Snack Attack

by Shane Whitaker
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When it comes to salty snacks, consumers demand great taste. While health and wellness is important, flavor remains first and foremost. “People won’t trade off taste as the most important attribute,” said Mark Singleton, vice-president of sales and marketing, Rudolph Foods Co., Lima, OH. “Companies that are successfully implementing the better-for-you proposition are finding a way to also maintain incredibly good taste.”

Snack manufacturers regularly develop new products that have good nutritional statements, but if they don’t hit the mark on taste, they are doomed from the start, he added. Innovation is huge in salty snacks. Rudolph Foods, like many snack manufacturers, continues to introduce new flavors, shapes and taste experiences.

“A significant portion of our growth has been driven by new products, and we expect that again this year,” Mr. Singleton said.

More than 350 new salty snacks were launched in the US during the first eight months of 2009, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. The market research firm also reported that the recession seems to have a positive impact on salty snack sales. Potato chip sales increased 22% during the current economic downturn, according to Mintel’s 2007 data vs. full-year estimates for 2009. Other salty snacks also performed extremely well — tortilla chip sales jumped 18%, and cheese snacks grew by 20%.

Rudolph Foods specializes in manufacturing pork rinds, and while it continues to develop new flavors, Mr. Singleton said the company’s most incredible growth has been by introducing new types of pork rinds. “We are taking what has been made for thousands of years and looking at different ways to cook it to give it a different texture or mouthfeel, a different hardness,” he explained.

To help create new products and to improve its efficiencies, Rudolph Foods invested in new equipment and technology within the past few years and is also “in the early stages of investigating some proprietary technologies,” according to Mr. Singleton.

Suppliers continue to introduce new systems for manufacturing a variety of salty snacks from potato chips to extruded snacks to pellet products.

POTATO CHIPS

When making potato chips, one of the first steps is slicing the potatoes. Next, excess starch needs to be washed off the chip slice to reduce starch buildup in the fryer and prevent slices from sticking together. PPM Technologies, Newberg, OR, offers a slice washer that uses 40% less fresh water and lowers the content of starches and protein in the oil, thus reducing downtime for sanitation and improving the quality of fried products.

Trevor Howard, vice-president of EMEA, PPM Technologies, said the slice washer and process are becoming even more important because of society’s “green” movement. “The 3-step process uses fresh water at the final rinse stage, then recycles filtered water for drum washing and slicer infeed to reduce the fresh water consumption rate,” he explained. “Recently, we have even had customers replace existing equipment with the PPM Slice Washer.”

The slice washer also reduces breakage through gentle handling and is available in variety of sizes.

After slicing, the potatoes are fried. Kettle chipsare a growing segment in the potato chip market. “Regular style potato chips have not been growing nearly as fast as kettle chips,” said Don Giles, director of sales for snack processing, Heat and Control, Hayward, CA. To make kettle-style chips, companies have generally used batch fryers, which are much lower capacity, producing between 200 to 400 lbs of chips per hour per kettle. To meet necessary production rates, companies have installed multiple kettles, according to Mr. Giles, noting that some snack manufacturers have put in as many as 20 batch kettles in a plant.

The problem is that batch systems are not as efficient as continuous systems, and after several years of development, Heat and Control introduced its Universal Potato Chip (UPC) system that is capable of making a kettle chip on a continuous basis. “It is more fuel efficient than batch systems,” Mr. Giles said. “It takes up significantly less floor space. Product uniformity is better, and it’s just a win all the way around. It also is versatile that it can make kettle-style potato chips, regular potato chips or something in between, which is called a home-style chip.”

UPC uses independent fryer modules integrated into one continuous frying system, and manufacturers are able to adjust the temperature, dwell time and oil flow in each module to produce chips with specific textures, moisture and color qualities. A PLC stores multiple recipes so product changeovers can be done in minutes, and the cooking oil is continuously filtered in each module for superior product quality. The system processes up to 1,800 lb of chips per hour.

REMOVING OIL

Heat and Control also developed heated and non-heated centrifuge systems to quickly remove surface oil from snacks. Its Automatic Heated Centrifuge (AHC) is specifically designed for removing oil from kettle-style potato chips, according to Mr. Giles.

“Typically batch-cooked potato chips have 29 to 30% finished oil content, and with an Automatic Heated Centrifuge, you can get down to below 22% — you can go as low as 18 to 19%,” he said. The two main benefits of removing the oil from the chips are the finished chips do not have as many calories because the oil or fat has been decreased. Second, the chips have more potato flavor, according to Mr. Giles. Rather than being 30% fat and 70% potato solids, now you have a product that is 80% potato solids, which results in a better potato flavor, he said.

The other centrifuge system offered by Heat and Control is a continuous centrifuge designed for pellet products. “A continuous centrifuge is a unique piece of equipment,” Mr. Giles said.

Heat and Control’s non-heated centrifuge receives cooked products from the pellet popper and extracts between 6 to 8% oil from the products, so if a product has 20% oil content, the centrifuge reduces that to between 12 and 14%. By lowering the oil content, the centrifuge allows the processor to produce a healthier snack. Another benefit is that the centrifuge reduces manufacturing costs because companies can recycle the oil removed during this process. “When making pellet products, the most costly component is the oil, as opposed to the pellet solids, so when we remove oil, if we don’t affect product quality, the cost of manufacturing product decreases,” Mr. Giles noted. “In one particular installation, the payback for the entire centrifuge system was less than a year based on oil savings.”

