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Advances in coffee packaging equipment - speed, versatility & cost savings.

Coffee packaging - you've come a long way, what with gas flush, vacuum pack, filter packs, flat-bottom bags, one-way valves, brick packs, high-speed equipment, computer controls, servo engines and a myriad of new packaging materials.

In addition to the traditional can, how is coffee packaged today? This article will explore that question a bit, show where coffee packaging equipment has been, and take a guess or two on where it's going.

According to Nielson Marketing Research, coffee is packaged in a few very different ways. Of 752,051,000 pounds of ground coffee packaged in 1991, about 59% or 443,947,000 pounds were packaged in cans, brick packs held 28.8% or 216,379,000 pounds, while vacuum packages accounted for 8.7% or 65,565,000 pounds of ground coffee. And, in 1991, 2% or 14,806,000 of ground coffee was packaged in filter packs.

That's what the statistics say, and industry representatives tend to agree. Joe Girone of Pontiac Foods, a private label coffee packager out of Columbia, South Carolina, thought those figures pretty much on target. "I would say that cans versus bags are about 65 to 35%. But things are changing. For example, the valve bag is one of the latest to enter the coffee packaging market," he said.

According to Girone, the bet is that the use of brick packs will increase and take over more of the can business. "There has been a steady increase in bricks over the years, especially in the South. (Contacts at major coffee companies confirmed that bags have historically been the preferred package in the South, that bricks are thus more accepted in the South than in the North.)

Girone also does a whole bean valve bag which sells very well. "We do three sealed bags of beans that are selling at a lot less than gourmet beans sell in bins. This is a growing area, too," Girone said. Nielsen statistics concurred with his view on that score, showing that the only packaging method to increase from 1990 to 1991 was the packaging of coffee in vacuum bags.

A Historical Perspective

Klockner-Bartelt has been in the manufacture of packaging equipment for food and pharmaceuticals for over 50 years. We spoke with Mark Usher of Klockner who gave some interesting background on the industry in general.

He described the changes in coffee packaging over the last 50 years. "Fifty years ago, it was cans. Form/fill/seal packaging began about 40 years ago, while pouches are more recent, in the last 25 to 35 years. Before that, pre-made bags were filled by hand. Packages have gone from bulk to smaller size, from coffee beans in bulk to single service. The advent of the high speed, form/fill/seal machines allowed packages to be produced more economically in the marketplace," Usher said.

The basic concept of form/fill/seal has remained the same for 40 years - taking a roll of paper or film that is heat-sealable, folding it over on itself, and applying heat to the edges and sealing. Then came advances in technology and mechanical systems with the advent of microprocessors and changes from gear box to servo-motors. With these electronically controlled advancements, there is greater accuracy, higher speed and greater efficiency.

In terms of materials, Usher said the trend is to develop materials that are lighter in weight. Research and development in this area has provided thin materials that can perform as well as thick ones. Materials are sold by weight. The thinner the material that can do the job, the greater profit to the packaging material supplier, but also the higher yield - more packages that can be made out of that weight by the coffee company. Usher said, however, that there is still some resistance to changes in materials because there are usually cost increases for new materials.

Today, the industry has environmental concerns, according to Usher, so that maybe we will go back to less packaging in contrast to the 60's and 70's when convenience was the driving force and the attitude was more "use it once and throw it away."

Don Plote of Curwood, a leading supplier of flexible packaging materials to the coffee industry and long-time industry observer, provides some further insights into the development of coffee packaging equipment. "For the last 25 years, coffee equipment companies have been working to develop efficient, high-speed durable equipment. Speed has been a prime issue. The industry used to be happy to get 50 to 70 bags per minute. Now they want 100 plus, and they are getting it," he said.

Plote described how coffee started out being packaged in pre-made bags. Then as business grew, the bags were changed to rollstock. When bags were run from rollstock, state-of-the-art automated equipment was required. The older equipment will not handle the stock. It requires new equipment. When you get into degassing and one-way valves, you have to get into new equipment for that as well.

"Still there are many of the older, slower machines in the field. They are more costly to maintain. Many coffee people keep some older machines and add some new equipment as well. New equipment requires higher skill levels of employees, and many companies don't have the time to train," Plote said.

