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Scaling Up Food Facilities

  • Post By: Jennifer Hogan Redmond

How to increase production the right way:

You’ve got a great-tasting product and you want to share it with the world. Perhaps you’ve been handling production yourself in a small kitchen, but you need more capacity because demand is increasing. How do you get to the next level?

While continued growth is certainly a good problem to have, scaling up should be done thoughtfully. Anticipate incremental progress for best results and consider the following steps:

Proof your concept.

Create a prototype of your product using the recipe and the industrial equipment you’ll need for larger production runs. You may wish to enlist the help of a test kitchen if you haven’t done so already. According to process engineer Emily Diersing with Food Plant Engineering, “This is often the most challenging part of the scale-up process if you’re producing an alternative protein.” Why? Equipment and chemistry must work together.

Consider equipment.

Most of the equipment in the food industry is standard. If your product won’t run on standard equipment, “then it gets tricky,” she explains. And while equipment can be customized, this can be complicated and costly. If you do need specialized technology to produce your product, this stage is also going to take longer. Scaling up will be a slower process still if your product must be produced in smaller batches and requires a good deal of manual production.

Basic equipment “may not be optimal for efficiency, but if it will still produce the product,” that’s best, Diersing states. Adjusting the recipe may be necessary to make this happen.

Understand the chemistry.

Alternative protein products frequently incorporate a variety of grain-based ingredients. As you make larger and larger batches of such product, the food chemistry can change, says Diersing. For example, “If you’re using a standard kitchen hand mixer to make a batch of cookies at home, there’s a certain amount of heat coming from that mixer to help blend the dough and make it a little more pliable. But if you’re going to make that batch of cookies in a 100-gallon mixer, it may not have that same kind of reaction going on. The blades may be different and may cut your product a little bit differently than the kitchen mixer,” she explains.  

Similarly, the relative proportions of ingredients may change during the scale-up process. Keep in mind that the simpler your recipe is, the easier it’ll be to scale up. Ask yourself what can be eliminated from your recipe and determine how you will source ingredients, optimize shelf life and tackle nutrition labels.

Enlarge the space.

Once your recipe is perfected and you’re happy with the flavor profile and the process, look for a co-packer or consider renting space at a shared production facility that can accommodate your needs. This intermediate phase is crucial as you’re scaling up your operation because you can test not only the process on a larger scale but the packaging as well. “If you can have all your process equipment in one room and have a separate packaging room, you might be able to modularly piece things together in the short term,” Diersing says. “It’s easy to replace equipment. It’s not so easy to downsize equipment.”

Get out on your own.

If you’ve got that winning combination and you’re producing enough volume to outgrow your intermediate space, it’s time to consider your own facility. This can mean retrofitting an older facility to suit your needs or designing a facility from the ground up. To maximize efficiency and utilize the most hygienic materials for your space, consult an expert adept at planning, designing and constructing food facilities. An experienced food facility design firm is accustomed to working with equipment vendors, understands food safety regulations, employee health needs and building codes and knows what details (such as curbing, floor drains, etc.) are optimal for your type of production process. Some experience is also necessary for appropriate ingredient storage, particularly with the complex profiles frequently found in alternative protein products.