Speaking to FoodProdcutionDaily.com, Steve Hirzel, president of the family-owned and operated company, which produces the Dei Fratelli brand, said it continues to package its signature brand tomato products in the traditional can but has created a line in environmentally friendly cartons ‘generating renewed enthusiasm‘ in the shelf-stable tomato category.
"We don't think the canned food business is going away. The can is a viable, efficient and reliable method of preserving tomatoes and tomato products,“ said Hirzel.
"Of course it is a very mature industry with fewer and fewer players but the quality and variety has never been better.
"However, we can see there is a growing segment of consumers that are not satisfied with the can or have never purchased a can of tomatoes. They are asking for packaging that demonstrates innovation, is earth friendly with less of a carbon footprint, is renewable and offers convenience.“
Waiting for consumer feedback
He added, the firm needed a filler that could offer larger carton sizes (500ml to 1000ml) and handle particulates in light purees that consumers demand without going to a complete batch retort system.
"This is an extension of the Dei Fratelli Truly line as we have developed products that can only be created through this aseptic sterilization and filling process. Now it is up to the consumer to decide if we are meeting and exceeding their expectations,“ said Hirzel.
He explained, like all food processors, the company is constantly looking at continuous improvement and finding ways to lower costs, increase output, improve safety, preserve the natural flavors of the raw product and offer variety that the consumer is expecting.
"Much of the canning machinery is designed to run at high speeds with reliable efficiency to support a "ramping up" during harvest, " he said.
Purchasing used equipment
"Canned tomatoes are the life blood of our operation. Since this is such a huge capital intensive business the ability to strike out into new packaging and processing technologies can be difficult for many companies."
Hirzel added over the years the company has been successful purchasing used equipment and modifying and enhancing its capabilities both mechanically and electronically.
He said automation from the harvest to the final package in the warehouse has advanced the "mature" canning industry.
All the tomatoes at Hirzel Canning Co. & Farms are mechanically harvested and then unloaded at the processing plant with water by floating the tomatoes out of the gondola's.
"At this stage the advancement of electronic sorting technology has dramatically improved the quality of the final product, not to mention the throughput gains, " he added.
"We have developed aseptic capabilities and experience for over 30 years now. We believe this technology will continue to grow due to its effectiveness of sterilizing food products with minimal time/temperature exposure and overall efficiency. "