According to Plote and many other industry observers of late, the coffee business has shifted to a sophisticated gourmet coffee drinker so that this is where the growth lies. These changes effect equipment. For one thing, more whole bean packaging equipment is needed.

Plote works closely with many equipment companies because his packaging materials run on their equipment. "We offer resources and service to both equipment manufacturers and the coffee roaster to assure that our film is efficient and that the quality is consistent to the needs of the equipment," he said.

Package, Package, Who's

Making the Package?

To find out who is making equipment to package coffee and what kinds are being made, we talked to some of the equipment manufacturers that provide the range of coffee packaging equipment to this industry.

We have concentrated on packaging equipment other than cans and glass containers. Although this article is not meant to offer a complete listing, it will present an overview of industry suppliers. The following companies have been kind enough to provide us with information about their products, as well as offer their thoughts on where coffee packaging has been and what the future has in store.

Robert Bosch Corp. Division of Bosch-Germany

(South Plainfield, New Jersey)

The Robert Bosch Corp. is the packaging machinery Division of Bosch-Germany. It is the smallest division of the parent company but one of the biggest players in European packaging equipment, along with Tetrapack of Sweden and Yagenberg of Germany.

The Bosch operation in the U.S. came about through the acquisition by Bosch in Germany of a German packaging company that had a U.S. sales office. In the 70's, that U.S. office became Bosch package machines representative in the U.S.

Manfred Klaus of Bosch Corp. in South Plainfield, New Jersey, gave us some thoughts on how he saw the present and future of coffee packaging in the U.S. and Germany. According to Klaus, the brick pack done on a vacuum mandrel machine is the principal coffee package in Germany. The Nutrafill method reduces residual oxygen content to 1% by using less gas.

Klaus feels that the packaging industry changes slowly in the U.S. Historically, the can was the traditional package for coffee. In the 70's and 80's, the brick pack arrived on the U.S. coffee packaging scene, though he feels that this is a stagnant market now.

In the 90's, flavored coffee and the gas slash pouch will be the developing market segment. Klaus's feeling is that there is a growing market segment in vertical form/fill/seal machines used for the flat bottom pouch, stand-up, vacuum package with a valve.

In the U.S., Bosch makes vertical form/fill/seal equipment with gas flush that make gas flush bags, flat bottom pouches with sharp edges, and brick packs using varied heat sealable materials.

Bosch sells to both small and large companies with different needs. Smaller companies use 2-5 machines focusing on price, mechanical quality and ease of operation. According to Klaus, most are not interested in integrated computer systems. Many large companies, on the other hand, want machines that can communicate with other systems, providing information that can be used as planning tools. Klaus said Bosch has been in this area for two or three years, and that is the way the company is going.

Cloud Corporation

(Des Plaines, Illinois)

Cloud Corporation has been in the packaging business for over 40 years, packaging mostly for the food industry. Currently, coffee accounts for between 25 and 30% of Cloud's packaging business.

Although Cloud has always done some coffee packaging. The company started packaging coffee as a freeze-dried instant coffee with its current look and style around 1972, and instant coffees are still packaged by Cloud in flexible foil laminates (paper/poly/foil/poly). Now an industry standard, the foil packet is a standard for Cloud and is a large part of its business.

Sizes of the average instant coffee pouch are typically 2" cut off by 3" high. The standard pouch machine has also produced larger pouches for ground coffee in a metallized mylar film for the foodservice industry. According to Tom Cloud, the most popular is a pouch, measuring 4-1/4" cut off (width) by 6" high, holding about 40 grams of ground coffee.

One of Charles Cloud's latest packaging developments in the field is the introduction of the filter packs for General Foods. The pre-packaged filter idea was used for percolators by K.G.F. many years ago but, with the arrival of the automatic drip-style coffee makers, the market appeared ready for the one-step filter pack again. The Cloud filter pack material and other K.G.F. filter papers were developed by Aldine Technologies, the oldest producer of nonwoven webs. They are packaged in Cekacan and won the Packaging Digest 1988 "Package of the Year" award.

