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Food and Drink

Chris Holland

Chris Holland is Managing Director of leading thermal processing technology specialist Holmach Ltd.  Having been a Director of the Processing and Packaging Machinery Association(PPMA), Chairman of the Heat Preserved Foods Panel at Campden BRI and more recently being awarded a fellowship of the Institute of Food, Science & Technology, Chris has actively worked alongside key industry thought leaders to steer legislation, educate the market, and influence change in relation to thermal processing’s importance in achieving both manufacturing and sustainability objectives.

One business success

  • Our greatest business success at Holmach has to be the instrumental role that we played in the introduction of ‘REPFEDS’ (Refrigerated Processed Foods of Extended Durability) to the UK and Irish markets back in the late 1990s. Whilst defining our own business priorities, it also paved the way for both multinational and artisan manufacturers to be able to be able to respond effectively to the increasing demands from the retail sector for products with an extended shelf-life.  Even though our partnership with Lagarde Autoclaves started 27 years ago, I wanted to highlight this as our greatest business success because the relevance of steam/air retorting in the UK market has only continued to grow, particularly with the current focus on minimising food waste and energy usage, and maximising the health benefits of food products that offer a ‘fast food’ solution in a time poor society.

Two challenges for the sector

  • The availability of skilled engineers and technicians - inhouse expertise is imperative to maximise uptime and production levels, whilst also ensuring that a technical voice drives growth through the right capital investment.  Unsociable shift patterns and the pull from other more ‘desirable’ sectors has seen a clear loss of talent.  There are several ways that manufacturers can tackle these issues both today and in the long-term.  The first involves investment in automation.  Reducing the need for manual labour with high-speed manufacturing technology allows a business to refocus HR costs on highly skilled labour, whilst also reducing the manufacturing hours needed to fulfil retail demand. Investment in specialist training is also key to driving positive change.  We actively encourage our customers to complete technology refresher courses periodically or when there is a change of personnel to ensure that the knowledge and experience continues and that the technology is used at optimum levels to achieve manufacturing objectives.
  • Achieving flavour in plant-based products - With ShelfNow revealing that 8.8 million Britons plan to go meat free this year, the plant-based revolution looks set to continue, but it’s up to manufacturers to ensure that these new foods offer a tasty and healthy alternative to their meat-based counterparts. Plant-based manufacturing can bring with it a whole host of additional challenges from dealing with unpalatable textures to bad smells and lack of flavour.  This is where maximising the natural umami through the retorting process and deodorising or adding additional flavours such as roasting come into play.  We’ve successfully worked with new product development teams for almost 50 years to generate fuller flavours without using unnecessary flavourings and preservatives.  Our own trial facilities and those of our market leading technology partners have enabled us to develop processes for successful product ranges.  These have included a retorting process to manufacture a delicately flavoured gluten free alternative to rice using kibbled cauliflower, through to a delicious range of nut based vegan desserts that offer the ‘creamy’ texture and flavours that consumers would expect from a dairy based product range. 

Three forecasts for the sector

  • We predict that with the consumer driven and government enforced focus on sustainability and health that we’ll see a notable rise in manufacturers using steam for cooking, in place of water.  For the consumer, steam cooking provides a healthier option as it preserves the nutritional benefits of the raw ingredients.  It can also significantly improve the taste by enhancing natural flavourings.  For manufacturers, steam cooking is more cost effective and sustainable in terms of using much lower levels of water and in the example of retorting, the extended shelf-life that can be achieved opens up retail distribution opportunities whilst minimising food waste.
  • With long term threats to global food security and the immediate focus on sustainability, we’re predicting a marked rise in the use of insect proteins within both the human food and pet food markets.  In terms of feed and water to maintain them, insects have a high food conversion ratio to produce the same amount of protein as traditionally farmed animals. Insect proteins are already commonplace within the petfood market as they’re a proven source of fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and with the FSA launching an industry wide consultation into edible insects for human consumption, the writing is already on the wall. As well as the challenge of winning over sceptical consumers, one of the big things to be defined will be the heat treatment parameters for the insects to ensure the destruction of harmful micro-organisms whilst maintaining the nutritional benefits of the insects themselves.
  • A rise in the quality of ready meals and other convenience foods.  With the forthcoming HFSS regulations and consumer pressure to offer healthier alternatives, manufacturers are having their hands forced as quality and taste are becoming overriding factors compared to the pure simplicity of convenience.  Consumer expectations are high and they’re prepared to pay a premium to ensure that they’re experiencing the taste, texture and nutritional benefits of foods that compare favourably with home-cooked alternatives. Retorting is already playing a key part in this revolution and we’re predicting that it’s set to continue.  Manufacturers have to be mindful of production capabilities, shelf life, retail distribution expectations and profit margins, as well as fulfilling the needs of the end consumer.  Steam/air retorting ticks all of these boxes. Products don’t need elevated salt and sugar levels for preservation, allowing manufacturers to extend the shelf-life of their products, without compromising on product quality.  Once this shift takes hold we’re predicting that the government will be under pressure to reclassify value added, processed and ultra-processed foods to ensure that they’re reflective of the market change and the financial commitment to quality.

September 2022