Longer Shelf Life, Fresh Taste, Safe Food

HPP technology supports the healthy and convenient products consumers seek. For processors already into HPP, and those looking to get started, the market is poised for expansion, fueled by pandemic shopping habits that shifted from restaurants to retail.

Large and small food companies alike are looking for ways to obtain wider distribution networks, extend shelf life, and deliver the fresh, healthy, great-tasting food and beverages consumers crave. One way to achieve this goal is by employing high pressure processing (HPP) technology.

Over the next five years, the HPP market will experience a 12.1% CAGR in terms of revenue, according to Market Insights Reports. In addition, the global HPP market size will reach $858.3 million by 2025, up from $542.6 million in 2019, the research firms says.

Recently, pet food, baby food, beverages, dips, sauces, soups, meats, seafood, and ready-to-eat meals are turning up more frequently in retail refrigerated cases around the world. While North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific are key markets, evolving lifestyles in countries such as India and China are also fueling HPP’s growth.

One of the newest HPP trends is in soup, according to Tom Woodward, chief commercial officer with Universal Pure, a provider of HPP, cold storage, kitting and assembly, beverage co-packing, and other services. 

Protein products are loaded into HPP equipment from JBT Avure Technologies at the Universal Pure tolling location. Photo courtesy of Universal Pure.Protein products are loaded into HPP equipment from JBT Avure Technologies at the Universal Pure tolling location. Photo courtesy of Universal Pure.

Other growing segments are in premium juices, energy beverages, and pet food.

“We know protein, pork, chicken, beef, and fish products have been large drivers of HPP and are very compatible with HPP, both cooked and raw,” says Woodward. “We continue to see growth in those categories, especially with our recent COVID-19 situation.” But the plant-based protein business is really on a launch pad right now, he continues, with patties, blended products, and even some blended animal protein/plant-based protein products.

According to Errol Raghubeer, senior vice president of microbiomes and HPP biotechnology at JBT Avure Technologies, seafood is expanding significantly in Asia and Europe. “We are also seeing growth in the beverage category. That is what we call the immuno-shots that people are using to help increase immunity,” he explains. Raghubeer also sees tremendous growth in plant-based protein, whether it’s a meal, a single entrée item, or beverages like nut or oat milk.

Going tropical

Walter Nimocks is co-founder and CEO of Just Made Foods, which is one of many recent HPP success stories. The Texas-based company launched its juice line in 2017. Nimocks lived in South America for several years and was impressed with the variety of tropical juices, such as passion fruit, pineapple, papaya, and tamarind, that were available with each meal. “I always thought that it would be very interesting and potentially a good business idea to introduce tropical juices to North American consumers,” says Nimocks.

Just Made Foods produces juices in nine varieties in 1.8-oz bottles. Early this year, it plans to add SKUs in 1-liter bottles. Photo courtesy of Just Made Foods.Just Made Foods produces juices in nine varieties in 1.8-oz bottles. Early this year, it plans to add SKUs in 1-liter bottles. Photo courtesy of Just Made Foods.

“Many of the blends that we have at Just Made Foods utilize recipes that we learned in South America,” he adds. “Also, I’ve learned of several [juices] from Latin America and the Caribbean.” Today, the nutritious and flavorful juices are sold in retail stores in eight Southeastern and Midwestern states and also shipped directly to consumers.

“When I first envisioned the juice company, it was before HPP existed,” says Nimocks. Originally, he envisioned his tropical juices in a gable-top carton. But as he saw HPP technology advance, he discovered retail packs of avocado halves that had a 45-day shelf life. Then, the avocado-maker branched out to guacamole, juices in pouches, and other products. Intrigued by HPP, and after some research, Nimocks eventually found Texas Food Solutions, a company that provides HPP tolling, consulting, and cold chain distribution, located about 45 minutes away from his facility.

Texas Food Solutions worked with Just Made on proper HPP packaging design and reducing the number of leakers. According to Jasmine Sutherland, president of Texas Food Solutions, having a cap that fits the bottle and ensuring the correct torque on the bottle are important to preventing product loss due to leakers. Texas Food Solutions provides package performance information to its customers and, as a result, is able to keep leaker rates to a minimum. “Communication has ensured that almost all of our customers are running below a 1% leaker rate,” Sutherland states.

She says she was able to expand her business during the pandemic and is now tolling HPP goods 22 hours per day, seven days a week, due to increased interest in products with longer shelf life. In fact, the toller is planning to add a new, larger-capacity JBT Avure machine early this year.

The Avure AV-X is the world’s first expandable HPP machine, providing the right sizes for a facility’s specific operations and growth projections. Photo courtesy of JBT Avure Technologies.The Avure AV-X is the world’s first expandable HPP machine, providing the right sizes for a facility’s specific operations and growth projections. Photo courtesy of JBT Avure Technologies.

