There’s no coating the truth: The need for better margins and greater efficiencies are driving advances across a variety of functions, including coating processes.

Any time a processor rolls out a coated product – from the popular chicken nuggets to battered pork tenderloin to breaded snacks and appetizers – that step requires additional equipment, labor and the opportunity for both risk and value. To that end, whether they’re using pre-dusting, coating and breading and frying equipment, meat and poultry companies are seeking to get the most out of their respective systems.

These days, processors are looking for quality, consistency and reduced operating costs, according to suppliers who work with meat and poultry companies and prepared-food manufacturers. “Processors want to produce a good, consistent product from day to day. Equipment that can save both time and raw material usage become very desirable when selecting coating equipment,” says Bob Stacy, coating line development manager for JBT FoodTech, Sandusky, Ohio.

Other equipment suppliers report similar demands. “Reliable operation, versatility and consistent coating quality are top priorities for processors using batter and breading application equipment,” says Doug Kozenski, sales manager for prepared foods equipment systems for Heat and Control Inc., Hayward, Calif.

Versatility is a common processor demand. “Versatility is a priority, both in terms of coating options and machine use,” says Carolyn Thompson, business manager at Food Process Systems (FPS), Lodi, Wis. “Processors want the capability to experiment with a variety of coatings to satisfy consumers’ changing tastes, but they need machines that can handle such coatings without pulverizing them or becoming clogged. Processors also want versatile machines that can operate successfully on several different production lines and in different positions within each line.”

That sentiment is shared by Robert Nothum, spokesman for Springfield, Mo.-based Nothum Food Processing Systems, which recently formed a partnership that made Marel Townsend Further Processing the worldwide distributor of Nothum equipment. “The marketplace is asking for versatility and flexibility. Yes, the equipment still has to be able to produce large capacities, but equipment also has to be able to do the variety of products that consumers are demanding every day,” he explains.

The latest coating equipment reflects that increasing need for versatility, including machines with multiple capabilities. “Utilizing one machine that can apply many types of coatings gives processors the versatility to handle a variety of orders and reduces floor space and sanitation requirements,” points out Kozenski. For instance, Heat and Control offers a new coating applicator that continuously applies flour, cracker meal or any other type of crumble, along with sugar, spices and other ingredients.

At FPS, Thomson cites the breader line, which includes a non-auger recycling system that enables different applications. “The compact breader from FBS has the ability to process many coatings, while preserving delicate crumb integrity and is not easily clogged by moist or sticky coatings. It greatly expands their spectrum of coating options,” she explains.

The compact breader from FPS is in use at a Brakebush Brothers poultry-processing facility in Westfield, Wis. According to Martin Beringer, process improvement manager at the plant, the breader is run in 15-hour stretches, three days per week, processing up to 10,000 lbs. of marinated wings per hour. “For this particular product, we use the compact breader in the pre-dust position, but because of the machine’s auger-less design, we have also used it successfully with ABC and J-Crumb,” he reports.

Versatility is reflected in Nothum’s coating systems, too. According to Robert Nothum, its drum breader cuts waste by more than half and increases yields by 1 to 2 percent, and the machine can be also used as an inline breader.

The need for speed

While coating systems can be used in more and different ways, the need for speed remains. “Of course, relying on one coating multi-tasker instead of multiple dedicated lines means changeovers have to be quick,” points out Kozenski. To ensure rapid changeovers, Heat and Control’s Sure Coat line of breading applicators features independently adjustable bottom bed density and top coating control.

Other facets of speed are evident in the newest coating systems. Provisur Technologies Inc., Mokena, Ill., offers a variety of coating solutions, including a TST breader for standard and Japanese-style crumbs, a pre-duster and batter mixer used with a coater to deliver full batter coverage, all of which are designed to work better, faster. “Everything needs to be speeded up today, and through more solutions, we are able to reach higher speeds and pickups, and also boost the capacity of the line, in shortening the time it takes from start to finish,” explains Tom Rozendaal, product manager, TST.

Just as processors want greater flexibility out of their processing machines, they appreciate the ability to reduce waste. Decreasing the loss of dust and breading is one goal of processors, and suppliers are working to address that concern with new equipment features. Provisur’s TST Super Breader, for example, features an innovative hopper and feeding system that helps minimize the amount of circulating crumbs, while FPS’s breader has a biased-plane recycle conveyor that recovers unused breading at output and allows it to recycle through the breader more often.

Meanwhile, JBT FoodTech’s latest Stein breader helps users save on breading materials. “There are three bags to change, compared to five to seven bags on a standard breader,” Stacy notes.

On the topic of footprint, Thompson reports that FPS’s newest conical breader has a cone-shaped breading barrel that allows product in-flow and outflow to occur at the same elevation, saving space because it eliminates the need for a conveyor. FPS also developed a small-footprint compact breader, which requires only four feet of line space, she says.

Tied to the demand for ease of use and less downtime is interest in more hygienic systems that can be easily and effectively cleaned. At TST, Rozendaal says that next to cost savings, processors are asking about hygienic design, especially for pre-dusting equipment. “A lot of the older pre-dusters lost dust out of the first line, and it’s important to keep all the dust on the same machine,” he says, adding that the TST machine has a cycling filter and a vacuum inside the pre-duster to keep dust inside.

Product influence

While new technologies are emerging that allow for improved versatility, efficiency, sanitation and ease of use, the type of products to be coated also influence equipment features and usage. Stacy, for instance, reports that home-style products are still popular among consumers and that convenience is as important as ever. “The trend has moved towards more stable, on-the-go type products. The consumer continually has less time available to cook, so eating on the go is still very popular,” he reports, citing the increase in sandwiches like wraps, which have the same ingredients as their sandwich cousins but are easier to handle.

Stacy projects another evolution of the marketplace for breaded products, propelled by consumer demand. “The next movement that seems to be gaining momentum is the need for consumers to eat ‘fresh,’” he declares. “Chicken produced today is delivered chilled to the restaurant or store to be sold within a couple days of being processed. Processors are continually looking for ways to deliver fresh, yet have extended shelf-life.”

That fresh approach – even with coated proteins – is underscored by Nothum. “New trends seem to include more natural, fresher, homemade products. Our customers have been asking about applying some very unique coatings,” he says, noting that European companies are putting fresh products on store shelves that have been made within a day or two, leading to the need for even greater efficiency and flexibility.

“I believe similar types of products are moving into the US markets. Consumers want something original and fresh, he adds.”

Lynn Petrak is a contributing editor based in the Chicago area.