According to Tom Cloud, the company's filter pouch machines are now faster. Machines previously packaging filter packs would run 80 packs per minute. The current pouch machine runs 400 to 600 filter pouches per minute.

Cloud has added programmable logic control to almost all their machines, and have provided |smart screen' type graphic interfaces for operating multiple machines and diagnosing problems for an entire packaging line.

"Many machines utilize a TACH (tachometer) following feeding methods, wherein an encoder generates a signal from the machine for a servo-motor to follow. This motor in turn drives the product feed. This system is accurate, proportionately tracking the machine through speed changes of any amount," Cloud said.

In terms of flexibility, the company has machines where the height is easily changed, but the repeat is fixed. One of its customers produces four different package lines on the same machine by changing the web width and repositioning the graphics. It takes about a half hour to change the height.

"We like to adapt machinery to available materials. The filter pack is a good example. We worked closely with Aldine, selecting the nonwoven filter materials that would work best on our machines while providing the kind of performance our customer needed," Cloud said.

Co-Pack International

(Carlstadt, New Jersey)

The emphasis at Co-Pack International, the new high-speed packaging equipment division of the ATI Group, is on speed, flexibility and innovative packaging technology. All this comes with the company's new Super 5000 computerized packaging line that can be purchased, leased or utilized through a unique co-packing relationship with Co-Pack.

According to Co-Pack president, Peter J. Gould, the new company has developed the first completely modular, integrated coffee packaging line. Gould said it is a method you would expect to see in the future, having a single line controlled by one central computer console to manage all aspects of coffee packaging, and requiring only one employee on the line to refill and oversee the operation in contrast to the mix - and- match equipment available today which has difficulty working as a single line.

"Another thing we are offering is flexibility. The Super 5000 can do roast and ground bagged products as well as filter packs in all sizes and shapes," Gould said.

The Super 5000 packaging system offers a new high-speed pouch production line for coffee and tea and other dry food, beverage and pharmaceutical products that is very, very fast and very versatile," Gould said. This new high-speed technology packages products at speeds ranging from 1,200 to 3,000 pieces per minute, depending upon the size of the package and individual packaging requirements.

The Super 5000 series packaging line packages products in filter paper to be then placed in a gas-flushed overwrap or gas-flushed containers. "The 5000 will also pack ground coffee directly into gas-flushed packages also at very high speeds," Gould said. The new line packages products in round, square, rectangular and even triangular or other special-shaped pouches according to a customer's preference.

The Super 5000's revolutionary features include: computer-controlled processing system for all modules, as for example, from granulating coffee to finished cartons, palletized ready to be shipped; size and shape flexibility with the use of quick-change cassettes; modular construction to allow maximum flexibility of products and packages, and completely integrated maintenance software to monitor the 5000 system continuously. The 5000 can handle broad fill-levels from 2.5 grams to 2 kilos from high-yield grinds to fine espresso grinds and gently move coffee and other materials in a newly designed dense phase conveyor system.

The computerized system makes the line more error-free and produces less waste. The line is controlled by a unit that knows what the entire system is doing so that there is no operator reaction time. If there is a jam, the computer takes care of it from a single computerized operator station.

Package size is controlled by a cassette. When a change in package size is required, a new cassette is inserted into the system. Another important aspect is the flexibility of the units. Modulized construction allows maximum flexibility for any desired system. Quick-change forming units allow package size changes in less than 1/2 hour. The modular approach makes it possible for a customer to buy just the elements needed to package a particular product.

According to the company's promotional material, the Super 5000 Model 1 and Model 2 have a closed loop automatic on-line weight control and checking with a weight accuracy to plus or minus half of 1% . They offer alternate delivery systems including gas-flushed packages or overwrap and bulk pack cartons. Gas flushing can be done to a level of 2.5%. The system uses a patented printing process for printing nonwoven filter webs for brand or product identification in 1-4 colors, with optional FDA approved media.

Fi-Tech, Inc. (Richmond, Virginia)

Fi-Tech, Inc. has been and continues to be the authorized U.S. distributors for the Hurstpack line of tea and coffee packaging equipment developed by Brian Hurst in 1986 and formerly manufactured by Sigma Packaging in the U.K.

