As the U.S. economy continues to take a hit from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, one area of the food and beverage manufacturing industry is humming along relatively unscathed. Many manufacturers and suppliers in the high pressure processing (HPP) sector are thriving as consumers stock up on HPP food and beverages while they wait out the crisis quarantined in their homes.
Texas Food Solutions, an HPP tolling service, has seen increased demand for its services during the pandemic. The Katy, Texas-based company says it has been working with more food and beverage manufacturers recently to develop products suitable for HPP, such as nondairy-based nut dips and juices. In addition, Texas Food solutions is using HPP to process more staple items like proteins, dairy milk alternatives, and cooked sides.
Jasmine Sutherland, president of Texas Food Solutions, credits the boost in consumer demand for HPP products to the unique benefits the cold pasteurization process offers. Instead of using heat or preservatives, HPP involves submerging packaged food and beverage products in potable water and applying up to 87,000 psi of isostatic pressure to pasteurize food and beverage products. The extreme pressure of this nonthermal, natural pasteurization technique destroys pathogens like E. coli, listeria, and salmonella and extends shelf life while maintaining the product’s nutrition and flavor.
“We can keep customers abiding to stay-at-home orders by making sure their fresh products last and they aren’t having to grocery shop every three days,” Sutherland says. “HPP delivers a tremendous shelf life increase—up to 600%. And with pathogen reduction, we also limit their exposure to foodborne illnesses.”
Just Made, which uses Texas Food Solutions tolling services, has seen the sales of its cold-pressed juices increase about 10% to 15% overall since the start of the year. The Houston-based manufacturer produces juices made of fruits, vegetables, and functional ingredients that are inspired by popular recipes from the Caribbean and Latin America. It sells them to grocery stores; coffee shops; and institutional foodservice organizations, including hospitals and universities, in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, Just Made experienced a decline in foodservice sales. However, the company has been able to offset that with substantial increases in online and retail sales. “As of around May 10, for sales, we’re about 50% to 60% higher than we were pre-COVID,” says Walter Nimock, founder and CEO of Just Made.
HPP equipment manufacturers are also staying busy during the pandemic, providing aftermarket support and maintenance for their food and beverage manufacturing customers who are running their production lines at higher volumes now. “It’s been hard for them a little bit because they’re running really hard. So for them to do preventive maintenance is tougher,” says Kevin Kennedy, North America sales manager for JBT Avure, a supplier of HPP equipment. “So we’re really just racing around trying to help our customers as best we can as they relearn their businesses and adjust to market changes.”
To meet increased demand for HPP products during the COVID-19 crisis, manufacturers and tollers have had to adjust their day-to-day operations to keep their workers safe. For example, with 12 employees total, Just Made ensures safety on the plant floor by following guidelines recommended by the state government of Texas. The company screens employees every time they come in, asking them if they have experienced coughing, fever, and other symptoms of the coronavirus as well as whether they have been exposed to anyone with the virus. In addition, they must wear personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, wash their hands often, and stay six feet away from each other at all times.
Texas Food Solutions has also implemented precautions to keep its 50 workers safe as it accommodates increased demand for its tolling services. The company designated a team leader to review government regulations and recommendations from professional organizations. Based on those guidelines, the team leader developed and implemented best practices to prevent the coronavirus from infecting employees. They include checking the temperatures of employees; staggering shifts to have less people on the plant floor; retraining employees on proper glove, sanitation, and personal hygiene procedures; and increasing sanitation in all common areas. Texas Food Solutions is also compensating employees if they or family members are sick to encourage them to stay home. In addition, the company documented and translated all of its COVID-19 best practices into the native languages of their workers: English, Spanish, Korean, and Burmese.
“Equally as important, once we had a plan, we communicated it to our customers so they knew they would not see an interruption in service from Texas Food Solutions,” Sutherland says.
On the rise
Although HPP products are popular now, manufacturers and suppliers predict the momentum will continue once the pandemic is over. According to Lisa Wessels, chief marketing officer for JBT Avure, the compound annual growth rate for HPP equipment will increase 15% to 20% for the next few years. “There are many parts of the world where the technology of HPP is still emerging,” she says.
“HPP has been trending up for a while,” Sutherland concurs. “More products entering the marketplace are requiring a fresh, nonheat-treated [pasteurization] process, and there is a demand for cleaner label products.”
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