Located in Elmsford, New York, just outside New York City, Barrie House Coffee & Tea is a family-owned and -operated coffee roasting company founded more than 80 years ago. Its long history and experience allow the company to provide customers with upscale branded or private-brand products.
Staying far ahead of the curve has always been the company’s mantra: It began producing flavored coffees nearly 50 years ago, then entered the medium- to high-end segment of the coffee market with products in flexible packaging more than two decades ago.
The company serves market segments, including national chain account, c-store, retail and grocery, vending, office coffee service, hospitality, foodservice and institutional customers.
According to Shay Zohar, director of sales and marketing at Barrie House for the past 15 years, “The business environment has changed” over the years and propelled many food and beverage processors to embrace transparency. The company achieved both USDA organic and GFSI certifications long before most other companies. “We were far ahead of the curve,” says Zohar, “and we realized we have to be transparent and produce a high-quality product.”
Today, Barrie House is the fifth-largest fair trade roaster in the United States. Third-party certification by Fair Trade USA ensures farmers get a fair price for their harvests, helps create safe working conditions, provides a decent living wage and guarantees the right to organize.
At Barrie House, more than 70 percent of its business is organic and fair trade-certified coffee. From its flavored coffees, 97 percent of its business is in all-natural flavors. Now focused mainly on private-label and national chain accounts, the company sees itself not as a co-packer, but as a vital piece of its customers’ businesses through training, certification and the art of providing a great cup of coffee.
“We’re not just grinding and roasting great coffee, but showing people how to repeat it outside” of the facility at some of the country’s leading retail outlets and coffee shops, says Zohar.
Science, automation, knowledge and execution
Constantly staying ahead of the curve is not for the faint of heart. Zohar, who has an electrical and programming background, wanted to advance the way coffee is processed and packaged in single-serve cups. The company wanted to move away from using sieves in the process and coordinated its research of the grinding process with Chicago-based Modern Process Equipment and the filling process with All-Fill, a filling, bagging and checkweighing equipment supplier based in Exton, Pennsylvania.
During the R&D process, Zohar wanted to know why grinders are so different from one another. Barrie House delved into particle analyzing and laser defraction technology and analyzed the shapes and facets of coffee particles, as well as TDS (total dissolved solids) levels. Research showed that the temperature during the grinding process becomes crucial when it is tied to the degassing process. Modern Process Equipment developed a vortex densifier and manipulated the degassing time that allows Barrie House to have more control over the final product.
According to Zohar, packaging is where the process becomes even more complicated. “When we decided to go with single cups, what we needed [equipment-wise] evolved,” states Zohar. “No OEM had ready-made solutions for us.”
Barrie House needed a partner company to commit to working with all the other vendors involved on the project. “All-Fill was proactive in R&D and helping to design the basis of our single-cup machines, including analyzing and eliminating the ‘noise’ that would affect the auger and the feedback loop.”
During testing, the processor gathered every product variation it thought it would run, which also meant many different filling speed rates. All-Fill created a custom auger solution that accommodates various types of coffees, teas and granulated agglomerated powders. The equipment delivers precise measurements, but is also very flexible in an extremely tight footprint. In addition, Zohar says line changeovers are a snap. “[The equipment] provides serviceability, is instantaneous, easy and safe.”
Precision high-speed load cells connected to the auger equipment communicate any cycle changes to the auger and how much coffee is dispensed. The auger takes every two filling cycles and dribbles the coffee back in via an innovative vibratory system, and then it moves forward, sustaining the exact level of coffee needed for filling within a millimeter or two.
“Vibratory technology connected to the surge hopper and the auger servo drives in conjunction with the high-speed load cells literally illuminates any instabilities during fill,” says Zohar. In fact, every vibration is done off-cycle, from measuring, checkweighing or filling — thousandths of a second changes.
“We did research on nitrogen at .5 percent or below and needed sensors for nitrogen in the auger itself,” says Zohar. “We wanted to view the product in every chain of event before it is sealed and look for weak points. All-Fill changed everything on how we dispense nitrogen into the auger, how we get in to maintain the level and diffuse the coffee.”
The biggest challenge of any auger is to move the coffee around. Usually, it requires two separate pieces of machinery, but Barrie House wanted to change that. The new All-Fill machine has one auger and is designed with a unique part that is built in on the screw. “Less is more,” Zohar says. “All-Fill removed parts from the auger and opened up the space.”
Almost zero defects
Because Barrie House changed the way it agitates coffee, All-Fill had to create a custom-shaped funnel and even the screws and lips on the equipment, sometimes with up to seven variations.
The coffee now goes into the capsule with no static. Barrie House uses a unique ionization process, built directly in the All-Fill auger, to diffuse and remove all the nitrogen.
Process precision and repeatability are key since Barrie House checkweighs every cup. The new packaging line provides the coffee processor with an average deviation of 0.06 to 0.054 gram.
Barrie House now has production waste runs that are less than a quarter of what they had been in the past. In addition, product sample time has been reduced by 45 percent.
The result is an extremely clean seal, no issues with grounds or dust, and a shelf-life extension from 12 to 18 months. In addition, downstream equipment efficiency has gone from 84 percent to 98.93 percent.
Barrie House received help from its vendors in integrating the line. PackLine top programmer Eyal Dafna synchronized and opened its coding with all the other OEMs on the project. Changes to the process are in a joint repository open to all the vendors involved.
The coffee processor uses a Netsuite ERP system. Automation is controlled by an Allen-Bradley controller through only one HMI. Data collection and connectivity on all line machinery allow QA staff to quickly address any problems. All servos on the auger have diagnostic capabilities. The result is connectivity and accuracy, adds Zohar.
A good relationship with the right vendors and choosing the right partners were key to the project’s success. “When a company opens its doors at 2 a.m. and gets a part here by 8 a.m., that’s amazing,” says Zohar of All-Fill. “The startup was a phenomenal success.”
Today, Barrie House is co-manufacturing for several high-end coffee makers. It has experienced triple-digit growth over the past decade and is planning to build a new facility with an expected completion date of 2019.