Modern technology meets long tradition
An American family business packs homemade meat products, sausages and ham on chamber machines and thermoforming packaging machines from MULTIVAC.
Since 1920 Ebels General Store in Falmouth has been providing the local population in the northern Michigan with products for its everyday needs. The business, which is now in its fifth generation, has remained down-to-earth and family-based, but it has also moved with the times: when the store started to see competition in the early 1980’s from branches of various supermarket chains, Mark and Dawn Ebels began to manufacture sausage and meat themselves for their own butchery department. Today their sons Bob and Tom are active in the daily business of the two meat operations, the store and the associated catering operation.
In addition to beef and pork products and those made from sheep, buffalo and goat meat, the range of homemade butchery products includes fresh and smoked elk meat from the region’s rich forests. In 1994 the roaring sales of the smoked speciality products led to the creation of the Little Town Jerky Company. “It is well known that one can buy first-class meat products at very fair prices in our General Store,” says Tom Ebels, CEO of the Little Town Jerky Company. “We also supply a large number of food stores throughout Michigan.”
The product range includes snack sticks, smoked snacks, Bratwurst and bacon, as well as the very popular home-smoked ham. In order to be able to offer all these products in vacuum packs, the company purchased a double chamber machine in 2010. “Unfortunately this model was very unreliable,” recalls Tom Ebels. “The constant downtime and frequent service work compelled us in 2012 to look for another solution.” The aim was not only to reduce the number of breakdowns and repairs, but also to improve the packaging quality, extend the shelf life and increase the throughput. The machine also had to be as simple as possible to operate, even for untrained personnel.
Secure vacuum packs
The choice was ultimately made for the MULTIVAC C 550 double chamber machine. The great advantage of double chamber machines is their increased output: while one chamber is being filled with film pouches, the vacuuming and sealing process can be carried out parallel to this in the second chamber. With its chamber size of 905 x 905 x 210 mm, the C 550 is also suitable for packing bulky products - which is ideal for the hams produced by the Little Town Jerky Company. The handling of the machine is simple, since the settings for the various packs can be saved as recipes. A sensor in each chamber monitors the pressure during vacuuming and switches the pump off automatically, as soon as the desired pressure value is reached. In this way the chamber machine always achieves the same high packaging quality, and it offers precisely the high degree of reliability the family business demands for the packing of its premium-quality meat and sausage products.
“The first purchase order with MULTIVAC was larger than planned since we also ordered the R 105 thermoforming packaging machine in addition to the C 550,” recalls Bob Ebels, CFO of the Little Town Jerky Company. The compact entry-level model is primarily suited to small to medium-sized batches since it offers a standard configuration and pre-defined basic formats. This enables different products and portion sizes to be packed on one machine without long changeover times. The HMI 2.0 user interface with touchscreen display is intuitive to use thanks to its graphic user guidance, and this makes training on operation of the machine much easier. The R 105 is suitable not only for the production of vacuum packs but also modified atmosphere packs (MAP), enabling the meat and sausage products to remain fresh for longer. “The investment in a second system has proved to be sensible for us, since it gives us greater packaging flexibility. We can also achieve a higher throughput with the R 105,” says Bob Ebels, explaining the reasons for the investment. “We pack around 9,000 kg per week on the R 105.”
The R 105 enables different products and portion sizes to be packed without long changeover times.
Around 4,000 kg of meat and sausage products are packed per week on the thermoforming packaging machine.
An investment that pays off
Before the purchasing decision was made, the family gathered a wide range of information and compared various quotations. Recommendations from business partners and MULTIVAC’s good reputation aroused their interest. “The reason that we with our relatively small company decided on a packaging solution from the market leader was partly because MULTIVAC offered us an attractive finance model,” says Bob Ebels, who emphasizes that the banks at that time were not approving any loans for small companies.
The decision-makers in the family business were impressed from the start with the advice, service and short delivery times. The functioning and quality of the machines in production operation have fulfilled all expectations, as Tom Ebels explains: “Our investment has also paid off economically since downtime has been drastically reduced in comparison with the previous machine, and there has been a great increase in the efficiency of our packaging procedures. Our decision in favor of
MULTIVAC has really paid off for us.”
When the company wanted to purchase a further packaging machine about a year later, the family business decided on another fully automatic MULTIVAC thermoforming packaging machine in the medium-sized output range. Further proof of the family’s satisfaction is provided by the two additional C 550 double chamber machines, which it has purchased for packing its meat and sausage specialities.
Business relationship of equals
“Every time we expand, MULTIVAC impresses us again with its speed of reaction and reliability. Our R 105 thermoforming packaging machine, which was ordered in autumn 2014, was delivered and installed punctually at the beginning of 2015,” says Bob Ebels. “The comprehensive advice and excellent service show, that the packaging specialists consider our small company to be just as important as a large manufacturer.” For John Powers from MULTIVAC USA, partnership of equals goes without saying: “Only when we conduct dialogue with the customer as equals, can we recognize the requirements of the particular company and find a solution that fits.” This is exactly what happened at the Little Town Jerky Company. Thanks to efficient procedures and secure packs, the butchery department can supply the store and its customers in the region with first-class meat and sausage products, as well as being able to grow further.