Market demands drive innovation in snack and bakery extrusion equipment
Extrusion equipment gains improvements to meet market demands
Customers of machines that handle puffing and extruding of snack and bakery products are focused on accommodating protein- and plant-based inclusions, hygienic design and rapid cleaning, speed and quick changeovers, better integrated controls, easy data extraction, and smaller machines that can produce specialized batches.
“We see the trend toward more and more protein- or plant-based snacks,” says Gilles Maller, vice president sales and international business at Clextral, Firminy, France. This includes not only grain products made with corn, rice and wheat, but also incorporating more protein, and adding more vegetarian and vegan options, he notes.
“Everybody is vegan, gluten-free, keto—it comes in at least once a week, a request for keto products,” says John McIsaac, vice president of strategic business development, Reiser, Canton, MA. “We’ve found that bar trends tend to go with dietary trends. With keto, I have no idea what’s going to happen. Gluten-free is here to stay—it’s almost a mainstream application.”
Customers of Egan Food Technologies, Grand Rapids, MI, have been asking frequently about nut inclusions to add protein, says Mike Sherd, managing partner. “Customers in the protein world are making lots of bars, so we’re getting lots of inquiries. They’re working hand-in-hand with the extruding equipment. Those products seem to be hot. The co-packers we’re talking to are getting inquiries: ‘How do I make this bar?’”
Baker Perkins, Peterborough, England, notes that its customers are looking to make savory snacks with familiar tastes, crunchy textures and fewer calories. Reducing the fat also reduces the flavor, so attention is now turning to thinner, lighter snacks that still deliver plenty of crunch but less product, and hence fewer calories.
Bühler Group, Uzwil, Switzerland, has seen the most activity in the area of alternative proteins for “flexitarian” consumers who want options beyond traditional meat and dairy inclusions. “We see huge potential in bringing proteins into different products,” says Christoph Vogel, product manager. “Not just proteins, but important vitamins and minerals. People are more aware that they need to look after themselves, want sustainable food and want well-balanced nutritional benefits from the products they’re buying.”
Inclusion products require more hygienic design given the potential cross-contamination issues involved, Maller says. “There are more and more cleaning constraints around the machine, especially when we talk about protein. You need all stainless steel, frames where you have no hollow sections or retention points. It’s not like a dairy plant, but it’s getting there. There’s a big trend around hygienic design, cleaning in place.” Customers of puffing and extruding machines also want to integrate the global controls of their factory, he adds.
Hygienic design and sanitation have become paramount, notes McIsaac. “People are really looking for sanitation—they’re looking to see where the product has been. They want it easy to clean.” And operators want data from their machines, he adds. “Everyone is asking how to extract data, how to set up resource management systems and plant control systems.”
Bühler attempts to provide not only more hygienic machines, but plant engineering to ensure more hygienic design in the larger picture, Vogel says. “It’s how you design the plant, make it easy to clean, put the drain pipes in place and prevent bacteria growth, so there are no dead ends and bacteria growth spaces—especially after the kill step in the extruder. You need to ensure you don’t have recontamination.”
Vogel says Bühler also has been asked more frequently for smaller machine sizes. “It’s young entrepreneurs who want to produce small-sized batches for specific regions they’re targeting,” he says. “It’s a small trend, but we see it coming.”
New and improved
Among Bühler’s recent innovations in puffing and extruding machines has been the PolyFlake cereal flaker that’s used for corn, wheat, oats, multi-grains and other flakes. It’s often used for functional ingredients and incorporates more hygienic design, greater efficiency and customization, Vogel says. The PolyFlake also provides faster, easier maintenance than past flakers the company has produced. “All that, in the end, leads to more ‘up’ time,” he says.
On the bakery side, Bühler has released the ContiMix continuous dough extruder, which provides greater control of dough elasticity and plasticity and temperature. The machine meets the needs of the increasing number of bakeries shifting from traditional batch kneading systems to continuous processes due to the more consistent end-product quality and greater level of food safety, Vogel says.
Bühler Aeroglide, Cary, NC, has rolled out a Thermal Suite focusing on providing digital services for conveyor drivers. Through this subscription-based service, the customer can leverage Bühler processing knowledge and insights in a real-time manner to take action at the core operational level. The Thermal Suite includes the products MoisturePro, which increases yields and saves waste with tighter moisture tolerances, and ProcessPro, a service that validates the machine to achieve a higher level of food safety.
Baker Perkins has developed completely new processes for making cracker-type products with a range of texture from thin and flat, to aerated or puffed. The versatile, cost-effective process is based on twin-screw extrusion rather than the sheet-and-cut technology more typically associated with cracker snacks. Through this process, a thin, wide sheet of dough is cut into regular, geometric shapes by an in-line rotary cutter.
This innovative extrusion technology can handle a variety of ingredients and produce a range of different textures, from hard and crunchy, to light and crispy. The system is suitable for any type of baked or fried snack that is cut from a sheet of dough.
Baker Perkins notes that direct expanded snacks remain a market staple, which means that low-calorie snacks with a crunchy texture are broadening their appeal beyond their traditional market, leveraging the versatility and flexibility of twin-screw extrusion. By combining it with different post-extrusion forming equipment, an unlimited variety of snacks with different ingredients, shapes and textures can be made. This makes it an ideal process for the snack industry, where tastes are constantly changing and manufacturers need to respond quickly—and with minimal capital investment.
Egan Food Technologies has released a four-roll, layered co-extruder that enables creation of products with configurations like a caramel layer on top of dough, or a center-filled product, Sherd says. With direct drive gear motors, removable rolls, and no chains or sprockets, the current model has significant sanitation and changeover improvements over the last model, he says. “You can take apart the whole heads very easily. You can clean parts that were harder to get to. All the nooks and crannies you can get into easier than before.”
Changeover time has been reduced by more than half of previous models to under 30 minutes, Sherd says. He says that the co-extruder is used mostly for bars and bites of different lengths. Each machine is customized to customer specifications and needs.
Reiser has rolled out a larger-throated version of its Vemag bar extruder that allows the user to pump doughs and bar mixtures that were too stiff previously for the machine to handle, McIsaac says. And the new model comes with a high-speed pumping system, because its core customers run a lot of different flavors, different niches—smaller batches at high speed. And they need quick changeovers, he notes.
The Vemag HP and MMP223 high-speed cutting system provides high sanitation levels and easy cleaning and operation, McIsaac says. “If you want to change the cross-sectional shape, it’s a matter of changing one insert, which takes seconds. Also, the big throat in these systems allows us to handle big inclusions—big nuts, big pieces of chocolate—and get them through and still have accurate weight portioning.”
Separately, Reiser has released the Vemag 715 Process Check, a checkweigher designed for bakery environments that’s very accurate, simple to use, and easy to extract data out of, McIsaac says. It’s used for bars, high-speed bread lines and high-speed pizza dough dividing lines. “Most people want to know, in a batch, how many pieces they’ve made, how accurate the weight is, and then they can figure out their yields,” he says. “The Process Check allows you to adjust the Vemag divider to put accurate weights from portion 1 to portion 1,400.”
Clextral notes that later this year the company will introduce the Evolum 32, a smaller-sized extrusion machine with hygienic design—with stainless steel and a hydraulic opening that’s fully accessible—that customers will use for smaller production and/or flavor injection, Maller says. “It will have a new control system that will address questions of control and flexibility,” he says.