Better Bars
Equipment manufacturers focus on improving sanitation, versatility and accuracy of bar processing lines.
BakingBusiness.com, April 1, 2010
by Shane Whitaker

Manufacturers of bar processing equipment are waiting for the next big product innovation in the category, according to Bob Limburg, managing partner, Sollich North America, Tampa, FL. The last big growth spurt for bar products took place when the Atkins and South Beach diets were at their peak in the early 2000s, he noted, while today new product introductions are mainly line extensions.

“I think the market is struggling right now with product differentiation,” said Gus Skapek, business development manager, Hosokawa Confectionary & Bakery, Memphis, TN. The bars category is a busy market, and processors are looking at various ways to differentiate their products by adding fruit pieces or compound coatings.

Market opportunities for new bar products in the developed US market are plateuing, according to Paul Abbott, vice-president, Baker Perkins, Grand Rapids, MI. However, one bar segment that seems more vibrant, he observed, is the good-for-you cereal-based bars. “If a bar can be viewed as essential nutrition as opposed to a candy, there is still opportunity there,” he said.

Bars used to be a much smaller category, but today they are mainstream, according to Mr. Abbott. Although cookies have greater overall sales, he said that bar sales are growing more rapidly because they are often viewed as more nutritious.

The grain-based bar category is greatly segmented. There are sports, energy, fruit-filled cereal, chewy and crunchy granola, raw food, snack, nutrition and breakfast bars. Some have chocolate, compound or yogurt coatings; others feature large inclusions including chocolate chips, fruit particulates or nuts; some are dense, homogenous mixes with vitamins and minerals.

Bars are varied, and so is the equipment used to process them. Cookers, mixers, extruders, co-extruders, slab formers, ovens, cooling tunnels, slitters, guillotine cutters and enrobers are some of the main pieces of equipment found on lines producing grain-based bars.

FORMING BARS.

Hosokawa offers screw-type continuous mixers that combine the dry ingredients with a wet sugar binder that is generally cooked in kettles offline. This moist mass is sometimes called a dough or is just referred to as a mass, and it is fed directly into the hopper of the forming equipment.

Sollich, which represents the German manufacturer by the same name, offers Conbar bar forming systems. These complete lines used for producing confectionary as well as grain-based bars can feature Chocotech kitchens that cook the liquid binders that hold together the dry ingredients.

Its slab former is basically a pressure-less system that creates a sheet of cereal product. “This forms an initial slab of the product, which gives us the correct weight of mass that we then run through compression, or sizing, rollers to create the final thickness and density of the product,” Mr. Limburg explained.

To ensure product accuracy, Sollich’s proprietary weighing system for cereal products weighs the mass coming out of the first former across the width of the belt. This system will automatically adjust the gap of the two rolls on the first former to allow more or less mass to come through, Mr. Limburg said.

One of the ways Sollich can help bar manufacturers differentiate their products is with a shaping roller positioned after the compression systems. The shaping roller can add rounded corners or a concave depression into which a layer of jelly can be applied, according to Mr. Limburg.

Whereas most equipment suppliers offer 2-roll forming heads, Hosokawa offers a 3-roll system to create slabs from the moist mass, according to Mr. Skapek. The first two rolls establish the density of the product, and the third roll actually gauges it so the sheet is close to being a finished slab when it comes out of the sheeting head, he explained. The line also features equalizing rollers that put downward force on the slab, but not the brute force that others may use, he added. Mr. Skapek said the 3-roll forming head allows more control over the slab’s weight than a 2-roll system.

Bar manufacturers will generally do random checks to ensure products are within weight tolerances, according to Mr. Skapek. “When set up properly, our machines are ±4% on weight variance,” he said.

And while sometimes processors will request checkweighers be added to the lines, he said Hosokawa believes that if the machine is set up properly, it does not warrant the additional money needed for a checkweigher. And with its 3-roll system, the former is able to change the density without changing the physical appearance of the bar. “If your dough is in an overage condition, you slow the first two rolls down to lighten up on the density, and you get a lighter bar that is closer to the sell-point weight. If for some reason you fall below the sell-point weight, you can spool up the first two rollers and change the density.”

Baker Perkins supplies complete granola bar lines that sheet, bake, slit and cut crunchy granola bars. “The method of forming the sheet and compressing it is basically to kibble the material to begin with so it is not crushed and the large particulates are not broken,” Mr. Abbott said. “A compression roll can put pressure on the sheet without destroying the chunky bits that the consumer wants to see and recognize that there is something good for you in the product.”

The equipment manufacturer also offers extruders and co-extruders for making chewy and filled snack, cereal and nutrition bars. The Dualtex 4-roll extruder produces filled bars with jelly, fruit paste, peanut butter, etc., encased in a soft dough jacket. These products can also be made on 2-roll extruders with split hoppers, which are similar to machines used for making wire-cut cookies. Therefore, bakeries use the 2-roll extruder if they desire the versatility to make cookies one day and bar products the next, according to Mr. Abbott.

FLEXIBLE LINES.

Rheon USA, Irvine, CA, offers co-extrusion equipment that can handle a wide range of ingredients without damaging the outer casing or inner filling, according to Jon Thompson, national sales director. Its compact KN550 extrudes a traditional energy bar as well as products with a variety of fillings, and dough-to-filling ratios are easily adjusted. Twisting device and stampers can be added to change the shape of the products, and the bar can feature an open top, leaving the filling exposed so the consumer can see it, he added.

