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More than flavor of the month: trends shaping protein in 2021

From the unparalleled growth of the plant-based food industry to a move towards more prepared and pre-cooked products, the protein industry has seen tremendous changes over the past 12 months. As the industry prepares for the PROCESS EXPO 2021 in Chicago from November 2-5, JBT’s Director of Sales for JBT Protein North America, Steve Radke, gives a rundown of the key trends currently emerging.

With a background in applications engineering, Radke has a thorough understanding of many areas of the protein and prepared foods industry, which he has brought to his current role at JBT Protein North America.

What are the biggest trends you have seen in the protein industry over the last 12 months?

Steve Radke (SR): We’ve seen a tremendous demand for prepared and cooked foods. This is driving a need for frying and cooking systems, along with freezers, for fully-cooked meat and poultry products, along with appetizers and ethnic foods. The whole food distribution and supply system changed during 2020. When restaurants and food service closed down, grocery stores initially took all of the demand.

Now the restaurants have come back, there is a strong demand across both restaurants and grocery stores for fully-cooked, prepared foods. Also there is less labor involved in preparing foods at a lot of these restaurants because the food comes in already cooked or already semi-prepared and if you are looking at a chain restaurant, people want things that are cooked and prepared. So from a JBT standpoint, we are seeing a strong demand for fryers, ovens and freezers.

Plant-based foods have emerged as one of the biggest trends in the food processing industry

How significant has the alternative protein market become?

SR: Alternative protein has emerged as a major trend for capital equipment food manufacturers over the past 12 months, which is strong historically and it’s not going away. It’s a real market segment, not a fad. I would say we’ve had strong sales growth in 2021 in alternative proteins, which is significant because that didn’t exist a few years ago. We’ve always done vegetarian specialty products: people had black bean and soy patties and nuggets in the US and mushroom-based products in the UK. So it’s always been around, but now it’s gone mainstream and it’s strong and growing.

Much of the equipment that we’ve sold will really not come on-line until 2022, so we’re going to see even more of it and they are forging ahead with other proteins where we haven’t even gotten the point of commercialization. Alternative protein has been the biggest change we have seen over the last 12 months.

Have you seen a move by the industry as a whole towards becoming more sustainable?

SR: It has always been important because it’s something our customers look at in terms of utility usage – how much water do you use for CIP for example? I don’t think sustainability has really changed. Although for some people it is new, we’ve been marketing freezers, fryers and ovens for over 10 years and the message has always been around reduced inputs, it just wasn’t called sustainability, it was called operating costs: how much water are you using, how many chemicals are you using, how much electricity and gas are you using. So it was more of a cost of ownership discussion for the plant and the engineers. Now that same discussion is sometimes considered sustainability because we are reducing water use or electricity use, but believe it’s always been an important and a part of our equipment design for JBT.

The JBT Stein UltraV Breader Animation from JBT will showcase meat and non-meat applications at PROCESS EXPO 2021

Can you tell me what JBT has in store for PROCESS EXPO 2021?

SR: JBT will be bringing two innovative production solutions to PROCESS EXPO 2021. The JBT Stein Ultra V Batter Applicator and the JBT Stein Ultra V Breader Equipment, a single-pass system suitable for a wide-range of meat and non-meat products, including chicken nuggets, veggies, meat patties, breasts, wings, seafood, cheese, and plant-based products.

The Frigoscandia GYRoCOMPACT spiral freezer and chiller meanwhile is unequivocally the most accomplished freezer in the world of its size, which is specifically designed for plants with limited floor space. The system will simulate freezing meatballs at the show, with the emphasis on showcasing the GC40’s unparalleled hygiene, efficiency and compactness.

The Xray technology helping achieve the perfect cut

Getting the most value out of a cut of beef steak or pork loin can make a literal, monetary difference to food processors, but up until recently has not always been easy to achieve. By combining XVision Flexscan technology and advanced software with DSI Waterjet Portioning Systems, JBT is now able to add significant value to a cut of meat, while ensuring sensitive products – such as red meat – make minimum contact with water.

Debuted in 2017, the JBT DSI X-ray Guided Waterjet Portioning System marks a major step forward on previous waterjet solutions by enabling an effective analysis of the product interior to take place before the first cut is even taken. However, the 2021 introduction of DSI Value Optimizer software enables product managers to determine a cut pattern that achieves the highest value based on current pricing, allowing companies to maximize both yields and profits.

