New product launches drive the bar category. Major players in this category continually cast creative ideas into the grocery store aisle hoping to reel in new loyal consumers.

“This category is exploding with new bars coming to market now,” said Dwayne Hughes, vice-president of operations, Hearthside Food Solutions, Downers Grove, IL. “The number of different bars or SKUs that we produce has tripled in the past three years.”

While R&D teams are thinking up the next big thing, production teams have to figure out how to run larger inclusions, stickier doughs, multi­layer bars and a host of other concepts on existing lines or determining what new equipment will be needed to handle these complex creations.

Flexible from the start

Knowing up front that a bar line will have to be flexible is half the battle of producing bars. Getting into this business means preparing for a future of constant innovation and constant adaptation of the production line. Most equipment manufacturers design their bar processing machines with flexibility in mind.

Baker Perkins Ltd., Peterborough, UK, with US offices in Grand Rapids, MI, considered that  R&D might throw some curves at the equipment when the company designed its baked bar production line.

“The process itself has a very wide tolerance of viscosities and piece size,” said Keith Graham, marketing manager for the company. “If the product is dough-based and baked, then we find the technology is fairly adaptable to most things that need to be done.”

The company’s baked bar line can incorporate large inclusions such as nuts, chocolate chips and fruit pieces. Baker Perkins also has had customers successfully run bars with low fat or sugar content despite the stiffness of the dough, according to Mr. Graham.

Allowing bar producers to be more creative with products, the company can make adjustments to its equipment. Rollers that pull dough from the hopper, as well as any other parts of the machine that contact the dough, can be heated or cooled. To portion sticky doughs, the line’s guillotine can be heated or equipped to vibrate at high frequency. Low-friction coatings applied to contact surfaces can also help adapt to dough stickiness. Mr. Graham said that beyond engineering design changes, the company also works with the customer to make simple adjustments for particular products, such as changing the power or diameter of the rollers.

Conbar processing systems offered by Sollich North America, Miami Beach, FL, can produce cereal, nutrition, fruit-based and nut bars. The lines include fixed knives for high-fat products or large circular knives specifically for items made from sugar or cereal. The company also offers spreaders that position sticky bar doughs to be sliced or prepped for chocolate enrobing.

The modular nature of Reiser bar systems makes it easy to quickly change a line to accommodate new shapes. As a bakery gets crafty with bars, engineers can switch out machines to handle custom products. According to John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, the heart of Reiser processing lines is the versatile Vemag portioning equipment. This single machine can be outfitted with different attachments to produce a variety of products — including, but not limited to, bars.

“When one of our bakery customers wanted to add bar production, we were able to change the type of the double-screw pump and accommodate the higher particulate of the company’s bar,” Mr. McIsaac said. “In this case, we used a double-screw with larger pitch so we could meter the large inclusions through without damage.”

Preserving ingredient integrity

Keeping inclusions intact throughout processing can be challenging but is a major priority for bakers. As a part of the health and wellness movement, consumers want to see the featured ingredients not only named in the ingredient list but in the bar itself.

“A lot of customers want their inclusions to be right on top of the bar, so when consumers open the package, they see all the nuts and inclusions right there,” Mr. Hughes said of one of Hearthside’s latest challenges. To meet this requirement, the company uses rollers that lightly press inclusions into the top of the bar. Such compression also ensures that the pieces stay in place during packaging and distribution.

If a baker wants these featured ingredients in the bar dough itself, the wrong equipment will grind those nut or fruit pieces to the point where the only evidence a consumer can find of their presence in the bar is the ingredient list on the package.

“Some machines adapted from the meat industry tend to overwork the product and grind inclusions down so you lose the ingredient integrity that customers are looking for,” said Martin Riis, product specialist, Unifiller Systems, Delta, BC, Canada. Unifiller saw this need and worked closely with food development centers in Canada to build a bar extrusion system that is gentle on the product and maintains piece integrity. The company adapted its standard Dopositor with a new conveyor bed and gauge rollers that press the dough to the desired thickness.

Beyond equipment, the right strategy and processing techniques can help adapt an existing line to sticky dough or large inclusions. Gaps can be adjusted between rollers to allow large inclusions to pass through. Ultrasonic cutters can slice through large inclusions and sticky doughs. If for some reason, equipment needs lubrication to prevent dough from sticking, a company can use the same oil present in the dough’s formulation.

Accommodating complexity

Another trend in bar development is to make them more complex with multiple layers packed full of ingredients and fully enrobed in chocolate, according to Hearthside, one of the largest bar producers in the US.

Hearthside has adapted its processes to meet challenges related to each of these trends.

For example, to produce multiple-layered bars, plants require separate processing systems for each layer. For a caramel layer, a plant needs caramel melting, spreading and cooling systems. The next layer, maybe peanut butter, requires a different system. On top of separate preparation and spreading systems, each layer must cool before the next layer is added. The company is investing in a bar line with more processing and layering capabilities to handle these complex products.

R&D teams have not only gotten creative with the flavors and ingredients acceptable in bars, but they also are starting to pack more and more ingredients into a single product.

“The number of ingredients in a bar has exploded in the past 12 to 18 months,” Mr. Hughes said. “You name it, and it’s probably going in a bar somewhere.” Safely storing so many different ingredients presents a challenge, especially to ensure nonallergens aren’t contaminated by allergens.

To separate such materials and to track ingredients in general, Hearthside employs the 5S technique from the Lean Manufacturing management strategy. The five S’s — sort, set, shine, standardize, sustain — help the company not only find space to store ingredients but ensure that every ingredient has a place and is in its place.  The company also uses 5S to be sure that employees understand how to store ingredients.

With extra ingredients and layers, enrobing a bar in chocolate can affect weight distribution, which in turn may throw off nutritional statements and facts. Hearthside keeps the coating within an acceptable weight range. The coating’s temperature is monitored to ensure that the viscosity remains constant. Air blowers remove excess coating to maintain the proper weigh control.

The bar category is booming with creative new products, keeping operations teams and equipment manufacturers on their toes. Investing in flexible equipment can keep a bar line relevant in this constantly evolving category. Processing techniques and strategies can take adaptation the extra mile. Sometimes, however, capital investment is necessary, and equipment manufacturers employ the latest technologies to create lines to handle even the most complicated bars.