Consumers in the United States are eager to return to pre-pandemic lifestyles, and so many are starting to gather with friends and family members once again. Alongside this trend, they are increasingly interested in creating their own chef-prepared, restaurant-style meals at home. As the summer holidays come around, convenience ready meals and kits are high in demand. This comes at a time when food processors are struggling to hire workers. Many food processors caught in this labor challenge are making strategic decisions to automate certain processes without compromising their ability to meet consumer demand. That is what makes the Marlen Spiral Chiller and Freezer so appealing to food processors: it is a “plug-and-play,” short-lead time, compact machine, that in many cases reduces operating costs and the need for labor. This industrial unit offers chilling or freezing faster and more hygienically than batch processes. With reduced labor, increased product yield, and food-safe design features, Marlen’s Spiral Chillers and Freezers are well-suited to meet this moment in consumer demand.
Consumers Demand Quality Ready-Meals, Chilled and Frozen Protein
Consumer preferences are shifting post-pandemic. US consumers have revealed a strong demand for bold flavors and quality ingredients this barbeque season. This is related to traditional protein categories which are all up relative to 2019 and 2020, though fish and chicken are up over red meat this summer. Additionally, alt-protein categories are up, as well as ready-made barbeque dishes.
This is part of a larger trend of consumers wanting to prepare more foods to eat at home despite rising rates of vaccination: according to a recent Food Industry Association survey, 41% of participants indicated that they intend to prepare more meals at home than they did prior to the pandemic. This signals that the trend of dining at home—and away from crowds—is here to stay for the time being. This means that there is a growing demand for ready-meals and convenience meal components which consumers can use to prepare meals at home.
Mechanical Refrigeration Saves on Operating Costs and Chill/Freeze Times
The use of mechanical refrigeration like Freon or Ammonia by the Marlen Spiral Chiller and Freezer reduces overall operating costs as compared to cryogenic freezing like Nitrogen or CO₂ gas. Furthermore, compared to other solutions, all internal enclosures on the Chiller and Freezer are fully welded. The Clean-In-Place (CIP) system has a built-in belt wash and uses a hot steam sterilization step post-CIP to keep the inside of the production machine free of pathogens. Steam vapor heat sterilizes the innermost portion of the evaporator coil where it is hardest to clean. This provides extra insurance toward pathogen-free equipment. As a result, the risk of product recall is reduced. This food safety feature protects consumers while also helping food processors to avoid the cost associated with product recalls.
The design of Marlen’s Spiral Chillers and Freezers also reduces overall product chilling and freezing times while also saving on labor. Marlen’s Spirals are naturally more efficient by design, being a cubic chamber with smaller infeed and exit points than their linear counterparts. The continuous belt conveys the product through the process without the need for racks or product handling.
On units with three evaporator coils, a sequential defrost of the evaporator coils allows each coil to be used effectively and allowed to defrost without altering the chilling time of the product. This sequential defrost feature allows each coil to defrost individually in a cycle: while one of the three coils defrosts, the other two will not allow the temperature to change in the product zone. By having each coil defrost in sequence, this reduces the down time that would otherwise be needed to defrost all of the coils at once: this also translates directly into savings on operating costs.
Increase Yield and Protect Product Shelf Life with Marlen Spiral Chilling and Freezing Food Processing Equipment
Due to their ultra-hygienic design, product shelf life is less likely to be compromised by cross contamination by using Marlen Spiral Chillers and Freezers. By using food processing equipment that is regularly sanitized with its CIP system, belt wash, and hot steam sterilization, the integrity of the product is maintained.
Products chilled or frozen in a continuous process also tend to have a higher yield than a batch process. The Marlen system uses multiple high velocity variable speed fans to gently move air through the cabinet in a 360° horizontal pattern, which provides a reliable solution for targeting consistent product core temperatures with optimal moisture retention. By moving fast, cold air over the product, Marlen Spirals can operate at higher temperatures than static air systems and yet reduce the product’s core temperature more quickly. The faster the outer boundary is chilled, the less energy travels to the product’s core. Keep in mind that evaporation from the product is halted once the surface temperature is below 20°F (-6°C). The air circulation pattern inside the Marlen Spiral tends to eliminate “hot spots,” and the product temperature can be reduced more evenly. Temperatures are consistent across the full width of each belt tier and from top to bottom of the chamber. In general, reduced residence times result in less cell damage in the product and higher yields. This also results in faster chilling and freezing times for food products.
The chilling process for consumer goods is essential for providing consistent, high-quality products that meet consumer expectations and satisfy demand. Marlen’s Spiral Chillers and Freezers will help food processors meet these recent changes in consumer demand while maintaining the integrity of their products.