Beef jerky in attractive aluminium packs
Dried meat is one of the most popular snacks in China. But jerky has now also become one of the top sellers in the USA, and even recently in Germany. The market for the spicy, long-life strips and pieces of beef, duck, and ostrich meat is booming worldwide. The sales figures in the snacks segment are strongly driven by marketing. The Chinese company, Zhangfei Beef, recognized this trend at an early stage and now presents its high-quality beef snacks at the point of sale in attractive aluminium packs.
Aluminium is widely used in the food industry for packaging. It is characterised by its low weight and high barrier properties against gases, liquids, light, and UV radiation. Despite their lightness and low use of packaging material, aluminium packs are very stable. They give optimum protection to the product, along the entire supply chain. When it comes to visual appearance, feel, and design possibilities, this packaging material meets all the demands of a modern pack. Aluminium packs also give the impression of a higher-quality product.
Zhangfei Beef, which was founded in 1990 and is based in Langzhong in the province of Sichuan, owes its name to a famous general from the Three Kingdoms period (220-280). He was responsible over a period of seven years for the defence of Langzhong, and he put in place many measures for the well-being of the people. Thanks to his many statues in the city, the general still has a presence today - and he is well known beyond the borders of the region due to Zhangfei Beef, which is named after him.
Consumer habits necessitate innovation
Today around 600 staff are employed at Zhangfei Beef, and they are involved in the production, packaging, and marketing of a wide range of meat products. Beef is mainly processed, but there is also duck meat in smaller quantities. The tasty dried meat represents the main focus in the product range. And this is for good reasons: it has a shelf life of twelve months when sterilised and packed, and it retains its appetising appearance and full, spicy taste.
Increasingly, however, the constantly changing habits of consumers are playing an important role in the marketing of this food. “The market for dried meat has changed greatly in recent years. Consumers today expect very high quality in both the product and the packaging. They also place great value on new product formats and flavours - innovations in this product sector are therefore essential,” says Mr. Ping Wen, owner of the Zhangfei company.
Mr. Ping Wen has been observing the market for many years and systematically focuses his product range on the needs of consumers. When a strong trend towards MAP packs for processed meat became apparent in China, he decided to invest in this technology - and first he acquired a compact T 300 traysealer from MULTIVAC. Six months later he decided to build a new production facility, which included an investment in five more MULTIVAC packaging machines.
Map Packagings are trending in China
The range of machines at Zhangfei now comprises two traysealers and four thermoforming packaging machines. The T 300 is used primarily for packing pieces of duck meat under modified atmosphere. Thanks to these MAP packs, the shelf life of the products is extended significantly. A high-output T 700 traysealer is used to produce MAP packs of fresh meat.
In the thermoforming packaging machine sector, Mr. Ping Wen invested in a R 245 for packing beef jerky under modified atmosphere. This is a lean meat product, from which the fat and sinews are removed, and which is cut into strips or pieces and then dried, so that any spoilage is prevented. When the product is being dried, salt is added to prevent the formation of bacteria. Thanks to the evacuation and gas flushing after the sterilisation process, the quantity of salt is however reduced, and the product shelf life is extended to up to twelve months without any loss of quality.
A second thermoforming packaging machine, a R 215 model, was also installed for producing vacuum packs of beef jerky. The two models were complemented by the compact R 105 MF machine for producing vacuum skin packs. The MultiFresh™ skin packs are ideal for protecting the fresh beef product, and they preserve its natural, fresh appearance, as well as giving an attractive presentation at the point of sale.
R 245 produces attractive aluminium portion packs
The latest acquisition at Zhangfei Beef is a second R 245, on which the attractive portion packs made of an aluminium composite material are produced for the classic beef jerky. The machine is specially designed for the requirements at Langzhong, and it also has a forming station for both the lower web and upper web. The packs are gas flushed with a nitrogen mixture. “We wanted this packaging solution to extend the shelf life of our snacks to twelve months – while retaining the consistently good and full taste of the product after sterilisation,” explains the company boss.
The R 245, which is designed for medium output requirements, is ideally suited to the requirements at Zhangfei Beef. Thanks to a comprehensive spectrum of equipment options, the machine can even produce complex pack shapes at a high cycle output with optimised consumption of energy and packaging materials. As a machine model that can be fully configured, it is also equipped with modules, which provide maximum flexibility and quick conversion to other pack formats. Among these are the proven drawer system for the simple change of forming and sealing die parts, its hinged side frames and a film quick-change system. The R 245 is operated via the HMI 2.0 user interface.
Special loading grid prevents loss of quality during the sealing process
The automated loading of the pack cavities by handling robots initially presented a challenge to the project, since this could cause contamination of the seal flange due to product residue, which adversely affected the sealing quality. It was possible to solve this, however, by means of a special grid in the loading area. This rests on the lower web and enables the pack cavities to be filled quickly, without drops of fat or meat particles being able to fall onto the seal flange. As soon as the pack cavities are filled with the product, the grid is raised and the film transported onwards, before the grid is lowered onto the next section of film. The packs can then be sealed.
All the machines have been in operation since October 2017. Zhangfei particularly appreciated the comprehensive help and professional service from MULTIVAC, which at the start of the project also included extensive sample productions and tests, as well as sterilisation of the products. “Overall our project objectives were completely fulfilled. The aluminium packs in particular are highly attractive and have been so well received in the market that we have not only been able to significantly increase our sales figures, but also already consider expanding our business,” says Mr. Ping Wen.