Trials ensure plant-based beverages maintain ‘genuine’ product character

One of the main benefits of working with our Product Development Centres is that you can test products on a small scale, knowing the results will be the same when you scale up for commercial production. This allows you to make informed choices when it comes to line equipment and process design. In this real-world customer case, we describe how testing two types of heat treatment technology allowed a South African beverage manufacturer to maintain the authentic flavour of its original products and save money on scale up.

Almond milk in glass

Starting with small-scale batch production

South Africa’s ButtaNutt company started off producing plant-based spreads to sell at local farmers’ markets, before expanding its portfolio to include plant-based beverages, which they now supply to some of the largest retailers in South Africa. Before scaling up operations, they were producing in batches using a conventional heat treatment system which gave their products a slightly ‘caramelised’ flavour.

Investment enables scale-up

Back in 2019, Pioneer Foods (now PepsiCo SA) heard about ButtaNutt’s local success and bought a share in the business. They have since increased their investment with ButtaNutt which lead the company’s two founders, who remained operationally in charge, to acquire a modern beverage processing line and boost production capacity.

Almond milk swirl and Indirect UHT unit DE

Choice of equipment

ButtaNutt came to Tetra Pak with an open enquiry. From studying various reference cases, they knew that direct heat treatment was commonly used for making high-quality plant-based beverages and they were keen to try it. But they were also open to discussing alternatives. We urged them to run a trial at our Product Development Centre to compare the difference in product flavour when using a direct versus an indirect heating system.

Results confirm hypothesis

We had an inkling that the effect on flavour of using an indirect heating system (i.e. tubular HEX) would give a product flavour closer to the one ButtaNutt’s consumers knew and loved. In addition, it would be more economical to buy and operate.

Sure enough, the trials showed that using the cheaper indirect heating system resulted in a slightly caramelised product flavour – much closer to the one ButtaNutt’s consumers were accustomed to. By contrast, using the more expensive direct heating system gave their products a ‘neutral’ taste; almost as though it had not been heat-treated at all.

Almond milk in glass

Better and cheaper!

Says Mats W Anderson, Commercial Manager, Plant Based, “The trials proved we could accurately replicate ButtaNutt’s existing product flavour with indirect heating. This gave ButtaNutt confidence in the transition to and end-to-end Tetra Pak Line.”

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