Some jobs require a specialist. Others need a jack-of-all-trades. In the highly diversified bar market, where varieties vary from cold-formed nutritional options to baked breakfast and grab-and-go alternatives, branded producers and copackers must choose between production lines that provide maximum versatility or sheer volume — or investing in a combination of both.

“The flexible, multi-purpose lines tend to be much smaller,” noted Kevin Knott, key account manager, Franz Haas, a part of the Bühler Group. “If you’re a co-manufacturer and making small batches, you’ll need flexibility and need to change over quickly. Changeovers can be difficult, especially if protein is involved, because protein can be an allergen.”

Let’s put size into perspective. Cold-forming operations range from 300 to 1,200 millimeters in width for high-speed dedicated lines. On extruded baked goods systems, Mr. Knott pointed out, those dimensions go from 1 to 5 meters across.

Certainly, multipurpose lines don’t provide as much capacity as dedicated ones, which can drive margins while meeting market demand. However, these typically smaller, more flexible lines require a substantially lower capital investment and might be less expensive to run over the long haul, especially if the production schedule calls for multiple changeovers on a given day.

“There’s not as much cleaning, which can cost a lot of money,” Mr. Knott said. “With two or three smaller lines, changing over isn’t as much of a hit to your operation as a big, long line.”

For decades, bars have adapted swiftly to fad diets and vacillating consumer trends. As a result, the now $7 billion market experienced 17% growth from 2013 to 2018 according to Mintel’s “Snack, nutrition and performance bars” report from February 2019. However, Mintel indicated the steady year-over-year growth is showing signs of a slowdown as other food and drink categories provide convenient options for healthier lifestyles. The report noted that even protein’s importance is beginning to indicate signs of waning.

granola bars manufacturing

Such challenges will require the bar category to reinvent itself again and redefine how it’s serving consumer needs. For these manufacturers, those initiatives clearly translate into ramping up new product development that pushes potential capital expenditures toward flexible equipment and production lines that will handle an onslaught of yet-undefined innovation.

“People who use Reiser’s Vemag do not want to dedicate a line to a single product,” explained John McIsaac, vice-president of business development, Reiser. “The Vemag system is based around quick changeovers for multiple products, which mean not only different flavors but also different shapes and sizes.”

If a producer wants to run a rectangular bar in the morning and a D-shaped one during the afternoon shift, the changeover typically takes around two minutes, according to Mr. McIsaac.

“Our customers and potential customers are constantly challenging us with different flavors, viscosities and shapes,” he said. “Therefore, our equipment not only needs to handle today’s products but also those our customers have not yet dreamed up.”

Specifically, the Vemag double-screw pumping system along with its Reiser-engineered cutting attachment can be used on all varieties.

“Where we need to use more specific, dedicated equipment is with the production of filled bars,” Mr. McIsaac observed. “We have developed a number of engineered solutions to accomplish this.”

Such flexibility is found not only in makeup but also throughout an integrated production line.

“Our precision shuttling conveyors can load a pan for baking or load a continuous oven band or freezer,” Mr. McIsaac said. “Or we can run directly into a flow-wrap packaging machine without any extra labor.”

granola bars manufacturing

However, Sebastian Clemens, sales account manager, Bühler, cautioned to watch out for certain changeovers, especially since many proteins can be allergens.

“High-capacity lines are more efficient, but the market also changes frequently, and lines must be flexible,” he said. “As a result, sanitary design of equipment and quick changeovers are essential. We have focused on these challenges and have developed solutions the industry now expects.”

While food safety remains a priority, don’t forget to consider more functional factors during bar manufacturing, especially when it comes to rolling out new products or scheduling runs on multipurpose lines.

“It all boils down to viscosity — it’s the main issue for production. You want products with viscosities in a similar range,” Mr. Knott advised. “You don’t have to change drives or need multiple drives on the same line. You can use the same equipment and just focus on cleaning between product runs.”

Bühler will exhibit its SnaxFix automatic bar production line at the 2019 International Baking Industry Exposition, to be held Sept. 7-11 in Las Vegas. According to Mr. Knott, it provides entry-level production of cereal and other cold-formed bars or serves as a pilot plant line for testing new products before ramping them up on a higher speed operation.

Having an extra extruder head to clean will streamline efficiency by cutting downtime when working with allergens or even organic ingredients. During changeovers, sanitation needs to swap out the extruder head with a clean one, then roll it over to a separate room for scraping, cleaning and wet washing while production keeps running.

“This allows you to keep multiple lines running,” Mr. Knott said. “If you have three extruders, you just need one spare head for changeovers.”

This article is an excerpt from the July 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on bar technology, click here.