Portion control has grown in importance during the past few years as consumers have attempted to limit calories by choosing smaller-portioned foods. From 100-calorie bags of chips and cookies to mini desserts at their favorite restaurants, people are looking for pre-portioned foods more often.
Restaurant operators also desire desserts such as pies and cakes that are sliced prior to arrival for easier serving. Slicing systems for these favorite desserts have been available for more than 25 years, and today the variety of slicing systems available to industrial processors is greater than ever.
“Customers want products pre-sliced,” said Doug Petrovich, president of FoodTools, Inc., Santa Barbara, CA. “From the consumer who just wants to remove one slice at a time to the restaurant owner who doesn’t have time to worry about slicing a product in the kitchen, accurate pre-sliced products are in demand. Our larger wholesale bakers are all looking for more automation to reduce labor cost and increase effi ciency.”
Rick Hoskins, vice-president, sales and marketing, Colborne Corp., Lake Forest, IL, said convenience is important to food service outlets. “Until recently, pies were almost never pre-portioned in the pan for the food service segment,” he said. “Ultrasonic cutting has really opened the door of opportunity for those producers who want to offer pre-portioned pies in the pan.”
Through a joint venture with a UK company, Colborne commercialized high-speed ultrasonic cutting systems in the US in the late 1990s. “Prior to that it was generally mechanical cutting systems that were very labor intensive and restrictive on what you could cut at certain temperatures,” Mr. Hoskins said. “With the evolution of ultrasonic cutting, bakers can now cut a wider variety of products at faster speeds and wider ranges of temperatures.”
Colborne offers various systems for cutting pies and cakes. “The applications vary depending on speed and overall size of the product,” he observed. “All of our systems are ultrasonic, relying on high-speed vibration ideal for cutting sticky and multilayered products like pies and cakes.”
For delicate and sticky products, FoodTools offers six ultrasonic models, both inline and offline applications, with production speeds of 80 to 1,500 cakes or pies per hour, according to Mr. Petrovich.
FoodTools’ latest offline introductions include ultrasonic cutting with or without divider inserts between each slice. “This improves the quality of the cut and makes for a much better product presentation for the customer,” he said. “PLCs and servo-driven product holders have improved the production speeds as well as the quality of the cut product.”
Inline machine additions include mechanical and ultrasonic units that are capable of high-speed cutting with or without divider inserts. The inserts are fed from FoodTools’ patented roll feeder system, which is more reliable than individual pre-cut sheets and reduces
inventory requirements and waste from divider feeding problems, according to Mr. Petrovich. “All of our inline machines have PLCs, servo-driven blades and conveyor systems for ultimate integration into the customer’s line.”
For inline applications, FoodTools offers two models with production speeds of 900 to 1,500 cakes and pies per hour, and for offline applications, the company offers six models with production speeds of 40 to 400 cakes per hour. “This broad range of machines allows us to match the needs of any size bakery depending on if the product is frozen or fresh, delicate or sticky and whether divider inserts are required between each slice of cake or pie,” Mr. Petrovich added.
When cutting pies, Colborne has two unique features for customers, according to Mr. Hoskins. First, its systems allow bakers to portion products in the pan. “This is a great feature for those pie producers serving the food service market,” he noted. “Within the same system, we offer blades that make two cuts at the same time, still using ultrasonic technology. This allows us to increase throughput without adding additional cutting stations.”
One of the most important features bakers want from their portioning systems is flexibility, which Mr. Hoskins said is a standard offering for Colborne’s machines. “All of our units are programmable and servo-driven making it the most flexible it can be,” he said.
Colborne introduced robotic cutting systems that bring flexibility and reduced operating costs by using a robot as the mechanism to drive cutting blades, according to Mr. Hoskins. “The need for flexibility has driven this initiative,” he added.
In addition to flexibility, Mr. Hoskins said the other feature most desired by bakers is throughput. “Processing more with less is nothing new in terms of strategy, but continues to drive innovation,” he pointed out.
According to Mr. Petrovich, the most important features are flexibility, automation, sanitation and safety. “All of our machines are CE and BISSC certified,” he noted.
More equipment than ever before is available to assist bakeries to automate the process of slicing cakes and pies into convenient pre-portioned pieces. Whether a bakery wants an inline or offline system, mechanical or ultrasonic, a variety of choices is available.