Because HPP equipment requires a stringent installation process, Texas Food Solutions’ tolling facility has a wall that can be removed for expansion projects. “We pull out part of the refrigerated wall; build a refrigerator inside of a refrigerator; move the machine in, sanitize it, acclimate it; put the wall back up; and then take down the box that we built inside the box,” says Sutherland. This allows her company to keep operations going during new equipment installation.

Today, Just Made produces nine SKUs of approximately 25,000 bottles a week in 11.8-oz bottles. Early this year, it plans to add four or five SKUs in 1-liter bottles using an overflow filler from Inline Filling Systems. After they’re filled and labeled, finished juice products undergo HPP, then distribution into the cold supply chain, and complete traceability until the products reach retailers, with services all provided by Texas Food Solutions.

Big and little gourmets 

Another HPP success story comes from a former Kraft executive and mother who wanted to feed her children great-tasting, healthy, and nutritious baby food. “When I became a mom, I really struggled to find food that I felt good about feeding my kids,” says Shibani Baluja, founder and CEO of lil’gourmets. At the time, she ended up cooking all of her children’s meals, with lots of different vegetables, ingredients, and flavors. As her children got older, she saw how differently they ate compared to other kids their age.

Baluja’s research showed that there was a high correlation between first foods and future eating habits. “We had this opportunity to shape how our kids ate as they got older, by introducing them to a variety of flavors and ingredients in infancy,” she explains. Baluja also discovered there were lots of other parents like her who were unsatisfied with baby food offerings.

After three years of research and a broad technical assessment, she launched lil’gourmets at the end of 2018. The company strives to expose kids to nourishing veggie-focused global foods, which not only provide them essential nutrients today, but also help them fall in love with vegetables and culturally rich foods for life, Baluja says.

Research and testing showed Baluja that shelf-stable packaging was not the way she wanted to proceed. After tasting other HPP products and experiencing their freshness, she decided that HPP was the only way she would get the quality and integrity she wanted for her products. Today, lil’gourmets products are produced by a contract manufacturer, then sent to American Pasteurization Co. (APC) for the HPP process. 

Launched as baby food in late 2018, lil’gourmets has products that also appeal to adult consumers who desire healthy snacks. Photo courtesy of lil’gourmets.Launched as baby food in late 2018, lil’gourmets has products that also appeal to adult consumers who desire healthy snacks. Photo courtesy of lil’gourmets.

During her research, Baluja found that a lot of HPP packaging was developed for larger products, such as 8 or 10 oz, in pouches. Baluja needed a 3- to 4-oz package and was not interested in using pouches. “I never could have imagined in a million years how difficult it would be to get a package,” she states, “but we went through a half a dozen suppliers who claimed to have packages that were HPP-compliant.”

APC advised lil’gourmets to test all potential packages. “We kept getting samples of these packages, and they kept failing,” Baluja says. After nearly a year of failed packages, lil’gourmets decided to create its own unique design—a square PET cup with custom molding—but it had problems with sealing. 

Baluja initially wanted clear seals on the packages, but one of her initial co-packers didn’t have that ability and used foil seals. Even after hundreds of foil seal tests, her HPP products would not work when full production started up. Lil’gourmets had to find another co-packer. So, not to delay product launch any further, the brand was temporarily packaged in a polypropylene cup.

Today, lil’gourmets uses a PET cup for clarity and safety, after partnering with Teinnovations to make Baluja’s packaging design work. “They really worked long and hard with us to test this and get us comfortable in what we would need with another capital investment to seal the [PET] cup,” she says. “About a year ago, we finally launched in the original vision of the cup.” 

Baluja’s advice to those entering the HPP market is to recognize the product and packaging interdependencies early on. “I was working with these R&D contractors, and one was very specialized on the food side, and one was more on the packaging side,” she explains. “I focused so much on the food side and getting the formulas right, I didn’t fully appreciate the complications on the packaging side.” 

Strong, reputable partners are also essential. Baluja says processors must be sure there are no compromises in the cold chain, as it can add to the cost of the production. “It adds to the cost of the product. And when your consumers see that added cost, you have to hope they see the added benefit.”

Lil’gourmets has discovered an interesting dynamic about its products: 50% are sold to adults without kids. The products have the consistency of hummus, and adults like them as healthy dips, say Baluja. “Our whole philosophy is based on kids should eat what adults eat. That’s the best chance we have of developing them into adventurous eaters and those who love veggies.” Lil’gourmets is available at select Target and Meijer stores in the Midwest, independent stores in Chicago, and on Amazon and the company’s website.

Technology advances in HPP

While HPP is primarily a batch process, Hiperbaric is beginning to launch HPP automation in Europe. Stijn Vervisch, CEO of HPP Belgium Services, which uses Hiperbaric equipment, says labor is a key cost in HPP. “The challenge for HPP Belgium, being an HPP tolling company and service provider, is to maintain the maximum flexibility and achieve the highest degree of automation,” he says. “By automating the canister unload, we can achieve a labor cost reduction of almost 50%. The ability to buffer before and after the HPP treatment has increased our overall equipment effectiveness [OEE] by approximately 25%.” 

