They are attempting to meet the demands of their clients, who are targeting consumers who are generally spending less time on meal preparation and are on the lookout for products they can prepare at home quickly and easily. A more recent trend is the growing markets for minimally processed foods and drinks, ones with fewer additives and preservatives but that still meet the demands for safer products.
Anuga FoodTec is a biannual exhibition of such processing and packaging technology, the counterpart of its sister show on food ingredients held on alternate years. Here, this week, the people who work among the grease and clang of plant machinery will be looking closely for the products and processes to help keep their companies ahead of their competitors.
Convenience food processing requires integrated food processing and flexible handling procedures during production, packaging and distribution, said Christine Hackmann, a press spokesperson for Koelnmesse, which organises the Anuga shows.
"There is also the prevailing trend to save costs, energy and resources," she told FoodProductionDaily.com. "This leads to the increasing application of robotics and automation."
Multifunctional machines, ones that can be adapted to process a variety of products, are part of the mix. For the production of ready-meals, soups and sauces, precise process control is crucial to ensuring quality. Ingredients must be mixed and heated efficiently. Vacuum mixing is one processing technique used in making blends homogeneous, without any lumps, froth or air in the mixture.
One machine aimed at doing a better job for such processes is the Tetra Albatch, which Tetra Pak has designed to handle every step of the production chain, from mixing and heating to cooling; condensing and de-aerating.
Stephan Machinery is displaying its Vacutherm system, developed primarily for producing delicatessen products. The machine can take on a nu,ber of steps in one operation and can process liquids and powders. It can also mix in chunky materials.
Meanwhile UK-based Zinetec is attempting to introduce a new autoclave system to the market, with its patented Shaka technology. Unlike conventional steam injection systems, shower and full water methods for sterilising canned products, Zinetec's method involves rapidly shaking the foods, while undergoing heating.
The intense agitation is designed to speed up heat transfer and cooling of the product during sterilisation, while keeping foods fresher looking than they would be under the processes used currently by industry.
Satori Stocktec, a Germany-based manufacturer of batch autoclaves, and French producer Steriflow are exhibiting pilot-scale machines produced under license from Zinetec.
The companies hope to ramp up to industrial-scale machines to cater for what they hope will be a demand for a whole new segment of shelf-stable foods that do not require cooling.
Meanwhile, over in another section of the exhibition, Heinen Freezing and Swedish refrigeration specialist IQF Frost are targeting those in the frozen food markets. New convenience foods, such as packs of pre-cooked, pre-salted portions of noodles, are being produced using recently developed techniques in cooling and refrigeration.
There are basically two techniques used in frozen food production. The individual quick frozen method allow consumers to only remove as many items from a pack as required. The block frozen method provides a longer shelf life to products.
The individual quick frozen method is used for loose fruit and vegetables; potato products, seafood and pasta. The process also creates new possibilities for manufacturers developing coated ingredients for use in ready-meals.
Using this method individual chunks of a foodstuff can be homogeneously coated with a sauce; a marinade or chocolate. The coating is applied with a spray of liauid nitrogen cooled to a temperature of minus 196C.
The liquid nitrogen spontaneously evaporates as soon as it touches the product, while removing 20 to 30 times as much heat than conventional freezing methods and leaving no effects on taste or appearance.
Packagers are part of the convenience trend. The increasing demand for snack portions, and assorted packs of existing products has led to the development of new types of convenience containers. The use of cartons to package products that were previously available only in cans or jars.
One such packaging is the Tetra Recart, designed to be resistant to heat and moisture. Using the material, developed by Tetra Pak, manufacturers can pack chunky foods with high moisture content in cartons and then autoclave them for sterilisation.
SIG Combibloc also produces a heat resistance carton for such foods. Its "combisafe" carton is suitable for vegetables and fruit, as well as ready meals.
The Anuga FoodTech exhibition runs until 7 April.