Bauer Funken is a family-run foodservice provider located in Kempen, Germany, about 30 miles from Düsseldorf. The company’s offerings have been a tradition in the area for more than 100 years.
“My parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, they all were farmers just like me,” explains company president Georg Funken. “We produce a lot of foods, primarily precut salads like coleslaw, especially for commissaries.”
In 2008, the company turned to innovative new modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) technology to package a variety of foods using machinery from ARPAC-Hefestus USA, a joint venture between ARPAC LP (www.arpac.com) and Hefestus Ltd. (www.hefestus-slb.com).
One reason Hefestus was selected was its fast six-week turnaround time, about half that of German machinery, Funken says.
The company began with a semi-automatic Hefestus Athena SLB™ manual MAP sealing machine, started up in June 2008. That proved successful, and in August, the company followed with a larger Hera SLB™ automatic linear MAP sealing machine.
SLB stands for Shelf Life Booster and is Hefestus’ registered patent for MAP achieved without mechanical vacuum. The technology promises shelf life-extending residual oxygen levels of less than 1% while maintaining production speeds and operational simplicity.
“The Hefestus machines are good, reasonably priced machines that work quite well,” reports Funken.
The MAP machines have more than doubled the products’ shelf life from three to seven days and have permitted Funken to expand its market reach throughout Germany.
Started with salads
Innovation is not new to the company or to Georg Funken. About 20 years ago, the company added precut salads to its product mix. “I traveled several times to California and Salinas Valley,” recalls Funken. “It was interesting for me to see that companies precut salad and sold it. I thought, my goodness, why not start in Germany also with these products?”
While Funken admits his company was not the first to produce precut salads in Germany, he believes it was one of the first. He says much of the initial sales were to overseas military personnel stationed in Germany. “The market became bigger and bigger, and we grew along with it,” he says. The company also evolved into primarily a foodservice provider, especially for university commissaries. “Students eat lots of salads,” Funken points out. “They are one of our main customers.”
Its prepackaged products are also sold at retail and convenience stores, including gas stations with a food bar. “These foods need a long shelf life,” says Funken. “We can get that controlled atmosphere with the Hefestus machines, and they work wonderfully.”
Before, the company provided its salads in bowls with snap-on lids. The manual packing method precluded the use of MAP, thus limiting shelf life and the company’s market reach.
“Without the shelf life, it would not be possible for us to be in this business,” offers Funken.
The salads are manually filled into clear recycled PET (rPET) salad containers and sealed using a polypropylene-based barrier film. “The clear containers enable consumers to see the product,” notes Funken, “and the film is much cheaper than the lids.”
The containers are supplied by an operation of MPC-MCO (www.mpc-mco.com.pl/eng/). The film supplier is a different, undisclosed company.
The main salad size is a 180-g (6.35-oz) net weight. Funken also uses the machines to pack sandwiches. It also packages precooked meals on the system, such as kale with sausage, carrots with potatoes, Savoy cabbage with potatoes, or leeks and Brussel sprouts. The products are prepared in another production area and then brought to the packaging area for sealing. Funken says precooked products carry a 10-day refrigerated shelf life. The company also packages products into larger containers that are sealed one at a time.
Funken typically operates both intermittent-motion machines simultaneously.
The salads are sealed two-up, while sandwich packs are sealed three at a time. A standard gas mixture of 70% nitrogen and 30% carbon dioxide is used, according to Funken.
Products are packaged at rates to 20/min. Funken says the rates are limited by the hand-packing operation done prior to sealing, particularly due to the addition of toppings, such as cheese and/or ham for the salads. “It has to look nice, so it takes some time,” he points out.
The tooling between the two machines for changeovers is interchangeable. “That’s really super,” enthuses Funken, who also likes the quick changeovers. “Those are very fast. It only takes a few minutes, maybe five minutes.”
Funken also appreciates the output, as the workers try to keep up with the machinery’s 10-cycle/min speed. “Without the machine cycles, they work slower,” observes Funken.
Typically, six Funken employees are working on the two packaging machines, three per line, depending on demand.
Thanks to the MAP machines, Funken products now are distributed much more widely than before. As Georg Funken states, “Now we get more customers.”
Machinery that can efficiently generate MAP and customers is an amazing thing.