What started off as a small abattoir in Aalestrup, in the northern Jutland province of Denmark, has now turned into a fully operational meat processing company operating under the name Himmerlandskoed. At present around 50 employees are involved in the deboning, mincing, and packaging of high-quality beef, veal, and pork, 90% of which still comes from the original slaughterhouse in Aalestrup.
Minced meat is a popular item produced at the plant, so management contacted equipment distributor Nemco for help in designing a line for packing minced meat under modified atmosphere. Nemco recommended that a Model A6 traysealer from Sealpac be placed at the heart of the line.
Being a medium-sized company, the main requirement at Himmerlandskoed was flexibility in production. As Soeren Andersen, co-founder and director, explains: “One minute we will be packing a large order for retail packs of minced meat, the next minute we may be producing small batches of volume packs for varying products such as burgers, liver, or goulash dices. The line had to be set up in such a way that we would even be able to manually pre-load trays and place them on the in-feed conveyor, after which they would go through the regular process of sealing and labeling.”
One of the things that led Himmerlandskoed to the Sealpac A6 traysealer was its quick tooling exchange system.
“When running different tray sizes and products on a single day, it is crucial that tooling exchanges can be performed by our operators fast and easy,” says Andersen. “Sealpac’s quick exchange system, which requires no hand tools and can be done by our biggest man or our smallest lady, made the difference. It was demonstrated to us when visiting Nemco’s showroom and convinced us right away.”
Himmerlandskoed appreciated Nemco’s experience in setting up complete lines consisting of machines from a variety of equipment suppliers. The main items in the current line are two Vemag systems (one for portioning blocks of minced meat and one for portioning burgers), a Carso denester, Sealpac traysealer, and an ELS (www.european-labelling-system.de) labeling system. The line was designed in such a way that the portioning systems for minced meat and fresh burgers can easily be exchanged.
“Working with Nemco meant that everything was arranged centrally by them,” says Andersen. “We would never have been able to do this ourselves.”
Nemco fully supported the installation of the minced meat line, including training of the operators. A challenge in designing the line was limited space, says Andersen. “In the end we came up with a process that requires 90 degree turning of the trays twice. At the start of production, these corners proved to be a limiting factor when running large orders at high speeds. Nemco came over to fine-tune those critical areas and installed a simple pushing device that gave us a 50% boost in production.”
Other changes made by Nemco as Himmerlandskoed went through the learning curve of the installation included an online gas mixer that was bought to replace pre-mixed gas tanks. Nemco is also looking at reducing the time it takes fto change both top film and labels. Furthermore, Himmerlandskoed is considering the installation of a conveyor to have the freshly minced meat directly transported to the packaging line, instead of pushing trolleys from one production area to the other.
The firm produces 3-kg (6.61-lb) trays for Danish wholesalers aiming at restaurants, office kitchens, and canteens. Both minced meat and fresh burgers are supplied in this gastro tray, which measures 325 x 265 mm (12.8 x 10.45”). In addition, the company packs minced meat in trays of 500 g (1.63 oz) for retailers. Here, the standard in Denmark (as well as in various surrounding countries) is the 190 x 144 mm (7.5 x 5.67”) tray. Both tray sizes are sealed with Sealpac’s unique InsideCut system, ensuring a perfect pack presentation whilst minimizing film usage at the same time.
By using a common gas mix of 80% O2 and 20% CO2, Himmerlandskoed’s shelf life is eight days after production. “As the mincing of the freshly deboned meat takes place in our factory without the use of additives, our raw material is as fresh as it can be,” says Andersen. “This makes Himmerlandskoed stand out in an otherwise price-driven market segment. Or as our logo states: The best bite of Denmark!”
Although there are discussions within the Danish industry about easy opening of fresh meat packs, most of these packs are still supplied without a peel tab. Andersen says he’s staying on top of this issue as it develops. One change he does anticipate is a transition from black trays to transparent trays. “It gives consumers a clear view of the product,” he observes. He also anticipates growth in vacuum skin packaging for some fresh meat products. It allows for vertical presentation at retail. Minced meat, however, will most likely remain a market for modified atmosphere packaging, he adds.
A very important issue at Himmerlandskoed is traceability. Each of its meat packs has a 2D bar code printed on its pressure-sensitive label. The printing is done by an Easy Coder PX41 from Intermec. Consumers can scan it by means of their smart phones. It will lead them to a website, where they can read the full history of the meat inside the pack. This includes the origin of the animal, the location where it was deboned, and the carbon footprint for producing the pack.
“We want to stay ahead of the domestic meat market and will continuously search for the latest sustainable technologies,” says Andersen. “As an example, we would like to reduce the price for packing our trimmings in shrink bags by moving to fully automated shrink packaging on a thermoformer. Here, too, Nemco and Sealpac will be able to help us out with the right solution.”