System innovations
“We have been making a concerted effort working with our software development and mechanical engineering teams on how we can better equip our current machine offering for red meat,” explains JBT DSI New Market Development Engineer, Alec Hewitt. “We’ve put significant effort into a water jet application specifically for the red meat industry.”

Optimizing value: the JBT X-ray Guided Waterjet Portioning System

Hewitt recently hosted a Red Meat webinar as part of the JBTConnect series (register to view), examining how the system can benefit a wide range of products, from beef steaks, sirloins and New York strips to pork ribs, loins and chops.

“We have done a lot more work with pork processors in terms of developing software that is most usable for them,” reveals Hewitt. “We can analyse a rib pack and develop a value-based strategy that can turn a US$6 rib into a US$7 rib and we think that’s of great benefit to the industry.”

When it comes to red meat, one of DSI’s biggest advances has been the development of a system which captures the water stream immediately and directs it away from the meat to minimize any contact with the water. “Our engineers have done an incredible job,” says Hewitt. “Our water stream is only about the width of a human hair, but once it passes through the meat it goes into a water capture or “baffle” that directs it away from the product surface. We have also improved ventilation in the system.”

Optimal cuts
The integration of Flexscan Xray technology means operators can now scan the products and calculate how they want to make the cut before the process begins. “The Xray allows us to individually see every rib in the pack and with that information we can plot a cut pattern, so every cut pattern will be unique,” continues Hewitt. “Our water jet system is on a x/y axis which allows us to make last-minute adjustments of how we are cutting.”

The addition of Value Optimizer software enables product managers to aggregate information on a daily basis and apply the cut strategy to the highest volume based on internal pricing. In fact, the software is connected to futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, so processors can benefit from daily pricing updates.

However, JBT remains very much involved and will work with customers to help develop cut strategies. “For example, a customer might have multiple product SUKs with varying requirements, and we will work with them based on what their specifications are and program that into the equipment so it’s ready to go,” he explains. “Also, if (and when) those specifications change, it’s very straightforward and user-friendly to adjust, so the cut strategies continue to match our customer’s expectations.”

LEARN MORE about the JBT X-ray Guided Waterjet Portioning System

JBT’s VAC CAT: the optimum weight solution for tricky products

Raw poultry and meat can be among the most challenging products when it comes to food processing, especially when it comes to achieving uniformity of weights while at the same time ensuring the highest levels of hygiene and food safety. JBT’s VAC CAT Product Metering System is a solution especially developed to deliver uniform feeding and metering of these products that includes innovations to minimize product damage and ensure the highest quality. 

Metering by weight is a key feature of the VAC CAT and one which can be applied effectively to notoriously difficult to handle products, from marinated chicken wings to breast fillets and tenders. Crucially, the system ensures the highest quality and gentle product handling through a combination of eliminating valves and sharp edges, and by pumping at a lower speed – though still at high capacity – than other vacuum methods.

Consistent flow
According to Dustan Atkinson, General Manager for Primary Segment products at JBT/CAT, the system delivers a consistent and reliable flow of products across the width of a conveyor by bringing together a vacuum pump with density-based separation, transportation piping, dual hopper metering with load cells, a Product Distribution System (PDS) and a takeaway conveyor.

“The main products transported by the VAC CAT are breast meat, fillets, tenders and segmented wings – typically in a marinade – which are pulled from a hopper, sucked up a vacuum tube, measured out and dropped on a conveyor,” Atkinson explains. 

Highly accurate
The VAC CAT features a highly accurate double scaling system to ensure a consistent product weight, as well as a stainless steel construction for effective hygiene. Importantly, the VAC CAT’s pound per hour system helps maintain a steady flow of products at an optimum speed. “If you have product feeding into a typical system at 10,000 pounds per hour, the danger is that if it slows down you overcook everything or if it goes too fast it comes out raw and undercooked, and you can’t sell it,” says Atkinson. “The VAC CAT helps dictate exactly how many pounds you need to feed through a given freezer or cooker to maintain its set parameters to run at its best.” 

The Product Distribution System (PDS) receives the product from the VAC CAT and meters it out – over a series of rollers that increase in speed to help separate the product downstream – onto the customer’s existing belt. Through this metering system, the customer is able to achieve a more even flow of product and reduce the need for extra personnel before entering a freezer or fryer, Atkinson adds.


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