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tna looks back on the evolution of the snack industry as it celebrates 35th anniversary

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By Jenny Eagle+

20-Feb-2017
Last updated on 20-Feb-2017 at 16:13 GMT2017-02-20T16:13:22Z

The tna team celebrating its 35th anniversary. Pic: tna
The tna team celebrating its 35th anniversary. Pic: tna

tna was founded by Alf and Nadia Taylor, in Sydney, Australia, in February 1982, transforming the snack food industry by launching a high-speed vertical form fill system (VFFS) called the tna robag in 1985.

Today, the company supplies everything from covering fryers, freezers, conveyors, seasoning and coating systems to complete packaging systems with integrated metal detectors, scales, date coders, inserters, labelers and film splicing technology.

Food processing specialists

CEO Alf Taylor told BakeryandSnacks back then, nobody in the industry could imagine a VFFS system would ever achieve anything more than 60 bags a minute.

"They said ‘you’re crazy, that’s impossible’, but we knew our innovation would work.

It took a lot of knocking on doors, multiple rejections, quite a sum of money and a ridiculous amount of hours working out of a small shed at the back of Smiths chips factory, but in the end we did it,” he said.

We blew them away and delivered a system that not only doubled packaging speeds, but completely revolutionized the market. It’s been an incredible journey; I’m so glad we never gave up on our dream.”

The firm now employs over 500 people in 30 locations around the world and over the past five years has expanded with a number of strategic acquisitions, including the integration of food processing specialists FOODesign and Florigo, which produce frying equipment, including batch fryers and full French fry production lines.

In an exclusive interview with Alf Taylor, the co-founder tells us how the industry has changed over the last 35 years.

AT: One of the main things that has changed over the last 35 years is the sheer proliferation of products that are now available on the market. When we started tna, there were only a couple of big players in the snack industry and the choice of snacks was a lot more limited. Nowadays, there is so much creativity in the market. You still have the big players, but there are also a lot of smaller companies and they’re bringing some really good innovations to the market that are changing the way people think about snacking.

This also means that new products are developed, manufactured and introduced to the retail market much more quickly than ever before. Everything has become a lot faster, including the equipment used to package them. Bagging speeds, 35 years ago, were stalled at around 60 bags per minute; now we’re looking at machines that are capable of well over 200 bags per minute. It’s quite an achievement and we’re immensely proud that we were part of this change.

Another significant change we witnessed over the years is a move towards line integration. Before we started offering fully integrated systems, it was very common that each piece of line equipment was manufactured and installed by a different company. Back then, everyone focused only on the performance of their own equipment, no one really considered the whole line. However, a chain is only ever as strong as its weakest link. You can have the fastest equipment in the world, but when the rest of your line cannot perform or isn’t designed to handle those speeds, then your investment is dramatically reduced. The rise of automation and controls technology has helped overcome these challenges to a certain extent, but there is also a clear trend towards specifying equipment from a single supplier as manufacturers have started seeing the benefits this can bring in terms of performance, consistency, and ease of operation and maintenance. 

As an equipment manufacturer that provides solutions from processing all the way through to packaging - or from the potato to the bag of chips - we make sure all our products can be integrated as easily as possible; both in terms of hardware and software integration. Whether it’s a conveyor, packaging system, scale or metal detector, each component needs to be able to communicate with the other to ensure the entire production line operates at maximum efficiency.

BAS: Why is the industry changing so rapidly?

AT: One of the main reasons behind the growth of the snacks industry is the need for convenience. Our increasingly busy lifestyles have dramatically changed the way we eat. Nowadays, people rarely have time to sit down and consume a whole home-cooked meal or prepare an elaborate lunch. Snacks are the ultimate in convenience as they do not require cutlery, meal planning, refrigeration or cleaning up.

At the same time, increasing globalisation and the way we exchange information also played a role in diversifying the snack industry. People are a lot more exposed to other cultures nowadays and are more willing to try exotic flavours and unusual textures. This means snack manufacturers are no longer just catering to small, localised markets with very similar preferences, but need to appeal to a much broader, global audience with constantly evolving tastes.

BAS: What will the next 35 years foresee?

AT: The snack market is growing at an incredible pace and manufacturers need equipment that can get their products onto the shelves as quickly as possible. In particular, the desire for small bags of healthier snacks will increase the need for faster production lines as manufacturers need to package the same amount of product in more bags to retain their production volumes. There is a lot of room for innovation in this area and we expect line speeds to more than double within the next five to 10 years. Consumer demand for greater transparency will also drive equipment innovation in the processing category as more manufacturers will be looking for equipment that can produce healthier, more natural snacks, while allowing them to maximise the use of raw materials.

Another trend that will continue to dominate the industry over the next few decades is automation. Industry 4.0 and the idea of a “smart factory” are already gaining ground across the industry and we expect this to further intensify as manufacturers come to realize how this technology can provide access to data that will improve processes, lower costs, simplify logistics and inventory operations and help them respond to changing consumer demands more quickly.

At the same time, we expect to see more equipment flexibility. Consumer tastes change a lot more quickly these days, so manufacturers will need equipment that can easily change between flavors, pack formats and sizes. Although this can be partly achieved through more automation, equipment design will really come into its own over the next few years. Intelligent systems with only a few number of moving parts that can be easily swapped to accommodate different production runs will provide manufacturers with the flexibility and investment security they need to meet the demand of tomorrow’s consumers.

At tna, we’re proud that we’ve always been one step ahead. The first tna robag doubled bagging speeds overnight and we’ll soon be releasing a new generation of technology that will once again set new benchmarks in terms of throughput, equipment integration, reliability and flexibility. The past 35 years have been extremely exciting for tna and the snack industry and we’ll make sure that the next 35 years will be even more revolutionary. 

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