers are unwilling to do the monotonous tasks to which cobots are so well suited.

“One of the latest and most exciting robotic breakthroughs, collaborative robots or cobots – robots that work alongside human operators safely - enable businesses to improve cost efficiency, productivity, and output quality. These intelligent tools foster a more inclusive workspace, too, by relieving workers from strenuous, repetitive and sometimes dangerous tasks so they can focus on higher-value assignments,” McKew said.

Cobots are user-friendly, flexible, compact, safe, and have a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) compared to traditional industrial robots. TCO includes both direct and indirect costs, including maintenance, factory floor upgrades (including the ease a cobot can be re-deployed), employee training, and safety barriers, all of which are factors that typically apply to traditional industrial robots. Cobots are also less costly to set up, which further makes them a financially attractive option for manufacturers turning to automation for the first time.

What can we learn from the COVID-19?
Besides finding a vaccine or a cure, automation has now also been lauded as one of the safest ways to bridge the gap between the virus and service delivery.

In light of the global COVID-19 outbreak, the opportunity exists to further understand and implement automation across the country, placing Australia in a stronger manufacturing position and improving its global competitiveness rank.

“The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index revealed that those economies that have invested in innovation capabilities are best placed to revive productivity and weather a global slowdown,” said McKew.

While Australian manufacturers are lagging slightly behind global and regional peers in Industry 4.0 adoption – compared to Korea’s 631 robots per 10,000 employees – the country is renowned for its high number of SME and micro-businesses in local manufacturing. “Many of these producers are hampered by costs, which could reduce as the uptake of automation on the factory floor increases. To better compete as a major player in global supply chains, they should embrace the digital transformation with haste,” said McKew.

McKinsey supports this notion, estimating that between 25 per cent and 46per cent of current work activities in Australia could be automated by 2030, helping to drive a renaissance in productivity, income and economic growth.

Utilising robotics and Industry 4.0 technologies, the pivot to intelligent manufacturing may just be the solution that helps countries in beating coronavirus now and future viruses that might arise.