When food producers see a new product come along and disrupt the industry the way oat-based beverages have, they can’t help but wonder: “How can we get in on the act?” There are two answers to that question: one is to buy a new processing line, such as our best-practice line for oat beverages; the other is to convert an existing line. Here’s a closer look at how to do the latter.
Selim Yildiz, category leader for plant-based beverages at Tetra Pak, said capitalizing on the surging popularity of oats will be easier for some producers than others.
“Converting from dairy to oat beverages is a relatively straightforward process,” Yildiz said. “But this will be much more complicated for producers of juices, nectars and still drinks (JNSD).”
There are a lot of similarities between the process and the equipment required for production of milk and oat-based beverages (sometimes referred to as dairy alternatives). Ultra-high temperature (UHT) treatment, for example, is similar, but the process must be adapted to the different composition of oats.
This scenario offers the fastest time to market and gets your products on the shelves with the lowest possible capital expenditure (CAPEX). The upgrades described here are valid for both direct UHT units and indirect UHT units:
“The aim is to achieve a gentler heat treatment with a lower delta T to minimize fouling,” says Yildiz. “Aseptic homogenisation is preferable, as that gives the end product a smoother mouthfeel and prevents sandiness
” Yildiz estimates the total timeline for integrating the new process — including equipment installation, software updates and other details such as recommissioning the plant — could be four months or more, depending on existing equipment and site conditions.
In this case, the oat flour needs to go through an enzymatic treatment step. Therefore, a Tetra Pak® Extraction unit without the grinding unit needs to be added. The total cost of ownership (TCO) is improved; however, the investment cost is significantly higher compared to the first scenario.
Similar to Scenario 2, the oat grains or flakes need to go through a grinding step followed by an enzymatic treatment step. A Tetra Pak® Extraction unit with all sub-units needs to be added. TCO is maximized, but keep in mind the initial investment cost is highest. This line setup is recommended to producers if the main SKUs will be oat products and there must be a certain production threshold for quick return on investment (ROI).
For JNSD producers, converting an existing production line to add oats can be more complicated and expensive.
“There are a lot more things to consider, from upgrading the self-CIP function of the pasteurizer, to converting the pasteurizer to a UHT unit, to adding a homogenizer,” Yildiz said. “Each specific site and existing equipment upgrade details should be evaluated very carefully. When you look at those costs and complexities, you may want to think about buying a new complete UHT line instead.”
In addition to the dairy-specific points described above, JNSD producers should also consider the following:
Yildiz advises liquid food producers of all shapes and sizes to carefully weigh the pros and cons of converting or investing in a new line before expanding into oat-based beverages, and in both cases to work with a trusted vendor to make the transition.
“Whichever path you choose, you need to be aware there is a considerable investment in time and resources required. But it could still be easier than you think, and the huge and growing consumer demand means for many producers the investment is absolutely worthwhile.”