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High tech happenings in Spain, Belgium and Sweden.

High tech happenings in Spain, Belgium and Sweden

This report concerns the products, plants and people of three companies, in far flung corners of Europe, that offer specialized supplies and machinery to the coffee and tea industries. They are: Tobepal, a Spanish manufacturer of packaging film; Elbicon, a Belgian manufacturer of an automated laser-based green coffee sorting system, and Ceka International, a Swedish company with a tradition of providing the avant-garde in upscale packaging.


Located in the nation's La Rioja province, in Logrono, Tobepal has emerged as one of Spain's leading manufacturers of flexible packaging materials. The company's two extensive production plants are focused on a wide spectrum of packaging productions for a host of applications. But coffee remains a central concern both as to volume and as an indication of the company's pride in quality - the coffee packaging production is a key factor in Tobepal's production and marketing mentality.

As the company's export manager, Jose Manuel de Lorenzo, explains, "Tobepal has been in coffee packaging for more than 50 years. We have a special place for coffee here, even though we now produce of packaging material for the Spanish coffee industry, and for both large and small companies. We are also active with coffee clients in Portugal, France, the U.K. and North Africa. Coffee has been and remains a growth sector for us."

Tobepal is actually three companies in one, offering to order as separate products or services, or in combination, a complete range of contemporary laminated packaging materials such as aluminium, paper and plastic films), plus sophisticated rotogravure printing, as well as the services of an in-house photomechanic and cylinder engraving workshop. All of this functions with on-line quality control, backed up by laboratory testing, and in check the latest in international food industry standards.

The company's long standing cooperation with coffee roasters of various sizes, from quite small to the largest, means that Tobepal bases its coffee package program on versatility. The company fills a shipping area with giant reels of packaging film for large-run coffee brands. Tobepal film is running in numerous roasting plants and on every type of packaging machine. But the company also provides a large quantity of ready-to-fill already formed vacuum-pack bags (of various sizes) for clients with smaller brand runs. In house, to form one-kilo valve packs for coffee clients, Tobepal uses its own ICA system.

The same spirit of customized, client-oriented service is reflected in the Tobepal printing service, which can feature an awesome number of colors per run. The company is specialized in high brightness production, and works in volume to please the most demanding design and image requirements of some of the best-known consumer products in the world. For its numerous smaller clients, the company offers the services of a team of professional in-house package designers to prepare custom graphics.

Tobepal's director general is Isaac Gutierrez de la Torre; say the word `coffee' and this man is ready to stop and talk with you. That, in itself, means something.


In rural Belgium, not too far from Antwerp, another director, of a different kind of company, also has coffee on his mind. This is Paul Vandenput of Elbicon. The product is a laser sorter, and probably the world's fastest coffee bean sorter.

Actually, as Vandenput admits with a smile, only a few months ago he was feeling rather lonely as to coffee talk about his Elbiscan 5000 series sorter. The difficulty was to reassure coffee people that he was not exaggerating when asking them to come watch runs of a continuous automated sorter that could accurately and reliably sort up to six tons of green coffee on line per hour. "That's impossible!" was not an uncommon reaction. Every industry has its moments of future shock, even coffee.

But the shock is about over, as seeing is believing. The Elbiscan 5000 can and does sort coffee beans a shocking pace, and four units have now been acquired by a major company in the coffee sector, two of which are already on line. Following this breakthrough, Vandenput is hoping to catch the attention of a number of coffee shippers, importers, warehousers and roasters.

The patented Elbiscan 5000 system premiered in 1986 and rapidly gained worldwide acceptance in various food industries. About 60 units are now in the field, applied to such rigorous sorting tasks as peas, raisins, french fries, carrots, etc. In truth, Elbicon itself only recently fully recognized the system's revolutionary potential in green coffee sorting. "We were looking over a veritable universe of possible applications for the Elbiscan 5000," explains Vandenput. "It took us a little time to isolate the leading candidates for commercialization. We now see that the Elbiscan 5000 is really quite significant for the coffee industry."

The Elbiscan 5000 sorts via a unique combination of laser types allowing for identification of color gradations in coffee beans and of foreign objects. The coffee is belt fed, at speed of 3 meters per second, to the scanning unit which up 1.5 meters above the belt. The coffee is scanned in free flight with rotating drum background. The scan flow is at 1000 scans/second. Sixty four air pistols work the flow, blowing rejects downwards (also effecting better dust control), with the good beans moving forward. Typical performing speeds are in the 4-5 ton/hr range, depending on percentage of impurities (this "typical" speed range would handle impurity levels of 10% to 40%). Accuracy is placed at better than 99%.


And to the north, in a suburb of Stockholm, yet another company has probed a technology threshold that has special meaning for coffee and tea packagers. That is Akerlund & Rausing, producers of the Cekacan packaging concept which includes the Cekacan packaging materials, the Cekacan packaging systems,s plus a worldwide support network of packaging consulting and backup services.

Those having seen the Maxwell House Filter Pack product in the U.S. will have also seen a type of Cekacan in use, for that is what General Foods chose in 1989 to crown the launch of one of its more important products of recent years. According to GF and A&R, the combination of Maxwell House and Cekacan, a first for this packaging concept in the coffee industry, has been a resounding success. The Maxwell House Filter Pack line has in fact been extended now to include a 20-pack version (the original is a 10-pack size). The success story is certainly one that the people of Ceka would like coffee and tea packagers to give an international translation to.

Cekacan first came to store shelves in 1987, for the O'Boy chocolate drink in Scandinavia. Now the concept has 10 main clients, in addition to Maxwell House. These number such well known names as Milka, Horlicks and Bahlsen. Cekacan use is now being stressed for ground and instant coffee and for loose tea as well. While Cekacan is positioned as a creative alternative to tins and vacuum bricks, it is particularly competitive with cans in offering airtightness along with strong shelf image.

For those who do not know, Cekacan is a single-wall high barrier container which can be flushed, and comes oval, square or rectangular, short or tall, with various easy-opening, reclosing systems to choose from. For coffee, the concept offers barrier properties equal to tin or glass,and can feature a one-way valve as desired (developed in cooperation with Bosch). Cekacan components are shipped flat to users - as base, body, tape, lid and toptainer. Forming, filling, packing is by the company's Cekacan System 600, a packaging line that can produce 60 to 120 cans per minute.

The Ceka name is hardly new to coffee or tea companies. The generations of Ceka packages have been the brain children of Old Christensson, a master of 20th century packaging. The Cekatainers of the 40's were an important feature in the evolution of coffee branding. They were followed in the 50's by the revolutionary Cekavac, the first vacuum pack in wide use for coffee. The Cekavac was launched together with General Foods. At one time, there were licenses for Cekavac production in 35 nations. In the 1970's, the company developed Cekaline, a double wall container with class appeal, that was used by Brooke Bond, for example, and which is still in use by many companies. In light of this history, Cekacan is but a logical step forward toward the packaging of the 21st century.

PHOTO : Elbicon 5000 in action, sorting green coffee at record breaking speed, up to 5 tons per hour. The secret is in the laser technology.

PHOTO : A CekaCan 600 system under construction, at headquarters near Stockholm. This system will fabricate up to 150 CekaCans per minute. Eva Dolhem is the company's manager for market communications.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:profiles of Tobepal, Elbicon, and Ceka International, European firms in coffee production equipment industries
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Taiwan's dynamic tea industry.
Next Article:Caffeine safety.

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