Keeping it keen

A poor workman, so the saying goes, always blames his tools. Thankfully that isn’t the case for butchers, who have been using tools and machinery on-site since their inception. But, as the recession has proved, we have all got to start working harder, for longer and for less in some cases.

The same can equally said about the tools of the trade. Where once a butcher might have purchased the latest mincer, cutter or slicer, just because they could, they are now starting to look at getting more out of the equipment in which they invest.

As Roger Kelsey of the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders (NFMFT) explains, butchers are thinking hard about the kit they use in their stores. “A key facet that most butchers will consider is usage,” he explains. “They want to know that they machine they are about to buy is up to the job. Of course that depends on how frequently it gets used. Is it going to be three times a day or 50 times a day?

“Is the machinery relatively reliable? Or am I going to have be paying for repairs? One of the only problems that most butchers encounter is when it comes to parts. Are they still available for the type of mincer, cutter or slicer they use in their shop?

“Costs vary from the high-end kit to the more budget scale. As with all industrial equipment, the cost is dependent on the volume of sale. But increasingly, in recent years, suppliers are offering leasing agreements and finance deals in a bid to improve the situation.”

Most commentators agree that, despite the downturn, the machinery sector to high street retail butchers remains viable. But that does not mean that the major suppliers and producers have rested on their laurels. New product development, innovation to existing technology and working on costs have resulted in as wide a variety of machinery available is there has ever been.

One company to work on bringing in machines from different geographical areas is Superior Food Machinery (SFM), the Manchester-based supplier run by the Garner family for the past 30 years. Last year it introduced a Torrey mincer-grinder from Mexico, which has been extremely popular. A key facet of its popularity is the price – at less than £1,000, the machine caters for the budget end of the market. But despite the relatively low cost point, the Torrey mincer-grinder has enough oomph under its bonnet for a butcher, with a 500kg/hour output from a 13-amp fuse.

Of course, SFM does not just cater for the budget end of the market, as James Garner, joint managing director explains. New to its line-up in 2011 is the MWK 32, a mincer-grinder manufactured by the German producer Kolbe. As you might expect with quality German engineering, the equipment does not come cheap, retailing at above £6,000 per unit. Yet Kolbe has developed a reputation for providing the best mincer money can buy and this model is everything you would expect in terms of quality and performance, claims Garner.

“It’s one of the latest in our range that is selling really well,” he says. “It’s a mincer, but it also does the mixing of batches between 20lb and 60lb as well, which can be of great benefit to the butcher. I think butchers are realising nowadays that mixing sausages is not just about getting the right ingredients. It’s about the quality of the mixing as well and, when it comes to the Kolbe, it is a real labour saver and will help produce a technically good sausage.

“It has already been a huge seller because it is something that has not really been available until now for the lower-volume producer, so people are snapping it up. The beauty of it is that it requires less than a metre of floor space and is also available in single phase. Most butchers only have single instead of three and it’s quite expensive to get that fitted.”

Another benefit of the Kolbe MWK 32 is the quality of the sausage meat produced, according to Garner, in that it provides a coarser textured sausage compared with a bowl cutter-type sausage. “That is the way the trend is going; people want texture, they want to see real meat in their sausages and this machine will not emulsify the mix like a bowl cutter does. You can adjust the plates to affect the mix. At the end of the day, people want gourmet sausages.”

Midlands-based manufacturer Avery Berkel has 100 years of experience to draw on. One of the new products it is pushing at the moment is its new Avantgarde gravity feed slicer. The company says it has been developed to address “retailers’ key requirements for improved safety, hygiene and performance” and is suitable for use from small salamis to whole cooked hams. The company also states that the product is fully CE-compliant and features an integral blade sharpener. This positions the sharpening stones automatically in the correct position by simply lifting the cover, thereby providing additional operator safety.

The company also maintains that  controlling slice thickness is also safer and more precise thanks to Avantgarde’s new index control system. It says: “While other slicers may require several revolutions of the dial for the blade to open fully, with Avantgarde, operators can move the blade from the safe, closed position to fully open in a single revolution. This removes any uncertainty, because if the dial is set above zero, the operator can be certain that the blade is open, helping to improve safety further.”

Avery Berkel also claims the machine is easier to clean – thanks to a system of quick-release parts, which “help to encourage regular maintenance and ensure a high level of hygiene while also minimising downtime”.

It adds: “All food contact parts, including the meat table, the guard, the knife centre plate and the pin plate, are made from stainless steel and can be removed quickly. In addition, the large, 330mm knife blade is manufactured from chromium steel for high durability and hygiene. The remainder of the machine carries an IP54 rating, to protect the slicer against the ingress of moisture, and features an open design enabling easy access to all areas. This makes it easy to wipe down mid-shift, helping to reduce downtime.”

The Avantgarde slicer also features the company’s patented index system, which, says Avery Berkel, removes guesswork and means the operator can produce repeatable slice thickness. “It also makes slicing-to-order simpler, as the operator can set the required thickness from as little as zero to 1mm and upwards consistently.”

It is this quality that most butchers hope to tap into when they buy their machinery and, to this end, new product development (NPD) is at the forefront of most manufacturers’ minds. One of the industry’s leading lights of NPD is Bizerba. Founded in 1866, the company spans across industrial and the retail food environments and its products include scales, labellers, slicing machines, mincers, labels, software and inline automated weighing weigh labellers. The group has subsidiaries in 24 countries and turned  over approximately E435m in 2009. A new development for the company is the coating Ceraclean – a  product that makes its machinery easier to clean and tougher.

Louis March, retail sales and food processing manager at Bizerba,  explains: “The Ceraclean coating is a synthetic resin combined with ceramic components and, compared to standard anodised aluminium, offers 30 times more resistance to abrasion, has 20% better gliding properties, takes half the time to clean, is dishwasher-safe and  has a greater resistance to chemicals. All of this makes slicing more effortless, increases the lifespan of the slicer and gives greater hygiene properties.”

Ceraclean is available as an option in Bizerba’s manual slicer range, such as its GSP H and VS models.
Fortunately, for Bizerba, the company has not been hit too hard by the recession, as March explains: “We find that the machinery market for industrial food manufacturers and food retailers hasn’t been affected too much in the recession. There is always a need for good quality food. We do find, however, that customers are putting more thought into what they buy and what benefits the products can offer them. Cost is always an issue, but so is cost or maintenance, yield savings, quality of service, quality of slice, product life-cycle and hygiene quality.”

The same story is repeated at SFM. The company says it believes that butchers are now buying better brands and are turning their backs on kit from countries such as Italy and Spain. “Machines from those areas of Europe might look the part,” says Garner. “But they are just not used in the same way as they are over here. We have had a lot of imports from Spain and Italy in the past 10 years that butchers are now moving away from. They were never built for a price, they were built for a job and, frankly, the reliability has been a joke. There have been some manufacturers that were not good enough for the job.”

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