Creatures of comfort
Eagle-eyed inspection delivers optimal safety assurance for a thriving perogies processor
March 9, 2012
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor; Cole Garside, Photographer
When people think about perogies, most Canadians will often think about comfort food as it should be—shapely pieces of soft, yummy cooked dough filled to capacity with cheese or potato stuffing.
But they would only be partially correct, according to the folks at Pelmen Foods Ltd., an entrepreneurial, Toronto-based food processor who wants to spread the word that the comfort aspect aside, the growing varieties of different types of perogies available in grocery stores nowadays offer Canadians a whole new breed of authentic, European-style cuisine made from all-natural products.
Known as an old-school Eastern European specialty, perogies are half-circular dumplings of unleavened dough traditionally stuffed with meat, potato, cheese, sauerkraut, spinach or mushrooms, but this highly versatile food can also leave your tastebuds dazzled when made with raspberry, blueberry, peach, plum or any other fruit filling, as Pelman Foods has in fact done for many years— albeit for a fairly limited audience.
“Pan-fried or boiled, served as an entrée, appetizer, snack or a dessert perogies are a tasty and convenient food to eat,” Pelman Foods vice-president Tony Rabinovitch told Canadian Packaging during
a recent visit to his company’s new, 15,000-square-foot facility near the city’s lakeshore.
Along with perogies, Pelmen also specializes in a dish called pelmeni—hence the company name—which is a traditional Russian staple food of dough wrapped dumplings filled with various meats and spices, which can in fact be eaten hot in its broth or as a cold dish after it has been cooked in water, usually with sour-cream.
According to Rabinovitch, who hands-on operates the family-owned food processor, Pelmen Foods employs 15 full-time people to create a total 23 different SKUs (stock-keeping units) of perogies, pelmeni, dumplings, pot stickers, samosas, egg rolls, gyozas, curry puffs and empanadas under its own flagship brand name, as well as for private-label sale across North America.
“For private-label concerns, we have a reputation for being flexible and clientoriented,” reveals Rabinovitch. “We will work closely with our customers and all their stringent requirements with respect to choosing the proper ingredients, formats and packaging—all the while ensuring they get the perfect taste.”
Despite the company’s success making and selling perogies to date, Rabinovitch relates that his family’s involvement in the industry was perhaps due more to luck than to some ingenious business plan or design.
“My father, Jeff, had worked as an electrical engineer for the only bakery in our city of 300,000 people back in Russia, and as such, he learned how to fix all sorts of bakery equipment,” he recalls.
“When we emigrated to Canada back in 1993 and he found himself ‘between employment,’ a family friend who was already making perogies and supplying them to a local deli asked if my father would take over the business for a couple of months, while she took care of some personal interests in Israel,” Rabinovitch recounts.
“So in January of 1995 my father gave her a $300 deposit for a pasta roller, dough mixer and a small freezer chest, and he began making perogies following her recipes to sell to the deli, and because she never came back to claim her business, my father kept on making perogies, with time switching to our own family’s delicious recipes, and then tweaking them based on his own professional expertise and knowledge.”
At that time, Rabinovitch reveals, business was conducted right in the family home—initially a small apartment in Toronto’s north end, followed by a move to a larger rented house in the city, where the family continued to crank out its perogies for its mostly ethnic deli customers.
After a series of similar moves to slightly larger nonresidential premises, in 2010 the company finally decided that taking its business to the next level would require Pelmen Foods to reduce its dependence solely on Russian and other East European-style deli shops by moving into the mainstream national grocery segment of the food industry.
To execute this new vision, Pelmen transferred its perogies manufacturing business into a new production facility in Toronto’s west end—purchasing all-new, state-of-the-art equipment and creating a new packaging look for the store-shelves to match the high-quality products proudly manufactured by the company.
“Packaging-wise, Pelmen moved away from the traditional look of a clear plastic bag containing the perogies because to me, that is the look everyone already has in the frozen perogies business,” notes Rabinovitch. “And while that look may still be fine for other perogies manufacturers, we were really looking to grow our business into more mainstream markets—rather than just continue be known as a niche foods manufacturer selling to niche food outlets.”
After making a fairly radical switch to preprinted, nine-color, reclosable plastic bags purchased from a Chinese-based supplier, Rabinovitch did note that while many of its Eastern European constituents seemed naturally resistant to the decidedly more “western” look of the new package, vendors welcomed the new look. And now, having the Pelman brand now sold in high-end fine-food stores like the Toronto-based Pusateri’s Fine Foods, Rabinovitch feels totally vindicated about the packaging makeover.
“There is no way our old packaging could have passed the muster at a store like Pusateri’s or at any of the other larger major grocery store retailers we are dealing with, but now our product is literally flying off the shelves,” Rabinovitch extols.
