Venerable Quebec sauce and seasonings marketer taking full control of its own destiny with bold new high-tech manufacturing and packaging competencies
October 17, 2012
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor; Pierre Longtin, Photographer
While it’s probably true that there is no accounting for personal taste each and every time, one certainly couldn’t blame Montour Ltd. for at least trying to satisfy as many taste buds as possible with its wide-ranging selection of flavorful, authentically-prepared grilling sauces, broths, marinades and other seasoning products formulated to turn otherwise ordinary food into tasty culinary experiences.
Located just north of Montreal in Blainville, Que., the company is a third-generation, family-owned business that has come a very long way since opening its doors back in 1934—having evolved from a spice distributor to a spice-blend manufacturer in 1963, and nowadays, along with its spices, it finds itself a well-respected condiments and ingredients supplier for eastern Canada’s meat-processing industry, especially in the ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat meals segments, as well as a highly successful brand-owner in its own right.
“The ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook meals are anything but a trend,” states company owner and president Marc Montour. “They are a reality.
“Because modern families nowadays often have the two spouses working full-time, there is very little time to cook and present the traditional family dinner,” says Montour, explaining the rapid proliferation of such prepared meal solutions at major grocery chains, supermarkets and other retail food outlets right across Canada in recent years.
Naturally, it’s a very welcome market development for Montour’s company, which employs 50 people at its state-of-the-art, 40,000-square-foot facility to produce over 2.5 million kilograms of spiced blends product per year from over 300 tasty recipes.
Included in that extensive product portfolio, Montour turns out over 800,000 liters of high-quality grilling sauces, marinades and broths per year for retail customers across Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, relates Montour.
He explains that the company began offering grilling sauces and marinades in 2002 and broths in 2012 but only became involved in the actual manufacturing of its product fairly recently—following its 2001 move to the current Blainville location, which has undergone several expansions in the past five years to add a warehousing facility, a spice packaging room, a new laboratory, and a complete kitchen facility for producing the sauces and broths.
“Up until our most recent expansion, when we added a production line, we did not actually manufacture our own sauces,” Montour told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview.
“Prior to that, we provided our recipes to a third-party manufacturer who mixed and bottled our products for us,” says Montour, adding that the sudden boom in the prepared-meals segment of the industry prompted the company to rethink the way it went about its business—ultimately deciding to take a much more direct hands-on approach to the manufacturing and packaging of its products.
According to Montour, about 90 per cent of the company’s sauce production output is supplied to grocery store meat departments operated by the company’s high-profile customers such as Sobeys Inc. and Metro Inc. supermarket chains, where it’s used to prepare various ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat meat and fish products. As well, Montour supplies customers in the process meat industry, like Olymel L.P.
The remainder of Montour’s sauce production is allocated for the manufacturing of the company’s own flagship Lebon retail brand of high-end sauce products, which are scheduled to hit the Sobeys and Metro’s supermarket shelves in coming months, Montour relates.
Retailing in highly decorative 350-ml plastic bottles, the Lebon brand launch will be carefully phased-in starting with a pending debut of the Authentic and Red Wine broths for fondue cooking, along with the Honey and Garlic, Dijon, Shanghai, Souvlaki, Three-peppers, and Chicken and Ribs grilling sauces and marinades.
Montour says he’s very pleased with the strategic steps the company has taken to become a fully-integrated business enterprise, with firmer control of its own destiny via pride of ownership that comes only with manufacturing your own creations for the consumer public.
“Nowadays we do not provide any third-party manufacturing services nor do we utilize any for ourselves,” Montour enthuses.
“All the sauces made at Montour are developed by our own R&D department, and all the seasoning bases are also blended in our facility.”
The Blainville plant currently operates two production shifts and one cleaning shift in its spice department, and a single production shift and cleaning shift for its sauces, according to Montour, who says the plant has both the capacity and flexibility to quickly add a second shift if the consumer response to the new products warrant it.
Which may well be a foregone conclusion, given the company’s robust business growth over the past decade to build up a diversified grocery store customer base across all of eastern Canada that cushions it from any major seasonal production peaks and valleys.
“And soon enough, we shall be expanding our products into central and western Canada as well,” says Montour, citing enthusiastic marketplace response and feedback to the company’s diverse product portfolio.
“Over the past three years, we have seen business for our delicious sauces and broths double—and with the addition of our new bottling line, we foresee an 80-percent increase as we expand into more and more markets.”
According to Montour, having inhouse manufacturing capabilities has enabled the plant to respond to changing market needs much faster than it was ever possible with its former co-packing business partners.
“We utilized their service a fair bit during the summer months,” he recalls.
“But when our customers in the grocery store business started wanting more sauces from us during the winter months, we knew we would have to do something drastic,” says Montour, explaining that the plant’s new state-of-the-art bottling line—installed as part of a comprehensive $3.5-million facility expansion completed in April of this year—was designed specifically to facilitate such agile manufacturing flexibility, while also enabling the company to launch its own product brand in a fast-growing segment of the food market.
Installed as a turnkey system by renowned Montreal-headquartered packaging machinery OME (original equipment manufacturer) Capmatic Ltd., the new bottling line has done wonders for the company’s manufacturing and packaging competence, according to Montour, who says he was initially attracted to Capmatic based on the manufacturer’s well-earned reputation for an extensive product range of top-quality unscrambling, filling, capping and labeling equipment that can work with a wide range of bottles, jars and jugs in a multitude of shapes and sizes.
“One of our big desires was to present a better-packaged product to our grocery store customers,” explains Montour, relating that the sheer weight of the bulky four-liter jug previously used to ship the sauces was not very easy to handle by the stores’ deli and department staff, weighing about five kilograms (11 pounds) each.
