New thinking - and 10 tons of plant-based cheese alternatives per day

Boermarke and MULTIVAC develop a high-performance line for plant-based cheese alternatives

Boermarke, which is better known for its dairy products and ice cream, has expanded its range to include plant-based cheese alternatives. The Dutch manufacturer from Enschede processes a full ten tons of plant-based cheese alternatives per day. In order to guarantee maximum yield, shelf life and an attractive appearance, the company places its trust in a completely new slicing, packaging and labelling line from MULTIVAC. This line guarantees a throughput of ten tons per day.

Whether it is veggie burgers, seitan cutlets or tofu sausages, vegetarian and plant-based alternatives to meat are booming. According to the German Federal Statistics Office, some 83,000 tons of meat replacement products were produced in 2020 by German companies alone. This was 39 percent more than in the previous year. And plant-based cheese replacement products are also seen increasingly frequently on shopping lists worldwide. And not only with vegans, but also with people, who are lactose-intolerant. Boermarke, a manufacturer of fresh dairy products from the Dutch city of Enschede, is also responding to this significant trend.

Boermarke is no stranger to plant-based milk alternatives. For years the company has been developing plant-based alternatives to dairy products and ice cream using coconut, oats, soya and almonds. And now it is venturing into plant-based cheese alternatives. “Following a long period of market analysis, we have developed various products, which meet the rising demand for plant-based alternatives to conventional cheese,” says Daniëlle Boerkamp, Product Manager Retail International at Boermarke. “This includes not only traditional Dutch cheese varieties, but also feta and mozzarella alternatives.”

“The slicing, packaging and labelling of plant-based cheese alternatives is new territory for us”

The Boermarke promise: Plant-based cheese alternatives cannot be distinguished from classic cheese in terms of taste, texture, colour and mouthfeel. The only differences are those, which the company itself had to master. Plant-based cheese alternatives behave differently from classic cheeses when being processed, particularly during slicing. “As a manufacturer of dairy products and ice cream, we do not have any experience with more solid products. The slicing, packaging and labelling of plant-based cheese alternatives is new territory for us. And also, as regards shelf life,” says Vera Weller, Product & Process Technologist at Boermarke. To ensure that highly reliable production would be achieved, Boermarke embarked on the search for an expert company in the slicing and packaging of plant-based products. And they found exactly what they needed at MULTIVAC.  “Short communication channels, rapid action and active thinking - those were the plus points with MULTIVAC that convinced us.” And so Boermarke and MULTIVAC began to jointly develop a new type of line for plant-based cheese alternatives. “It was clear to us from the first market sounding, that MULTIVAC is the benchmark,” confirms Reynier Varvik, Director of Boermarke. “MULTIVAC gave us excellent advice and provided a complete solution for packaging our plant-based products securely and extending the shelf life.”


Extensive tests guarantee the optimum slicing result

This is how the new line operates. Boermarke produces the plant-based cheese alternatives in blocks. The operators load four of these blocks into MULTIVAC's large S 800 slicer, which slices all blocks simultaneously by means of a rotating blade. To achieve the optimum slicing result, MULTIVAC carried out extensive slicing tests in advance, and then adapted the slicer to the particular requirements. This included the development by the MULTIVAC experts of a spiral toothing on the involute blade. And they also applied a coating, which reduces the friction during slicing, and prevents the plant-based cheese alternative from remaining adhered to the blade. This results in clean slices, which are formed into 200-gram shingled portions, as they land on the placement area.

In the next stage the weight of each portion is checked by a checkweigher. If the weight is outside the tolerance, the particular portion is ejected from the line. And a feedback signal is given to the slicer, so that it can optimise the slice thickness in real time. This very effective monitoring prevents give-away losses and ensures that illegal underweight packs do not get into the retail chain.

Following the slicing and checkweighing stages, the product continues as follows: The portions with the correct weight run onto the SB 620 automatic belt loader - a connecting link between the slicer and thermoforming packaging machine. The belt loader not only aligns the portions in the required format and loads them into the pack cavities. It also buffers the portions, in order to compensate for the reloading of the slicer, so that any time loss at the thermoforming packaging machine is avoided.

The R 235 thermoforming packaging machine then packs the sliced portions in the following sequence: a forming station first heats the lower web to make it formable. By using compressed air and vacuum, the film is then pulled into the cavity shape of the die. Eight pack cavities in two rows of four are produced simultaneously in this way. In order to give the plant-based cheese alternatives a visually attractive presentation, the base of each pack has ascending ribs. 

The line achieves a speed of up to 80 packs per minute

After the belt system has loaded the portions into the thermoformed pack cavities, an upper web is sealed to the packs in a sealing die. There is a further inspection of the weight by an I 211 checkweigher, which also has an integrated metal detector. And finally, the L 300 labelling unit, which applies pre-printed top and bottom labels to the packs. “Our packaging machine produces retail packs at a speed of up to 80 packs per minute,” says Mart de Koning, Sales Manager at MULTIVAC Netherlands. Sufficient throughput for Boermarke to be able to slice and pack over ten tons of plant-based cheese alternatives per day. “The combination of product, inline process and packaging provides a shelf life of at least 60 days.” And to round off the complete package, MULTIVAC also supplies the appropriate packaging materials. They are recyclable and therefore improve the eco balance of the product. 

“MULTIVAC understands our needs and objectives”

Ten tons of plant-based cheese alternatives per day. “Boermarke is the first Dutch producer of plant-based cheese alternatives on this scale,” says Marcel Olde Olthof, Production Leader at Boermarke proudly. “Given the high level of interest and large number of orders, we are confident that this new market will continue to develop rapidly. And we are applying ourselves with great effort to achieve this.” One of the aims is to improve the shelf life of the product still further. “MULTIVAC understands our needs and objectives in terms of packaging our plant-based cheese alternatives efficiently and consistently,” says Reynier Varvik in conclusion. “I am very pleased with the successful and lasting cooperation.”

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