SEASONING SYSTEMS

Another area where snack manufacturers try to save money is on seasonings, which also can be a significant cost in processing salty snacks. To this end, suppliers are introducing new seasoning systems designed to reduce costs and more effectively season product.

For example, during the past five years, Rudolph Foods has invested significant capital in advanced seasoning systems that measure the amount of product coming into the seasoning tumbler and adjust the seasoning applied accordingly. “Without a doubt, being able to measure unseasoned material and adjust the seasoning even with small swings has been a real boon to us,” Mr. Singleton said. “The seasoning in a lot of cases is more expensive than the material we are seasoning, so it is critical from a P&L point of view as well.”

In 2008, PPM Technologies merged with Wright Machinery, a UK-based integrator of advanced seasoning and coating systems. By combining the companies, Eric Doern, product line manager, PPM, said the company has been able to meet the top trends regarding flavoring snack foods such as improving the final quality, reducing the amount of flavoring required to create a high-quality product and making sanitation easier during product changeover.

To maintain product coating quality, PPM offers different product packages matching performance with price level, according to Mr. Doern. The company can predict the amount of seasoning coverage depending on package implemented. “We offer different flight designs within a tumble drum depending on product type. The specific flight design optimizes product tumbling to maximize exposure to flavoring being applied,” he said. “Our highest quality system measures the flow of product into the drum by product weight, so we can accurately match the amount of oil and seasoning applied to product flow.”

PPM also offers a vibratory scarf feeder to create an even, constant curtain of powder falling onto the tumbling product. “The result is evenly coated product as well as lower raw material cost because seasoning powder is typically one of the most expensive raw materials used in the process,” Mr. Doern said.

In the distribution area, a growing trend during the past few years is to apply flavoring at each scale rather than for a full line in the process area, he said. “As manufacturers have been increasing the variety of seasoned products they offer, this method has become more popular because of its manufacturing flexibility,” Mr. Doern noted.

Rudolph Foods installed several online seasoning systems in its plants during the past three years, and this allows the snack manufacturer to be much more flexible. “Pork rinds are far under represented in the seasoning realm,” Mr. Singleton said. “When you’re in the supermarket, tortilla and potato chips will have six to eight flavors, and with pork rinds you generally have two — they are either plain and hot or plain and barbecue. Our success in the past few years has been through the introduction of new seasonings, which has only been made possible by the advent of online seasoning systems that allow us to do it quickly, accurately and flexibly.”

TNA North America, Coppell, TX, offers a new flavoring system with software that measures flavor application rates and product flow to monitor and self-regulate the correct feed rates for consistent product flavoring. The Intelli-flav 2 system proportionally distributes product/flavoring to the feeder system while controlling the load balance, and the flavor drum maintains maximum flavoring runtime and minimizes under or over flavoring.

Similar to other systems, the Intelli-flav 2 is able to change flavor feed rates when product flow rates vary, ensuring the correct flavor-to-product ratio is delivered. The flavoring system can be integrated with the company’s Roflo 3 gateless and fully reversible horizontal motion conveyors.

EXTRUDED SNACKS

One of the hottest current trends is the production of multigrain wavy chips, according to Bill Butler, Western regional sales manager, Clextral, Inc., Tampa, FL. The supplier has developed many multigrain wavy chip varieties in its test plant and has engineered a special kit that enhances the twin-screw extruder to make these popular products.

This snack uses a blend of whole-grain flours that are fed into the extruder and undergo thermo-mechanical cooking and extruding out of the die face. Inclusions, crispy nuggets or small grain seeds, can also be added to differentiate products from others on the market, and a wide variety of grains can be used to make healthy snacks with wholegrain appearance. By using a premix, snack manufacturers can save space in their plants, and it simplifies the process, according to Mr. Butler.

Clextral offers a range of extruders capable of producing expanded snacks in many shapes, potato sticks, hull-less popcorn, bread-type snacks, bi-color and co-extruded products that have a crispy shell and soft filling as well as snack pellets that can be later fried or air puffed.

Twin-screw extruders are extremely diverse pieces of equipment that can produce a wide variety of salty snacks. The Clextral EV53 twin-screw extruder processes 250 to 400 lb of chips per hour, while the larger BC72 makes in excess of 2,000 lb of finished product per hour. Its extruders tightly control process parameters including the screw speed and heating and cooling of product, according to Mr. Butler. Clextral has the ability to control temperatures to within 3C° in the larger BC model or 1C° on the smaller Evolum twin-screw extruders. Twin-screw extruders feature a cooling section that uses glycol to keep products from expanding.

While salty snacks sales have soared during the economic downturn, Mintel predicted that these increases will taper off as the economy recovers. Yet through innovation and new product introductions, snack companies can continue to build market share. To assist with these endeavors, equipment manufacturers’ latest systems are designed to improve efficiency and control costs, while helping processors expand their product offerings. ◾

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