The secrets for success in meeting demand for healthier confectionery bars

Bars offer a quick and convenient source of energy for health-conscious consumers. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the top three arguments when making a purchase decision are muscle gain, weight loss and improved athletic performance. However, when it comes to the production and packaging of health bars, key aspects should be considered compared to conventional granola or chocolate bars. Josua Schwab, of Syntegon Technology, explains more

In 2017, the global superfood, protein or fruit bars trade already accounted for approximately one billion US dollars. And the trend is set to increase. An annual growth of 5.4 percent is expected until 2022. This product group’s potential remains interesting. Confectionery manufacturers with a high market presence can diversify their portfolio and tap into new target groups. Specialist manufacturers of fitness products on the other hand can reach out to the health-conscious, lifestyle-oriented consumers by offering a range of bars. And last but not least, a number of creative start-ups are on the move, using new combinations of ingredients and their fresh perspective to bring innovative products to the market.

Challenges in production
Simply daring to mix new ingredients into a bar is not enough. The production of these small energy suppliers is anything but simple. Sweeteners such as honey or agave nectar ensure a natural taste, but also create sticky production conditions – and contaminate the machine. Natural ingredients, such as nuts or dried fruit, also create an uneven structure, which must be taken into account when forming and packaging the bars.

Natural ingredients require gentle handling and spoil easily. The hygienic conditions within the production and packaging line must therefore meet high standards to ensure optimal food safety. Processing different bars and batch sizes on one line is difficult, especially when the product contains allergenic ingredients such as nuts. Cross-contamination has to be eliminated at all costs. Another challenge in terms of machine flexibility is the question of how many different products are produced in which batch size.

 

Packaging machines come with a set of requirements
Manufacturers need processing and packaging technology that can handle sticky, fragile and uneven shaped bars. A particular focus lies on maximum flexibility: In order to minimise downtime in the production of small batches, short format changeovers and cleaning times for the entire process and packaging line are essential. Gentle product handling is another important factor to ensure that the valuable natural ingredients are packaged reliably and reach the consumer in perfect condition. What is more, product breakages and waste are an economic factor, because the high-quality raw materials are expensive to buy. Reduced product waste also has a positive effect on the environmental footprint.

Today, food safety is not simply an option, but a fundamental part of every production process. In addition to efficient and reliable cleaning processes, it is an advantage if the entire system has already been designed according to hygienic aspects. Good visibility, easy access and slanted, easy-to-clean surfaces help to detect and quickly remove contaminants and product residue build-up at an early stage. If conveyor belts and other components can be dismantled easily and without tools, efficient and quick cleaning is no problem.

Tight packs extend shelf life
When it comes to primary packaging in flow wraps, tight sealing seams have top priority. Experienced partners can give advice on the necessary parameters for the sealing processes. This is important because each film offers different barrier and sealing properties, which significantly influence the tightness of the pack. Not all seals are alike: The film material, sealing technology and required speed determine whether the pack is sealed tightly or hermetically.

Oxygen causes oxidation and shortens the products’ shelf life. Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) technologies can be used to extend the shelf life of bars. This method uses specific gases that replace the oxygen in the packaging. Vacuum technology is a good option for products that cannot tolerate gas. A precise analysis of the product composition and distribution requirements determines the optimal method.

The right cartoning
Secondary and case packing is not just about product protection and transport efficiency. It also helps attract customers’ attention in retail outlets, regardless of their placement at the point of sale. Manufacturers must therefore offer different pack styles and packaging formats to meet retail requirements. Bar products are often found at the checkout in drugstores, convenience shops and gyms, where consumers can take individual bars directly out of the display carton. On supermarket shelves, on the other hand, the bars are often sold in folding cartons containing a predetermined number of products.

Thinking of sustainability every step of the way
The choice of packaging material is an important issue as it has a direct impact on the brand image. This decision is often up to marketing and design teams, who should consider the recyclability of packaging materials. Ultimately, the consumer decides in-store which product will end up in their shopping cart. Today, environmentally friendly packaging plays an important role. The trend clearly moves towards sustainable and recyclable packaging material.

Films made of mono-material or paper with a protective barrier layer enhance sustainability in the health bar segment. Cardboard is mainly used for secondary and transport packaging.

Gentle processing for delicate products
Depending on the starting point, production volume and existing equipment, a number of automation solutions are available for processing and packaging of health bars. Automation not only increases performance, but also improves food safety. It eliminates the need for manual processes, such as forming the bars and placing them on the conveyor belt. The production staff no longer needs to touch each bar. An automated product infeed into the packaging machine enhances hygiene and product quality. In addition, manufacturers reduce product breakages and waste thanks to gentle handling of the delicate bars.

If higher output rates are required, additional packaging legs can be added to the installed system. In the high-performance range, linear motor technology improves product infeed into the packaging machine. It gently transports fragile bars into the flow wrapping machine contact-free and at a high speed. The wrapped bars are packed in folding cartons and cardboard case packs for transport. If required, a so-called cobot (“Collaborative Robot”) can be used in the last step to stack the cases on shipping pallets, making it a fully automated production line.

Individual planning
In the diverse world of bars, no two products are alike. And no two manufacturers have exactly the same requirements. This is why the production and packaging of health bars stands and falls with the right packaging system for each manufacturers’ requirements. In finding a solution that fits, manufacturers can operate smooth and reliable production processes for high-quality products that satisfy consumers and retailers alike.

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