UHT milk has been a popular choice since it was invented in the late 1950s, thanks to its unique qualities, long shelf life and how easy it is to transport. It’s also seeing growth now due to the rising popularity of on-the-go protein drinks and other convenient beverages. Thanks to modern end-to-end solutions, it’s also more resource efficient and simpler than ever to produce.
The dairy industry is increasingly competitive thanks to ever-evolving tastes and innovative new beverages, so all producers must optimise their processes in order to achieve the best results. In addition, consumers are more demanding when it comes to sustainability, so it’s crucial to reduce environmental impact as much as possible at the same time.
The UHT milk industry is no different, but thanks to growing expertise and innovative technology, it’s possible to reduce environmental impact at the same time as seeing significant gains in production efficiency. Many producers around have changed their focus in recent years, and where previously they would first look for the cost benefits, they are now looking for the most sustainable choices as a priority.
Although the growth and popularity of pasteurized and UHT milk follow the same sort of trend patterns, there are huge differences between the two. Firstly, they tend to be popular in different territories, although beverages made with UHT are becoming increasingly global thanks to growing trends for things like on-the-go protein drinks. Secondly, the production process is different and requires special consideration when moving from pasteurized processes, but this is something producers don’t always think about.
“There are many different things to keep in mind for existing dairies that enter UHT production,” explains Bengt Eliasson, Business Development Manager at Tetra Pak. “The most important things to consider are that the milk needs to be UHT-treated and the package needs to be aseptic, with no room for mistakes. Another aspect of production, where gains can really be made, is the fact that production planning can be done in a different way entirely. Chilled milk producers process all products on a daily basis to limit the impact of expiry dates and the potential for wasted milk. That’s not necessary with UHT milk as the shelf life is so much longer, so it makes sense to produce larger batches continuously, only switching when necessary. Longer production runs mean less downtime and less product waste.”
It’s important to make the most of the specific benefits available with UHT milk production, and Tetra Pak has expertise covering every step from production to packaging. Newcomers to UHT production tend to face different challenges, relating more to establishing the right competences from the very beginning. In addition to the right knowledge and competence though, the right technology is essential.
To reduce environmental impact, it takes OneStep. All line solutions from Tetra Pak are not only designed for optimal productivity, but also engineered to be as energy efficient as possible. Whether it’s a total line, or equipment tasked with recovering waste or reducing water consumption, everything available to UHT customers optimises operational efficiency while also having a 38% CO2 reduction compared to a conventional Tetra Pak UHT milk production line..
“We are a little ahead of the curve in many ways,” says Lilly Li, Sustainability Manager for Tetra Pak, “as we have really put a lot of effort into measuring and reducing environmental impact. In terms of UHT milk processing, on top of many energy, water & product loss recovery solutions, we can also provide OneStep technology that drives environmental and production efficiency even further. This technology combines separation, standardisation, blending, heat treatment, and more in a single step. It replaces two-step heating processes with one heating step, and it ensures the same product quality and shelf life when compared to the traditional way of producing UHT milk. In addition to this, it reduces the environmental impact and shortens the processing time dramatically.”
From a line solution perspective, OneStep technology reduces the number of production steps for UHT milk products dramatically, and with that it reduces both operational expenses, thanks to fewer steps and more efficient technology, and capital expenses, as there is less equipment to install.
“OneStep technology can benefit most UHT producers,” adds Dick Evander, Line Solution Manager at Tetra Pak. “Dairy tends to be an industry based on strong traditions, so a producer has to be somewhat brave to implement this technology, but the benefits can be significant with costs being reduced by up to 50% in total.”
Sustainability Manager for Tetra Pak
OneStep lines are helping producers all over the world with their UHT milk production efficiency, and many of these are relatively new to UHT milk specifically.
“One large plant in South Asia was initially a supplier to the agricultural sector,” explains Bengt, “and wanted to move into dairy and UHT milk production. Because they had no existing opinions on what should and shouldn’t be done, they were open to a OneStep solution, and that has been highly effective for them.”
“There’s another customer based in Africa,” adds Dick. “We showed them the capabilities of a OneStep line and did all the calculations relating to what could be achieved, and they were very interested.”
“This customer also had a really clear idea of what they wanted to do – they wanted to become the most cost-efficient supplier of UHT milk to major retailers in the region, and they chose to work with 1 litre Tetra Brik® Aseptic Slim packages with ReCap opening in order to do this,” explains Bengt. “Thanks to their low production costs from the OneStep line, they quickly became one of the main players as they could offer retailer contracts at a competitive price.”
Read more about flexible and cost-effective production with OneStep technology
Line Solutions Manager at Tetra Pak
Sometimes installing an entire line is not feasible, but it’s still possible to improve operational efficiency while reducing environmental impact by adding innovative technology to existing lines, or by implementing service plans that help ensure downtime and waste are kept to a minimum.
“So many losses come from stops in production, water circulations and daily cleaning,” says Dick. “These are areas of existing lines where we can help operators make significant gains. For example, we know that adding one cleaning cycle will increase running costs by up to 20%, so optimising cleaning-in-place is key to reducing costs and controlling losses. We also have reverse osmosis systems where up to 80% of water can be recovered, and water filtering stations that can recover up to 95% of production water.”
This kind of technology can mean that even less efficient lines can be optimised in terms of waste reduction and environmental impact. In addition to this, a thorough service plan for any line can secure better performance over longer periods in UHT milk production.
Tastes are always changing, and even in more traditional product areas like UHT milk, there are always opportunities to stand out in a competitive market. Being able to adapt to any trends, or even better, set new ones, is very important for many UHT producers. With the right equipment, this flexibility is straightforward.
“Tetra Pak offers flexibility in many different ways,” explains Bengt. “Our lines are modular, so additional capabilities are easy to add whenever they are needed. For example, we can start with a basic line, but if we need to add new functionalities or customizations for specific needs, there’s room for that from the very beginning.”
Tetra Pak has the expertise to help producers optimise every part of production and packaging, not only in terms of efficiency but also in reducing environmental impact. Entire lines like the OneStep solution are energy efficient with minimal waste, while the aseptic packaging solutions are sustainable, easy to transport and keep the products inside fresh without the need for a cool chain.
UHT milk and products have significant potential all over the world, especially with modern, more efficient production methods and innovative packaging solutions that mean it’s not only cost-effective, but also reduce envirnomental impact. Add increasing automation capabilities to this, and it’s clear that for those at the forefront, the future is bright.
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