“It hurts to lose a few long-time customers, but there just seems to be a mentality that perogies have to come in cheap-looking packaging, and we are doing our best to change that perception,” says Rabinovitch, adding that not only is he proud to stand by his product, but that unlike much of his company’s Canadian-based competition, he is not willing to compromise on the quality of his products under any circumstances.
“Pelmen Foods is the only perogies manufacturer in Canada that exclusively uses only fresh products and ingredients,” he proclaims.
“We use fresh potatoes, not flakes, and real cheddar cheese, not powdered cheese, with no artificial flavoring, coloring or preservatives added whatsoever,” Rabinovitch stresses. “When you bite into Pelmen perogies, you are tasting real, authentic, traditional perogies.”
Moreover, Rabinovitch points out that the filling-to-dough ratio of the Pelmen brands at 60 per cent filling versus 40 per cent dough is the opposite of the industry average, thereby commanding a certain price premium.
Sold to both retail and foodservice industries, Pelmen products offer a superior quality, product authenticity and, most importantly, an incredible taste profile, according to Rabinovitch, as well as a perfectly safe-to-eat product.
Everything Pelmen brings to market is screened by both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors and the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) protocols, with the company currently working on achieving the Food Safety System Certification 22000 accreditation and the prestigious, internationally-recognized BRC (British Retail Consortium) certification.
“While we are not yet looking at exporting our products outside of North Anerica, the BRC certification has quickly become known as an important food inspection initiative that customers are looking for before they do business with you, and it is also a very important thing to have for our private-label customers,” Rabinovitch explains.
As a part of its product safety focus, when Pelmen created an all-new production line in 2010, it purchased a new Eagle Pack 240 X-Ray system, manufactured by Smiths Detection Product Inspection, a Tampa, Fla.-based developer and manufacturer of X-Ray inspection systems that was purchased by the Mettler-Toledo International Inc. group in March of 2011.
Supplied and installed by Smiths Detection’s Canadian distributors Plan Automation of Orangeville, Ont., the Eagle Pack 240 X-Ray was selected by Pelman for its robust detection capabilities that would ensure optimal quality control at the plant by detecting the tiniest contaminants, along with providing high-precision checkweighing capabilities in the same machine.
An option that Pelmen purchased for the Eagle Pack 240 is a Festo Inc. pneumatic rejection system that blows contaminated or incorrectly-weighted packages from the line and into separate bins.
“I chose to purchase an X-Ray detection system primarily because of the technology’s reputation for reliable performance when working in a cold environment,” says Rabinovitch, “but it is also nice to have this X-Ray system act as a secondary checkweigher, so that it can be programmed to reject filled bags of the weight that are not within the set parameters, as well if it detects something that shouldn’t be inside.”
Capable of high-speed detection of stainless steel, ferrous and non-ferrous metal particles as small as 1.2 mm, as well as glass shards as small as 1.5 mm, the Eagle Pack 240 system was a wise capital investment for the Pelmen plant, says Rabinovitch, citing the system’s multiple inspection capabilities and robust line speeds of up to 300 items per minute, while offering high-speed imaging up to 400 frames per minute.
Such capabilities are more than sufficient for the needs of the Pelman Foods plant, whose bagging line fills frozen perogies at an average rate of about 25 bags per minute, after which they are immediately sent to the Eagle Pack 240 X-Ray system for a full inspection, and eventually hand-placed by the dozen into corrugated cartons, manufactured by Atlantic Packaging Product Ltd., before being stored in a cold room to await same-day shipment to customers.
Rabinovitch is also quick to point out other key pieces of production machinery installed on the company’s production line, including:
• a Praxair Inc. liquid nitrogen spiral freezer that takes 70˚C perogies and freezes them to -18˚C in 14 minutes;
• a vertical conveyance elevator manufactured by Hagar Industries Inc. of Hamilton, Ont., which also played a huge role in the construction of the new Pelmen facility with its electrical, plumbing and piping infrastructure, according to Rabinovitch;
• an Eriez Manufacturing magnetic vibratory system for gently moving the perogies from the conveyor into the checkweigher;
• a set of scales retrofitted and custom-redesigned to Pelmen specifications by RJP Packaging Inc. of Burlington, Ont.
“All told, it takes about 15 minutes from the time the perogies are formed to be bagged,” says Rabinovitch, “and the quick pace of the production line—including the freezing—helps maintain the product’s freshness.”
“Our goal has always been to provide the consumer with a range of wholesome products that are quick and easy to prepare, yet still maintain that home-made taste,” states Rabinovitch. “We truly believe that any food that tastes like it is home-made like ours, should be made with ingredients that can be found in any kitchen.”