The machine was originally developed at the request of a U.K. company to create a tea bag that could be used by the vending industry. A round tea bag was the choice. The machinery was later expanded to produce large bags for the tea industry, as well as producing filter packs for the coffee industry.

Fi-Tech was the original U.S. distributor for Sigma Packaging of its Hurstpack tea and coffee packaging machines. When, in the fall of 1991, Sigma went into receivership, FT packaging, Ltd. was formed and purchased the assets of Sigma. (FT was a U.K. company formed by Fi-Tech to assure the continuation of production and delivery of the Hurstpack machines to customers without interruption.) As of January 1, 1992, FT Packaging sold its assets to Autowrappers, the packaging machinery subsidiary of the GEI International Group. Fi-Tech will continue to be the authorized distributor of the Hurstpack machines.

The Hurstpack R100A produces round coffee filter bags. The Hurstpack R100 produces round tea bags.

A machine can be purchased as a standard model or one that is custom-built specifications. For example, machines can be modified to include such options as an outfeed conveyer with special batching, web-tension control or automatic coffee-weight feed-back control.

The promo sheet on the R100A for packaging coffee highlights its features as: continuous motion, total temperature control, infinite dosing control, batch/totalizing count, and simplicity of operation. It has the additional features of: take-away conveyer, dosing heads to suit product, product diverter and tagging facility.

According to Fi-Tech's Jeff Bassett, there are many form/fill/seal machines that are capable of doing square bags. The reason round is more difficult to manufacture is that there is less time to dispense the coffee into the pouch when making bags on a continuous motion basis. The machines have a DC variable speed drive, but can have an optional AC inverter drive for people who want AC.

Speed depends on bag size, fill and number of lanes from one to four. According to Fi-Tech, roughly, coffee will run 80 to 200 bags per minute and tea will run 120 to 1,300 per minute.

Fres-Co System USA, INC.

(Telford, PA.)

Fres-Co Systems USA is an American company owned by Goglio Luigi Milano, Italian vacuum packaging machine manufacturer. Fres-Co was established in 1979 to market Goglio's patented flexible vacuum coffee-packaging systems in North America.

We spoke with Raul Hauser, Fres-Co's national sales manager. "FresCo was established to provide an alternate form of packaging when the only options were cans or paper bags. Fres-Co's equipment provides a vacuum-packaging system based on a one-way degassing valve and a high barrier bag," Hauser said.

According to Fres-Co, its vacuum packaging system retains freshness better than both bags and cans because of the way degassing is handled.

Hauser said that the Fres-Co system provides vacuum-packaging immediately after roasting to reduce oxygen levels to less than 1% inside the bag. Controlled release of coffee gases through the valve allows the coffee time to absorb the essential flavors from the gases. The long-term shelf life of the barrier bag does not allow outside air and moisture to stale the coffee.

The degassing valve has evolved to its present state over a period of 12 years. The package has been made from a single, laminated web for over 15 years. Fres-Co feels it provides the most cost-effective package that is also the most attractive at retail. The machines produce a bag with a printed bottom so that all six sides can be read, as well as a reclosable option which is done in a continuous motion.

In addition, Fres-Co states that its machines will run lower-cost laminate structures with polypropylene film as the outer ply, which is a lower cost alternative to polyester and has natural clarity and better flex crack resistance. Machines can produce an output of 120 (1 lb.) packages per minute and can handle multiple packages throughout the complete line. Semi-automatic and automatic machines can package ground, or whole bean coffee on the same machines.

Fres-Co markets a complete line of 20 vacuum-packaging machines. All models have the capacity to control softness from control panels where the desired hardness or softness of the finished package can be dialed. In addition, Fres-Co produces multi-ply materials that run on its packaging machines and offers consultation on equipment, materials, technology, graphics, and test-marketing.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Klockner-Bartelt, Curwood, Robert Bosch Corp., Cloud Corp., Co-Pack International, Fi-Tech Inc. and Fres-Co Systems USA either offer packaging machinery equipment or supplies
Author:Fader, Liz
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:Coffee: food or drug?
Next Article:New strategic package design for Elkin.

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