Business Operations: Making It Mini
by Shane Whitaker
In recent years, myriad new products have been introduced to help people control their portion sizes. Whether its 100-Cal bags of chips, cookies or crackers or mini muffins and brownies, consumers have requested smaller portions, and manufacturers have responded with smaller-size products.
Two things have come from the miniaturization trend, according to Lance Aasness, vice-president of sales and marketing for Hinds-Bock Corp., Bothell, WA: “Bite-size and low-cal. Bite-size products are very convenient, and with their popularity, more companies are producing them. Low-calorie products marketed with low-cal callouts on packaging are also very popular right now.”
The trend doesn’t seem to be losing any steam. “We don’t see any decline in the growth of these [mini] products,” noted Stewart MacPherson, vice-president, sales and marketing, Unifiller Systems, Inc., Delta, BC.
And while it’s fairly easy to see what led to this trend, has it been difficult for bakeries to respond and produce these new mini products? Producing miniature muffins and brownies definitely requires some investment by bakeries such as purchasing new pans and possibly upgrading depositing systems.
The greatest challenges to producing mini muffins, cakes and brownies are speed and accuracy, according to Mr. Aasness. “Because the product is smaller, equipment has to run faster to meet the same yield. For example, if the goal is 5,000 lb per hour, you have to increase the speed when producing mini product,” he said. “Our solution is to increase the number of pistons that are depositing batter. Where it took six to 10 pistons to produce regular size muffins, it takes 12 to 20 pistons producing mini-muffins and cakes.”
Specific equipment properties are important for making mini muffins and cakes, Mr. Aasness said. “Machines need to be bigger. Ideally, you need 15 to 20 pistons working simultaneously,” he observed. “The structure needs to be bigger, sturdier and more robust, and because the cavities are smaller, you need a fast-acting shutoff spout for a cleaner deposit. The drive system is also oversized to run at high rates of speed.”
With any depositing, accuracy is key. However, it is even more crucial with mini products, because if depositors are over by one or two grams with each dose, the giveaway adds up quickly.
E.T. Oakes, Hauppauge, NY, designed a new cake depositing system (CDS) to help bakers achieve better accuracy with their batter deposits. CDS uses pressurized manifolds, so whatever gets pumped into the manifold is deposited. To ensure accuracy, Micro Motion mass flow meters are used to measure batter as it flows into the manifolds. Also, the flow meter can check the specific gravity, or density, of the batter, which is important for homogenous deposits.
Another new feature of the CDS is a smart accumulator, which is mounted above the manifold. It is designed to keep a constant pressure in the manifold, eliminating the possibility of heavier deposits in the first row of a new pan when pressure builds as the depositor waits for the next pan, according to Bob Peck, vice-president of engineering, E.T. Oakes Corp., Hauppauge, NY.
Besides depositors, E.T. Oakes manufactures the equipment used for mixing cakes and muffin batters as well as systems for holding and pumping the batter to the manifold on the depositor. And to help ensure better accuracy of deposits, E.T. Oakes always includes agitators inside the holding tanks. The agitators help to equalize batter inconsistencies and keep it homogenous, because batter often separates in the stainless steel tank, Mr. Peck said.
Haas Mondomix’s high-speed depositing (HSD) manifold delivers highly accurate doses at speeds of up to 300 deposits per minute, according to Franz Haas Machinery of America, Richmond, VA. Mechanically linked annual gear pumps control volume flow for each product upstream of the nozzle exit, keeping deposit weights within tight tolerances. A part of the deposit also retracts into the nozzle at the end of dosing to allow a clean and simultaneous cutoff, further improving its accuracy.
Haas’ HSD is available as a static version or with 1- or 2-axis motion where the depositing head can move at very high cycle rates.
The Peerless Group, Sidney, OH, offers piston depositors, as well continuous and slurry mixers used for making batter for cakes, muffins and brownies under its Fedco brand. Bill Everett, the company’s sales support manager, said bakers want reliable and flexible equipment with good accuracy.
Unifiller builds its equipment, whether complete lines or free-standing machines, with versatility in mind, according to Mr. MacPherson, so that processors can adapt these systems later to produce new baked foods. If a bakery wants to adjust its depositing equipment to make new products such as mini muffins, Unifiller can design the custom tooling that may be needed to make this change, he added.
The equipment manufacturer attempts to take the complexity out of its machines. “Our design philosophy is, perfection is finally obtained when there is nothing else that can be taken away,” Mr. MacPherson noted, adding that it works to make its machines simple for bakers to use.
While bakers can change lines that produce full-size products to make mini muffins and cakes, Mr. Aasness cautioned that it is not the ideal setup. “We install smaller piston diameter sets and spouts that are adjustable, but it is not the most effective approach and will not provide the same yield,” he added.
Hinds-Bock offers several lines specifically for depositing of mini products. Both the 10P-01 and 12P-06 are multi-piston machines capable of running up to 1,000 mini muffins, cupcakes and brownies per minute. The 10P-01 is designed to provide large production in a small space, and it also can be disassembled in minutes without tools for rapid sanitizing and changeover for maximum up time. The 12P-06 reduces costs with accurate filling and portion control. These depositors improve payback with versatility, ease of maintenance and operation, easy sanitizing, and rapid flavor changeover.
“Hinds-Bock’s mini-product lines are ideal for batter inclusions in mini muffins and cakes,” Mr. Aasness said. “Our machines can also handle smaller particulates like blueberries and nut pieces without crushing them.”
Whereas bite-size muffins and brownies may have started as a trend, it seems that consumer demand for these smaller-size products is here to stay. Thus, there is still time for bakeries that have yet to introduce these products to do so. While it may require you to adapt your current lines, the changes or new equipment required shouldn’t be that difficult to accommodate for bakeries already making muffins, cakes or brownies.