Semi-hard bulk cheese prices have been under constant pressure over the last decades. To meet the challenges this brings, controlling overall costs is key.
Most of the world’s semi-hard cheese is produced in Northwestern Europe. Industrial semi-hard cheese is mainly produced in the Euroblock format – 500 x 300 x 100 mm blocks – and cheeses include globally traded varieties such as Gouda, Edam and Maasdam. These are all well-known cheese types, popular among consumers all over the world – there is a strong demand for the product. Even so: to stay successful, producers need to aim for cost control, lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and to minimise risk of failures and unplanned downtime.
So how can they approach these challenges? Jurjen Van Den Berg, Portfolio Manager for semi-hard cheese here at Tetra Pak, explains.
“The main cost driver for semi-hard cheese production is milk as raw material. The milk accounts for 85% of the total cost. So, processing the raw material into profitable consumer products in an efficient way is of outmost importance. To build an optimal TCO, producers should strive to minimise losses, maximise uptime and optimise consumption of utilities like water, energy and chemicals. The capital costs of processing equipment actually have limited impact on the TCO. The crucial thing is equipment reliability. Hence, it’s not a good idea for cheese producers to compromise on investment budgets. Ideally, they should continuously evaluate their lines and look for opportunities to boost efficiency.”
Margins on the cheese market are under pressure. In addition to optimising their TCO, producers therefore investigate other revenue streams. There is growing focus on the value of whey. In fact, when it comes to bulk cheese production, whey is more profitable than the cheese itself.
“Thanks to its nutritional value and functional properties, high-quality whey can be processed into ingredients for other industries,” says Jurjen Van Den Berg. “Whey proteins are widely used in sports beverages, diet foods and muscle gain formulations.”
Whey proteins and lactose are also applied in many food processing applications. The unique qualities of whey can be used to increase water retention in bread, stabilise fat emulsions and ensure good browning properties in baked foods. Infant food is another fast-growing market, where lactose derivates like GOS and protein isolates are used. Special derivates from whey proteins and lactose play an active role in food supplements for children and elderly suffering from diseases related to malnutrition or allergies.
Food processing is a growing and demanding market. In the future, new and even more sophisticated applications will be discovered and developed, further increasing the demands on pure, bacteria-free whey of a high and consistent quality.
The role digitalisation plays in the food industry is increasing by the day. Enormous amounts of external and internal data become available, and can, with the right tools, be transformed into valuable information. This helps producers solve challenges and optimise output. It also means they can meet the growing demand on transparency. Today, more and more consumers expect to be able to get information on the product they are buying – its origin, its ingredients, how it got to the store and more.
Plant management systems like Tetra Pak® PlantMaster meet these challenges. This system can be fully adapted to specific customer needs. Also, it is future-ready and prepared for the next digitalisation steps, such as AI (Artificial Intelligence).
To meet the evolving and challenging needs from producers, Tetra Pak has defined three best-practice line setups for semi-hard cheese. They are all based on proven production solutions and utilize the benefits of digitalisation. Efficiency lines are configured for medium or high capacity. These configurations are suitable for customers that want to produce one format of cheese as efficiently as possible. There is also a flexibility line configuration. Jurjen Van Den Berg explains:
“Cheese producers can improve profitability by choosing to produce a wider range of cheese types and formats. They can anticipate, and act upon, market fluctuations and needs. With a flexible cheese line setup, smart plant control systems, optimised whey sourcing and integrated digitalisation features, they can be successful in today’s dynamic world.”