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Investing in ‘free from’

27 August 2017

The free from food market is offering long-term growth opportunities, with around one-third of consumers now buying and eating free from foods. We speak to one company which has recognised this potential and invested in its production capabilities to meet growing demand. 

Early in 2017, Bowman Ingredients opened the UK’s first dedicated gluten-free, egg and dairy free manufacturing plant. The new 40,000 sq/ft facility is dedicated solely to the production of gluten-free, egg and dairy free crumb systems and coatings, including batter mixes, pre-dusts and dry mix marinades. It has a  total production capacity of 15,000 tonnes per annum of gluten-free, egg and dairy free coatings. 

The facility houses a new, state-of-the-art, manufacturing and blending plant, as well as warehousing and general office accommodation.  Tim McEwan, head of technical at Bowman Ingredients recently answered some questions from Food Processing about the new facility, which achieved Grade A in its first British Retail Consortium (BRC) inspection.

Q. Have you seen demand for ‘free’ from’ coatings increase in recent years – if so for any particular product range, or for a particular ‘free from’ sector… and to what do you attribute this consumer demand for clean labels and free from ingredients?
Demand for Free From ingredients is seeing a significant uplift. The food industry was focused solely on gluten-free at one stage, but our processing customers are now requesting gluten, dairy and egg free ingredients to supply supermarket Free From ranges.

Q. What regulations do you need to comply with to claim ‘gluten free’ and how do you ensure your products meet these requirements?
We comply with UK and European labelling legislation as a minimum standard. For gluten-free ingredients this is less than 20 parts per million (ppm). Our Free From range is now made in the new purpose-built facility that can produce ingredients to less than 5ppm and non-detected for gluten, dairy and egg. 

Q. Could you give us an idea about what you will be producing in the new facility?
We are producing a wide variety of goods including textured ingredients like crumb coatings and crunchy additions for cereals and snack bars. We are also making expanded snacking products. All products made at the new facility are free from gluten, dairy and egg, but without compromising on quality.
 
Q. Does the production method for ‘free from’ coatings differ greatly from your traditional coating production methods?
We have invested in state-of-the-art equipment to manufacture our Free From ingredients. However, our exact production methods are a trade secret!
 
Q. Why did you invest so heavily in the new facility?
We have made great quality gluten-free ingredients alongside our conventional products for 15 years. However, we identified that we could significantly improve products to a level where there is a complete absence of the allergen. This just can’t be achieved under the same roof in a factory producing conventional products containing allergens. Segregation and separation are key.

Q. Did the plant require any particular pieces of equipment that would not be needed in the traditional coating production facility?
We have improved our methods and upgraded our equipment. However, in theory, the Free From production process could also be used to produce great quality traditional products.”
 
Q. What process enhancements have you included in the new facility and why?
We have automated the blending and production process to a very high degree to avoid the opportunity for cross contamination with allergens. 

Q. Have you included any automated solutions that were not used in your other facilities?  If so could you comment on what benefits these have offered – in terms of increased productivity, efficiency, and product quality.
Automated pre-weighing, blending and cutting at the extruder head are significant improvements to our Free From manufacturing process. This increases productivity, cuts down on waste and helps with all-important segregation and control of cross contamination.

Q. You have received a Grade A rating from BRC for the facility.  Could you explain how this was achieved, why it was important to you, and what benefits it offers your company, your customers and the end consumer?
We set out with a simple goal in mind when establishing our Free From manufacturing plant, to achieve the best Quality System. We spent 18 months developing policies, procedures and controls to ensure that our Free From products have no compromise on texture, flavour and overall eating quality, with the lowest possible risk from an allergen perspective.


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