International Confectionery’s Editor, Kiran Grewal, sits down with Manon Kerremans, Manager of the Tanis Confectionery Innovation Centre, and gives us insight into working with customers through trials and demonstrations.
Manon Kerremans studied food technology at university, and began her career working at an ingredients supplier, adding all kinds of ingredients to all kinds of applications. She was more interested in process technology and she was given the opportunity to work as a Process Engineer at Tanis Confectionery in 2016.
“I was given a job as a process engineer and I had an ingredients and food technology background, and we also have process engineers who have a technical or chemical background so together we formed a great team, thinking about products and ingredients and also about machinery innovations and how they marry together,” Kerremans explains.
“Then there was a vacancy in the innovation centre, and Tanis thought this would be a fantastic way to combine both my ingredient knowledge, practical knowledge from my previous company at the lab and now all the knowledge from the calculations and process engineering, such as which kind of pumps, stirrers and vessels do you need in a process design. At the end of last year they asked me to become the Manager here at the innovation centre because Tanis is growing very quickly – when I started here in 2016 there were 80 employees and we now have 200, so it’s doubled!”
Working together for optimal results
“We have a lot of different activities at the innovation centre. It really helps to convince new customers, so if a customer wants to buy machinery to make candy which is our main business, it’s great if we can offer them a way to visualise and find a technologist who will work with them to show the optimal recipe and optimal process and how this can work with quality and efficiency.
“This way, customers are able to do trials so we can show a new way of technology really gives them the same quality in their final product. It gives the customer confidence that we have a lot of knowledge and we are there to help them and do tests to reduce the risk, and give them all the information from a design and engineer point of view.
“We are seeing a lot of start-ups recently as there has been growth in the pharmaceutical confectionery business, so with vitamins, minerals, sleep ingredients like melatonin etc and also a lot of cannabis functionals like CBD oils. These customers are saying they are interested in health benefits but they want to make it into a candy, so we work with them to develop a recipe and the entire product line. They buy the whole concept and we work with them from the recipe to the whole process.”
Kerremans says they are also seeing many pharmaceutical ingredients that are usually in a pill or capsule format for food supplements, moving to a confectionery form and product. Customers are now looking to reformulate this pill into a candy, and asking Tanis to help them in the recipe development and finding the right process to suit their needs.
“In the US everyone prefers to take candy. Why swallow a pill if you can eat a nice candy, and why give your kids candy that isn’t functional when you can give them a sweet treat that has added health benefits like high vitamin C to boost their immune system for example. In the supermarket, functional candy is increasing so much that it is overtaking in size and range compared to ordinary candy. So, from a manufacturing point of view, you create a lot of added value.”
“One of the biggest developments I have seen since working at the innovation centre is the move to starch-free moulding. Liquid candy mass was previously deposited in a moulding starch tray, a tray filled with powder, and you can press the shapes in this powder and then the shapes filled with liquid candy mass will go in a curing room which detracts water from the candy and it will firm up over time. But, this dustiness and reusing of starch is something that pharmaceutical companies and startups don’t like, because it’s a really big handling system and it creates a question about cross contamination using the same moulding starch to make a sleeping aid candy would be used to create an energy-boosting product. How can you really ensure that nothing is touching each other when you’re reusing certain moulding starch – so there ended up being a move towards starchless cleanable process, where we deposit in plastic trays.
“However, depositing in plastic brings about a lot of challenges in development because the time consuming curing process, which extracted the water from the candy in the moulding starch is removed. So, you have to deposit at higher dried solids which could give viscosity problems and there is a risk of pre-gelling, which is moving too quickly from liquid candy phase to a solid candy mass. The demoulding also becomes more critical because you would need to remove the candies from your moulds within one to two hours, you need to take this candy piece from the plastic mould and treat it gently to be ready for the next process,” Kerremans explains.
Although it might sound like a more challenging process, starch-free moulding had provided some excellent benefits for confectionery production in regards to cleanability and reduction of floor space.
From raw ingredients to final product
“The biggest advantage we have and that we can give our customers, is by offering them the full process solution. There are many different types of machinery needed to create a candy product and all these elements need to be able to speak to each other. This way you have one supplier to talk to instead of a variety, and this one supplier can solve all your problems – if there’s one problem with one machine, we are able to stop the next machine and it makes the whole process much more efficient and reduces the risk involved in production.
Kerremans says automation is a huge asset to confectionery production, specifically when you can control machinery remotely and cut out the faults involved with human error. These days, many customers are increasing their volumes massively due to automating the systems, which of course is another benefit to having an integrated whole process solution, because if one machine was to have a fault, this would be at a huge cost to the customers, so the fact Tanis can manage it all under one supplier is a great way to reduce further risk.
Seeing growth even throughout a worldwide pandemic
“When I started at the innovation centre, we were constantly preparing for meeting with new customers week on week, and this was the normal way we operated. This year, we have a new colleague at the centre and he hasn’t seen a single customer here. Since coronavirus, there has been a huge difference in the way we operate and manage our customers’ needs, but it hasn’t been negative at all,” she smiles.
“Now we have a live stream where we will set the camera up on the pilot plans and we walk around with our headsets and talk our customer through it, and we use a manual camera so we can zoom in to every vessel and every ingredient, giving them a clear picture of exactly what is going on. In the past, we would only meet two or three customers because it is quite expensive to travel here and give up the time for this kind of research and development, but through the use of our live streams and remote meetings, we are seeing about 15 people from one customer are now joining our virtual pilot plant trials. They can all get to know Tanis, get to know our machinery, and we are meeting more people who will have a better understanding of our process and what we can do for them.”
Trends for the future
“Functional candy is rapidly increasing, since COVID the intake of these products have grown hugely due to its use of words like “immune-boosting” and consumers taking a closer look at their health and using vitamins to enhance this. Europe was quite behind in this market, but each month I notice there being more and more of these products in local pharmacies. We think the rest of the world will follow the increase we see in the US in taking food supplements in candy serving sizes.”
Image credit: Tanis Confectionery
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Editor, International Confectionery
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