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Scaling up food production – The challenges that lie ahead

Ever wondered why there are preservatives in your food? Why the freshly chopped salad you made yourselves deteriorates so much fast than the store-bought one? How you can manage to scale up your (artisan) food product into a real business?

Welcome to the world of ‘scaling up’, in this case more specifically, the world of scaling up food production! Food is complex, super variable, never exactly the same and hard to manage properly. This becomes pretty apparent when trying to scale up your 1kg kitchen muffin recipe to 1000 kg continuous production. That little variation in moisture content of your flour didn’t matter with the small lot, but with a 1000kg it might have a huge impact!

Since it’s such a fascinating topic I decided to dedicate a whole new series to it in which we’ll be travelling through the world op food scale up. I hope to be learning a lot of new things myself and hope you will along the way.

The series will be written to help those wishing to scale up their food production, for those wanting to understand the food they buy in the supermarket (since that’s just about all scaled up) as well as for those working in food manufacturing and wanting to learn more on a specific topic.

The posts in the coming weeks/months will all evolve around parts of the scaling up process of food, covering the following topics:

  1. Recipe translation
    • Translating quantities
    • Finding the right/most suitable ingredients
  2. Process translation, getting it stable
    • Batch vs continuous
    • Limitations of larger scale
  3. Choosing appropriate packaging
  4. Shelf life determination
  5. Getting the label right
  6. Cost calculations
  7. Quality management
    • HACCP
    • Certification?
  8. Examples of scaling up

    Focus on science & technology

There is a lot more involved when scaling up food production than just getting your recipe and process working well. In the end the product has to get to the consumer and people will have to buy it. So logistics and marketing are very important in making it a succes (both are well described here). I’m a food technology and science expert, not a logistics and marketing expert, so we won’t focus on those two extensively.

What is scaling up (food production)?

Scaling up seems to be very simple and the question above might seem ridiculous to some of you. However, there’s more to scaling up than you might think!

Scaling up food production in its simplest definition is nothing more than increasing the size of your food production. Scaling up can be small: making 50 instead of 10 muffins, or big: making 10.000 instead of 10 muffins.

Scaling up simply says that you’re making larger quantities of your product in a similar time span. But scaling up will inevitably lead to changes in how you make your product along the way. If you make one bread a day now using your Kitchenaid mixer and your regular oven, chances are you won’t be able to make a 100 of those breads a day using the same methods.

Instead, you will probably need a bigger mixer, a larger oven and some smart system for shaping your breads. Your kitchen will probably be too small for the task ahead, so you’ll need another place to make your bread.

That’s when scaling up really kicks in! When doing these changes you’ll probably run into all sorts of challenges. The oven might have to be at a slightly different temperature, the larger quantity of dough might need more mixing time, etc.

Why scale up food production?

Simple answer first: you want to make more products to satisfy more customers, earn more income, offer more people a job, start up a real business.

A reason for properly scaling up is to become more efficient in your food production. At the same time, you still want your products to be safe, taste good and be finished on time. Without some smart scaling up choices and understanding that will be pretty tough for sure!

Two examples: chopped salad & preservatives

You might be wondering what those first two examples at the start of the post have to do with scale up. They are great examples of how a scaled up process has to change to remain sustainable.

1. Chopped salad

Let’s start with the chopped salad. When you chop your salad at home you’ll probably do so right before eating the salad. You’ll cut it with a knife and chopping board. You might want to save some for a day later, but that’s about it. However, if you want to chop salads for all supermarkets in your country, you’ll have to change your methods. You’ll use different equipment, but also, you’ll have to make sure the salad stays fresh for several days or you won’t have the time to transport it to your customers. Therefore a lot of these salads are packed in modified atmosphere packaging. This packaging makes sure the salad stays fresh for several days! It’s something you don’t need at home, but will typically need when scaling up!

2. Preservatives

That’s also where the preservatives often kick in. In order to produce large quantities and suple them efficiently, producers need to increase the shelf life of their food. They have to make sure it looks and is appealing until the end of the shelf life. That is one of the reasons manufacturers add preservatives.

 

Have a scale up question? Want some help on an issue you’re facing? Send me a note through our contact pages!

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