State-of-the-art solutions and cutting edge technology – those are things that are at the heart of what Tetra Pak does. But it is not innovation for innovation’s sake: it is driven by customer needs. Lammert Bloemsma has been with Tetra Pak for 20 years, and is now managing the department of product and application development.
“We not only develop equipment, we also look at different applications – how can we make a cheese type in a different way? What other processes can we use to produce a certain cheese? It is not just about stainless steel, it is also about technology.”
So how does Tetra Pak work with customers to develop new solutions? Turns out it is a balancing act, and partnership is the perfect answer.
“With cheese, it can be fairly difficult to develop something that is spot on from a timing perspective. You always have to be careful that you're not going too far, or that you're being too conventional. We have had groundbreaking ideas turned into great projects, but there have also been times when our ideas were too visionary. There must be a balance between our curve of development and the customer’s curve of interest. The curves shouldn’t be an exact match, then there’s no innovation, but we shouldn’t be too far ahead either. So we try to develop and innovate closely with a customer, and include them as a partner in the project. This way, they can give input to the solution and influence the decisions.”
A collaborative approach to innovation helps create solutions that align with market needs, in other words. Customer involvement is a key aspect in Aaron Nutsford’s work too. He is a Commercial manager for Cheddar and Mozzarella, and his team has three key functions: to offer sales support such as machine specifications and quotations; to manage the product portfolio, which includes the full product lifecycle and topics like hygiene, food safety and sustainability; and to support customers from concept to completion with technical line solutions.
“Innovation is a key part of what our whole team does, and we have a process that maps out and captures innovation and development needs from the customers and markets. There are four main areas – the product life cycle, product creation, which is about developing new products, and tools to capture technical development needs and product development needs.”
Joanna Ilczyszyn, who also is a Commercial Manager but for the semi-hard and fresh cheese categories, adds:
“The PDN – Product Development Need – process is about capturing data from the markets and producers, and translating that into solutions. And then we prioritize those potential developments, look at them from different perspectives, and then we nominate the product we would like to develop. Doing this, we need to ask ourselves questions like ‘what does this bring to the market?’ and ‘Is this what the producers really wanted?’.”
One of these captured needs was a request from a customer who wanted to produce small-size mozzarella cheese. The Tetra Pak team started by building a small mould. Then product tests were conducted to ensure that the products could be discharged from the moulds, and when results were satisfactory a new product was born. Other examples include a customer that wanted to centralize the services in a CIP solution, and the development of a secondary fine screen for Tetra Pak’s belt solutions. This ensures that less whey go to low-end purposes, as it captures the fines from the whey and puts it back on the belt.
“We have also developed our own line concept for feta-type cheese. It is an end-to-end solution where the cheese is filled at the end and coagulates in our package. And we have an ongoing project where we are developing a module that can handle cutting of long cheese blocks, close to one meter,” says Joanna.
“We are sometimes driven by input from market research, but generally, the projects we prioritize and bring to the top of our roadmaps originate in customer needs. For example, we've recently been looking at surface treatments for cheesemaking in response to requests from customers to remove coatings. That is about food safety,” says Aaron.
While a word like “groundbreaking” is closely tied to the concept of innovation, it is also critical to remember what already is there. New stuff needs to be compatible. Lammert again:
“It is important to develop in a way that makes it retrofittable to existing equipment. One benefit here is that we prolong the lifetime of the equipment and make it more sustainable in the long term. Another advantage is that it becomes a lower investment for the customer, as they can buy certain parts of equipment instead of everything at once. And for us, this creates the benefit of a shorter time to market. A full development project takes a long time and is costly. But when we develop something smaller, like upgrades, we can reduce our time to market. The smaller the steps, the shorter the time to market.”
Tetra Pak collaborates with a number of renowned universities. This is another important part of the innovation toolbox. Aaron Nutsford explains:
“We've done a significant amount of industrial testing and modeling with major customers. Working with universities improves speed to market, provides valuable information for scale-up and proof of concept.”
Other partnerships include industrial collaborations, manufacturers and ingredient houses.
“We’re working to secure partners to ensure that we’re a one-stop shop for our customers.”
In addition to input and insights through interactions with consumers, research is a natural source of market intelligence. Tetra Pak cooperates with leading suppliers of food industry intelligence and sponsors research as well. Information about production, consumption patterns, growth areas and market trends are gathered and shared with customers. And the insights also serve as important input to the innovation pipeline.
Striving for more sustainable production is not just a question about meeting consumer demand and complying with environmental legislation. It is more fundamental than that. Sustainability may sometimes be looked upon as a topic of its own, but Lammert Bloemsma explains a more holistic view; one that goes beyond being reactive.
“Sustainability is not an add-on. It should be – and is – embedded in everything we do. We always look at reducing cleaning time, energy consumption and product losses when we develop something new. This is not just supporting the environment, it also has a direct positive impact on customer operations. For example, if we can cut cleaning time, we use less detergents – and increase uptime.”
Aaron Nutsford emphasizes the link between reduced environmental impact and more efficient operations.
“We were looking at optimizing the cooling of mozzarella. So why is that important? Well, if we can be more efficient there, we have less brine to cool and clean, we have less wastewater to deal with. So this also positive effects on environmental impact and operational performance.”
Lammert emphasizes the value of experience.
“Our dairy technologist and automation engineers are in the forefront and in their line of work, experience is what really counts. Starting up new equipment, root cause analyses ... the more experience you have, the easier it is to solve certain challenges.” Furthermore, global presence and a large organisation bring many synergies.
“In the Americas, we've got half a dozen technologists that work closely with customers on a daily basis. And we can leverage off all our cheese subcategories, we're able to pull knowledge for different or new applications. And there’s also our entire portfolio. We can leverage off our experts and teams in filtration, ice cream, prepared food ... for example, we're working with the filtration team on continuous curd manufacturing. In ice cream, there are things like spiral coolers, large ingredient addition and extrusion technology that we can use in our innovations. And with we’ve done a lot of work on vegan cheese with our center of expertise for mixing – we have pilot plant facilities, and we’ve done seminars where we make, formulate and taste vegan cheese,” says Aaron.
What about new technology?
“A part of product portfolio management is developing new products. One example is our dry cooker for mozzarella. We’ve invested 20,000 R&D hours, working with maintenance personnel, technologies, customers and universities. It’s the first of its kind, with inline measurement, ingredient dosing, high hygiene and flexibility – it’s future-proof,” says Aaron.
And digital tools opens up for new insights. Lammert exemplifies:
“There are 3D engineering tools which have increased the quality of our equipment, and machine learning that helps us analyze huge amounts of data in a way we would never be able to do ourselves. With our decision scientist team we can find correlations otherwise might be overlooked. This gives tremendous opportunities for our customers to improve their plant performance.”
“When working with Tetra Pak, you get access to this wide range of scope. We’re looking at the whole lifetime of your investment. We’ve got a proven track record and hundreds of years’ combined experience that we can bring to the journey with our customers,” concludes Aaron.