“So in an effort to help our customers out, we decided to create a smaller, 1.89-liter bottle that only weighed approximately 2.3 kilograms (five pounds), and which is also more ergonomic,” Montour relates.
“We also wanted to incorporate a jug handle that would be easier for people to manipulate for easier distribution and handling,” says Montour, asserting that the Capmatic equipment delivers the same high-quality output with the 1.89-liter sauce and the one-liter broth jugs—supplied by DeltaPac Packaging Inc.—as it does with the retail-bound 350-ml bottle supplied by the Montreal-based Ampak Inc., with Berry Plastics Corporation supplying all the bottle cap sizes via its local distributor Roda Packaging Inc. of Laval, Que.
Armed with a new Blentech 2,000-liter cooker and a completely automated Capmatic packaging line, the Blainville plant is more than capable of meeting the current customer demand volumes of 800,000 liters of finished sauces, broths and marinades annually.
“We are now able to produce three batches of 1,800 liters of product in a single eight-hour shift,” Montour marvels.
“The improvement in our production capabilities is really a beautiful thing!”
The main cog of the Capmatic line installed at Montour is the fully-automatic Accurofill volumetric piston filler that works equally well for liquids, semi-viscous and viscous products for all types of plastic, metal and glass containers using a unique combination of volumetric piston technology and rotary valve control to enable extremely fast and accurate filling rates.
“It’s a very good piece of equipment for us,” comments Montour.
“Although we have only had it for a short while, we are quite impressed with its ability to fill our jugs and bottles in an accurate manner.”
While the Accurofill has not yet tested its filling mettle with the 350-ml retail bottles, Montour reports the machine is able to fill 24 1.89-liter jugs, or just over 30 one-liter jugs, per minute.
Other components on the production line include Capmatic’s SortStar—a no-change-part bottle unscrambler that Montour has already discovered to be able to handle a diverse range of plastic bottles.
Incorporating centrifugal disks and adjustable guides, the SortStar is equipped with numeric counters to facilitate mechanical adjustments for easy, repeatable changes.
A robust BeltStar stainless-steel capper and retorquer from Capmatic easily handles a wide range of containers and caps to ensure optimal quality and control with innovative magnetic slip-clutch technology.
“The BeltStar provides an HMI (human-machine interface) viewing of the torque application giving us verification of each bottle or jug that passes through it,” says Montour, complimenting the user-friendliness of Rockwell Automation’s Allen-Bradley PanelView Plus 600 HMI terminal, along with the BeltStar’s optional torque verification and reject features.
A Capmatic SuperJolly single-chuck capper is used to tighten various cap styles, including the continuous thread (CT) caps, child-resistant (CR) caps, and roll-on pilfer-proof (ROPP) caps. According to Capmatic, the SuperJolly is interchangeable between screw capping and crimping.
The system employs a Cognex machine vision control camera system to provide quick verification that each tightened cap has been perfectly aligned—quickly rejecting any misaligned or otherwise imperfect caps right off the production line
The line also includes the Orientor—a Capmatic-made orientation device that aligns all the container handles in the same direction prior to the filling process.
Product labels are applied to the Montour jugs via the easy-to-set-up and operate Capmatic LabelStar 2/1T single-head system that accurately applies partial-wrap or full-wrap and panel-wrap labels to a wide variety of container types, making optimal use of stepper motor technology that provides long-term accuracy and eliminates the service requirements inherent with the use of clutches and brakes.
Other equipment includes a large special cooling conveyor table and an accumulation table on a heavy-duty stainless steel frame, which can be quickly modified with a variety of options per required accumulation time.
“All of the equipment we purchased from Capmatic has been an eye-opening experience for us,” says Montour. “It is all very easy to operate, which is an important factor for us—being new to the whole packaging line process.”
A Markem-Imaje 8018i intermittent thermal-transfer printer applies lot number and best-before information to the adhesive labels before application by the LabelStar.
Other systems added to the line by Montour include a Loma Systems IQ³ metal detection system—said to provide the ‘industry first’ true variable frequency operation that automatically sets up for peak performance in seconds—and an induction sealer from Enercon Industries Corp., which creates tough hermetic seals to prevents containers from leaking to preserve the freshness of the contents as well as provide a helpful tamper-evidence feature.
“Maintaining a quality product is extremely important for us,” asserts Montour. “It’s why, along with working in a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)-certified, CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)-inspected facility that undergoes third-party audits, we wanted to install packaging equipment that would maintain that sense of safety we demand for our customers.”
According to Montour, the key consideration behind the new line was making sure that the quality of the equipment matched the quality of the company’s high-end products, which are made using professionally-developed formulations that meet such targets as having low-sodium levels, as well as products with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
“Our filling and capping systems on our production line are very important to us in providing a clean-looking visual appearance,” notes Montour. “If you see a dirty, sticky label on a product, it could mean that there is a leak in a container, and that is something we will not tolerate.”
The growth of the company, according to Montour, is derived from its ability to provide innovative product development, the introduction of new products to the existing customer base, and greater availability of higher-quality plastic containers.
“We feel that by manufacturing our own sauces and broths—thanks to our new Capmatic production line—we can better ensure product safety and quality from the start of the production through to it being shipped out the door of our facility,” states Montour.
“The bottom line is that we have better control over own products,” says Montour, while admitting to some initial apprehensions at first.
“But we all realized that in order for this company to grow, we had to take this next leap of faith in our abilities,” he sums up, “because it is the best way to distinguish ourselves in this very competitive market.
“By taking on that responsibility ourselves and by caring about the people who handle our products, we show that we are a company willing to take on all challenges in our quest to grow and be a leader in our industry.”