Processors want to handle a wide range of ingredients without damaging them, according to Mr. Thompson. “The equipment must be gentle on the ingredients, so there is particulate identity in the product,” he added. “Naturally, speed is always a consideration with manufacturers, but the quality of the end product is now gaining prominence as well the ability to make different shapes and fillings.”

Unifiller Systems, Delta, BC, can supply quick-change dies with its Dopositor so it can be more versatile. The system can extrude a continuous sheet onto a moving conveyor. The rollers of this machine are designed to handle recipes with large chunky ingredients like nuts, dried fruit and chocolate chunks, according to Stewart Macpherson, vice-president of sales marketing, Unifiller.

Bar manufacturers want lines that can make multiple products on a single line. “It used to be that a company would buy a machine with plans to run two SKUs for the next 15 years,” Mr. Skapek said. “Today, we’re lucky if product lifecycles go two years before we get calls from companies looking to run different variants. Companies want to know how equipment can adapt to needs that they can’t even see yet. It’s all about flexibility.

“We are focusing on how can make changeovers more palatable for our end-user,” he continued. “They want us to broaden windows of adjustments so they can capture some of these changes in a standard design of equipment. They also want us to minimize the number of change parts and make it more of a building-block design so they can intermix some of the change parts to get to their required flexibility.”

Processors do not want to purchase equipment that works for only one type of product, said John McIssac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser, Canton, MA. Therefore, with a single change of attachments on its Vemag extruder, bar manufacturers can run bars one day and cookies the next. The unit also was built so processors can make organic, vegan and gluten-free bars, which Mr. McIssac noted are some of the latest product trends in the bar category.

Many companies turn to co-manufacturers to make bar products for them, and because of this, the co-manufacturer demands versatility of the lines, according to Mr. Limburg. “One of the greatest features of the Conbar or similar systems is the ability to run many different products on the same forming equipment,” he noted.

SANITATION FOCUS.

Eagan Food Technologies, Grand Rapids, MI, is a new company offering bar equipment. It designs, manufactures and services customized extruders that form the bars to shape and extrude ropes of product onto a conveyor belt. “Then, the products is cut and transferred to a variety of different equipment such as an oven, enrober, cooling tunnel, etc. depending on the product,” said Mike Sherd, founder and project manager for Egan, which opened for business March 9.

Two areas in which Eagan’s new extruders stand out are sanitation and changeover, according to Mr. Sherd. “Our newly designed extruder is much easier to disassemble and clean than our competition,” he said. “We also excel because our changeover time from product to product is faster.”

Sanitation is an area that many manufacturers indicated focused attention. Hosokawa is trying to make its traditional extruder with fewer parts, which reduces the level of parts inventory that bar manufacturers have to keep in stock and improves cleanability issues with the equipment, according to Mr. Skapek.

Baker Perkins also wants to reduce the number of components within its machines without comprising their functionality, according to Mr. Abbott. The equipment manufacturer is redesigning its equipment and working with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and its membership to make sure it is on the right track in regard to sanitation, he added. Some of the steps the supplier has taken to improve sanitation are the use of continuous welds and to slope any surfaces where debris or water may land or pool.

Because sanitary design is such a hot issue, Hosokawa has changed the design of its slab formers so processors can get at the end of rolls easier. “It used to be that you had to take the body apart to get at the end of the rolls,” he said. “We made the body and frame wider and added inserts now that can be relaxed and removed in a toolless fashion so that you can get in there with a brush and scrub it out without having to disassemble the machine.”

CUTTING OPTIONS.

Slabs are generally slit and then guillotine cut into the final bar shapes. Guillotine cutters, featuring either mechanical or ultrasonic blades, portion ropes of extruded product. Baker Perkins, Hosokawa and Sollich all offer these systems as part of their bar forming lines. However, processors can also turn to a supplier such as Reading Bakery Systems, Robesonia, PA, for its guillotine cutters. It offers both mechanical and ultrasonic guillotines that make up to 300 cuts per minute, according to Shawn Moye, executive director of sales.

The cutters are available with either servo or mechanical clutch brake motors, and they can run continually or in cycle mode. “You can increase the lifecycle of the amplifiers on the ultrasonic, if you shut them off when not cutting,” Mr. Moye said. “So if you are in a cycle mode where you are running a little slower, you may want to turn off the ultrasonic when going back up and turn on again before it makes the next cut.” Lines doing 100 or fewer cuts per minute would be candidates to run on cycle mode, he added.

Mechanical cutters are much less costly than ultrasonic guillotines. However, ultrasonic cutters are best suited for products that have an outer dough and an inner filling, and the processors do not want to see degradation of the dough into the filling when it is cut, he said.

In many instances, Reading is replacing water jet systems with the ultrasonic cutters, according to Mr. Moye. “With water jet cutting systems, you have to treat and filter the water, and many times with whole grains, they become clogged,” he observed, pointing out that an ultrasonic guillotine can be approximately half the cost of a water jet system.

Bars present an excellent opportunity for grain-based food companies to offer a better-for-you option. They can be fortified with healthy ingredients and designed for portion control. A wide variety of bars are currently available, but with today’s equipment systems, manufacturers can easily introduce something new in this growing category.