In this context, buffering uses automation before and after HPP to load and unload product. According to Roberto Peregrina, Hiperbaric’s chief scientific technologist, “That automation reduces operational and labor costs, and depending on the type of packaging used, HPP total costs could be reduced by 30% to 40%.”

Hiperbaric recently launched its 55 model with design, accessibility, and reliability improvements that reduce maintenance and increase productivity, as well as the life of the equipment. The brand has two ranges of equipment: the in-pack technology for processing packaged products, which features up to five different process chamber sizes between 55 and 525 L, and the in-bulk technology that processes large volumes of bulk liquids before packaging.

Hiperbaric recently launched its 55 model with HPP design, accessibility, and reliability improvements that reduce maintenance and increase productivity. Photo courtesy of Hiperbaric.Hiperbaric recently launched its 55 model with HPP design, accessibility, and reliability improvements that reduce maintenance and increase productivity. Photo courtesy of Hiperbaric.

Another innovation is Hiperbaric 55 in-pack, the company’s smallest unit, which features a capacity of 55 L (14.5 gal) and 270 kg/hr (595 lb/hr). It is intended for companies interested in product development, market testing, small production, and niche or seasonal markets, as well as research centers.

The main challenge Hiperbaric’s engineers faced in developing this model was transferring and integrating all the company’s advances, without compromising the unit’s competitiveness, while retaining the same reliability and maintainability of the larger models.

“We focused on the redesign of several mechanical elements, such as the caps, wedge, yoke, and bedplates, that have allowed a clear improvement in reliability,” says Enrique Delgado, Hiperbaric’s mechanical engineer. “All the elements have improved safety and accessibility.”

The new model also improves process water cooling capacity to better adapt to customers’  recipes and requirements. Hydraulic management also has been improved, with smoother movements of the elements and a decrease in noise. Other technical aspects focus on optimizing the input and output belts, which are now configurable to adapt the peripherals. In addition, the drainage pipes have been connected to all elements for better cleaning of the work area.

Mechanical improvements have increased productivity levels and cycle times. Working at 6,000 bar and three minutes of pressure maintenance, the Hiperbaric 55 can perform 10 cycles every hour at 50 Hz and 10.5 cycles every hour at 60 Hz. “We have developed a more efficient and reliable machine in which we provide an integral solution, where the customer only has to [make] the necessary connections,” stresses Delgado. Hiperbaric’s technical team sets up the operation.

Software and communications facilitate problem diagnoses in situ or via telematics in all Hiperbaric models, with integrated communications (such as Ethernet and 3G) connected to Hiperbaric’s servers, allowing remote control and data monitoring in real time. In addition, the machinery can be easily integrated with other systems to get the maximum performance from them.

Positive pandemic result

Sutherland says her favorite thing about HPP is that it provides a second insurance policy. “That’s the really nice thing about it. You can make any product and have safe controls, but if a product has a likelihood of having a food safety issue, HPP adds an insurance policy on that.” For example, she says HPP might be good for an application a food or beverage processor sees as a problem child or something new it wants to produce that needs extra watching. 

HPP is opening up non-traditional products that are typically restaurant-based or have very short shelf lives, continues Sutherland, and it’s giving them the breadth to be distributed and sold. “All sorts of traditionally heat-processed products are getting new life with HPP. And it dramatically changes the flavor profile, and for the better,” she says.

Nimocks says he was surprised that he’s attained shelf lives that are way beyond his best-by dates. “We’ve recently done a study and have been able to extend our best-by dates to 75 days. But in reality, we can get up to 200 days.” 

As consumers shop less frequently to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, Sutherland says she has seen her business expand. Nimocks agrees. “I think the pandemic has really shone a bright light on good health. It’s also helped people to maybe recognize some ingredients that they might otherwise have not been interested in. I think that HPP enhances the nutritional qualities of our juices, as opposed to other methods like pasteurization, which can destroy nutrients and flavor.” 

Larger companies are starting to buy into HPP, according to Raghubeer. “In the earlier days, it was just basically smaller companies. But now, I think the technology is interesting enough, and it’s proven itself enough, that big companies are getting into it.” 

Companies including Starbucks and Coca-Cola have released HPP product lines. However, Hormel is still one of the largest companies using HPP, based on the amount of equipment it has and the acquisition of smaller companies that already use the technology, Raghubeer adds.

Woodward wishes we all had a crystal ball to predict the future of HPP post-pandemic. He thinks the food industry will continue to see strong demand for HPP products, such as the proteins and hummus consumers are eating at home more often. “But I think in the second half of 2021, we’ll start to see that big foodservice segment again, as long as people have confidence in the safety, and they feel more comfortable going out in public,” he adds.

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