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.