“Unitherm brought in the same type of green poblano chili peppers we use, roasted them in their griller, and made adjustments until they came out the way we wanted. We tasted them and they were really good. We could see that this was going to work for us and provide the production volumes we were seeking,” Randolph said.
The flame grill system like the one selected by the principals at Agroin allows a wide range of customization, with belt widths ranging from 20 inches to 60 inches, eight to 50 ribbon burners, adjustable bar markers with variable grilling patterns, and belt speeds from five minutes to 180 minutes.
Through collaborative efforts, a final design was selected for a single flame griller that could meet Agroin’s goal of one metric ton of product per hour. Preservation, if not improvement, in product quality was achieved by the grilling system’s ability to roast each pepper on all sides, providing the sought-after consistency.
“The griller was so efficient that we only needed one unit to do the job of three or four of our old grillers,” Randolph said. “As such, we expect our energy consumption to shrink tremendously. But the best part is that we expect the quality to improve, because with the new equipment we can control the speed of the griller bed, the amount of burners that can be turned on, and the quantity of heat going out of the griller.”
An unexpected gain from this design comes in the form of increased yield. “By weight, the product shrinks by about 20% to 25%, and this is normal during the roasting process,” Randolph said. “However, the new griller can limit that loss to 15% to 20%.”
Such positive outcomes are repeated— with all manner of food products and purposes—in new test kitchens throughout the country. Howard recounted a success story of achieving a roasting rate of 7,000 pounds per hour of red bell peppers within four hours of the client’s entering the kitchen. In another successful case, a producer of pre-cooked ready meals—such as lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and potato salad—booked a two-day stay at the Unitherm location.
“By coming to our kitchen, we could solve the complex problem of browning some product within CPET trays,” Howard said. “We achieved the objective within a half-dozen hours. He bought the machine while he was in the kitchen. Ordinarily, people go back to their plant, have a corporate meeting, and then purchase. But these kitchens help speed that process so processors can quickly retool their plants to optimize product throughput.”
With a test kitchen, some equipment manufacturers boast a 100% rate of conversion from client visit to sales order. These kitchens are able to offer a service that develops the optimum thermal, chilling, or sanitation process for the client.
“We’re allowing food processors to first think about, ‘How am I going to maximize the quality of my product,’ as opposed to thinking about machinery,” Howard said.