Iconic Canadian breakfast cereal processor holds onto the past with modern updates to its product packaging security
February 20, 2015
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor. Photos by Kazuyoshi Ehara.
It’s rare that a brick-and-mortar facility faithfully mirrors history of the product it manufacturers, but for one prominent processor of grains and nuts breakfast cereals, there’s really no place like home.
Situated near one of the world’s great natural wonders in Niagara Falls, the Post Foods Canada Inc. facility has been in operation for more than 100 years, producing multiple different popular cereal products—its main products that have been made in the Niagara Falls region for a long time.
With Post Foods Canada headquartered in Toronto, and the global headquarters of Post Holdings Inc. located in St. Louis, Mo., the 200,000-square-foot facility of production and warehousing in Niagara Falls nowadays annually produces approximately 40 million pounds (18,144 metric tonnes) of cereal products.
“This is the original Shredded Wheat facility in Canada, and we still produce the original large biscuits here,” Post Foods Canada manufacturing engineer Matt Friesen told Canadian Packaging magazine during a recent visit to the site. “In fact, we are the only remaining, formerly Nabisco-owned plant that still makes this product.”Along with Shredded Wheat, another breakfast cereal product, Shreddies, has also only been made at this location for over 75 years, he adds.
“The building has been expanded at different times throughout its long history,” explains Friesen, “but overall, it is a very old facility rich with history.”
Setting the foundation for 100-plus years of cereal history to come, in 1892 lawyer and inventor Henry Drushel Perky and his business partner and machinist William Henry Ford invented a machine that shred whole wheat to create Shredded Wheat. The idea for boiled wheat was original conceived by Perky to help alleviate his own bouts with chronic diarrhea.
It was at Ford’s shop in Watertown, N.Y., that they developed a machine for making what Perky called “little whole wheat mattresses.”
Originally, Perky and Ford wanted to just sell the machines, not the biscuits, but the shredded wheat biscuits proved to be too popular to ignore. After moving to Worcester, Ma. in 1895 with The Cereal Machine Company, he added the Shredded Wheat Company.
In 1904, the company added the Canadian Shredded Wheat Company at the current facility in Niagara Falls with Shredded Wheat also being launched in Canada, although the U.S. and Canadian companies were eventually sold to National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) in 1928.
A contemporary of Perky and Ford, C.W. Post created his Postum cereal beverage in 1895 in the confines of a barn in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Two years later, he debuted the iconic Grape-Nuts cereal, lauded as one of the first ready-to-eat cereals. Neither a grape or a nut, it is made from natural wheat and malted barley flour and contains the Post-invented maltose flavoring, created during the fermentation process, to create the cereal’s distinct nutty taste.
In 1912, Post helped usher in the then-innovative marketing techniques such as extensive advertising, coupons, free samples, product demonstrations, plant tours and recipe booklets, all of which kept his products in the consumer’s sights.
It worked wonders, as during the late 1920s the then-named Postum began acquiring other companies and expanding its product line to over 60 products—eventually changing its name to General Foods Corporation.
The illustrious list of iconic cereals it introduced over the succeeding decades includes: Grape-Nuts Flakes (1932); Shreddies (1939), a Canadian brand; Sugar-Crisp (1949); Alpha-Bits (1958); Spoon Size Shredded Wheat (1961); Honeycomb (1965); Honey Bunches of Oats (1989) and other flavors; Cranberry Almond Crunch (1997); and the Canadian cereal Great Grains (2011).
With its rich historical legacy fully assured, in 2012 Post Foods became an independent, publicly-traded company that recently launched exciting new flavors such as Granola Almond Crunch Shreddies and Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt cereal.
Despite the often-heard talk of Canadians eating healthier, the breakfast cereal market has in fact shrunk in recent years, but bucking the trend, Post has managed to expand its own market share in Canada.
“Throughout the long history of this facility, and the various ownership shifts, since 1904 Shredded Wheat—and Shreddies since 1939—have continued to be processed here at the very same plant,” states Friesen.
“The year 2015 is the 76th anniversary of Shreddies cereal, and it remains our biggest seller.”
According to Friesen, the plant currently produces more than its two iconic brands, providing a total of 35 different SKUs (stock-keeping units).
The core grain ingredients utilized at the Niagara Falls plant include wheat, corn, rice, oats and other grains, that are cooked, tempered, formed, baked, finished with coating and additives, if necessary, and of course packaged.
“It’s breakfast cereal, so our plant operation is not highly cyclical,” relates Friesen.
“We run 24-hours-a-day with three shifts, five-days-a-week with full clean-ups every weekend,” says Friesen, adding the Niagara Falls facility is SQF Level 2-certified, a food safety program that incorporates the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) approach to managing risks and hazards.
“As well, we also recently became the first facility within the Post Foods family to achieve zero waste sent to the landfill,” explains Friesen.
Friesen explains says that the plant operates four main processes, each with its own packaging line.
Says Friesen: “There are three 200-foot (69.96 meters) long, single-pass tunnel ovens and one puffing/toasting system, with each oven utilizing natural ambient air cooling for the cereal products.
“It’s really a fancy way of saying we do not use a cooling system other than conveyor system ride at room temperature.”
While the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ might hold some sway amongst cost-conscious operations, Post Foods Canada seems quite adept at tweaking things, says Friesen, “as long as it can make us more efficient and save us money and resources in the short and long run.”
It certainly makes for an interesting dynamic of solid, well-built processing equipment and a plethora of new and newer packaging machinery housed at the plant.
“Everything we do here at the Niagara Falls plants is bag-in-box, except for Shredded Wheat,” explains Friesen.
“It has its own unique system that involves the biscuits being packaged in groups of threes,” says Friesen adding the Shredded Wheat line now operates four combination metal detection and checkweighing systems as part of a significant packaging system upgrade it purchased via Abbey Packaging Equipment Inc., though a fifth unit was placed on another product packaging line.
States Friesen: “I don’t want to handle consumer complaints. I want to eliminate them.”
“Abbey Packaging came highly recommended to us based on their service record from other contacts within the food industry,” relates Friesen. “They have a willingness to work towards the optimal solution, and that’s just what we needed.
“They were even willing to help us start up the four new systems simultaneously at 2a.m. back in August of 2014,” he recalls, “and we haven’t really had any issues since that start-up.”
Headquartered in Burlington, Ont., Abbey Packaging is a complete sales and service provider for a select group of specialized equipment manufacturers—providing solutions for product inspection, weighing and filling, horizontal/vertical pouch machines and bagmakers, and highly knowledgeable, professional local technical support services.
According to Friesen, the recommendations provided by Abbey Packaging echoed Post’s own requirements, prompting the purchase of an SSV Series Checkweigher combination of checkweighers and metal detectors.
The SSV Series Checkweigher is manufactured by Anritsu Industrial Solutions, Inc., a well-respected Japanese manufacturer specializing in checkweighers, metal detection and X-Ray inspection systems. Abbey Packaging is its exclusive distributor in eastern Canada, working closely with the Elk Grove, IL-headquartered Anritsu U.S. subsidiary
Anritsu offers three different solutions under its SSV Series Checkweigher line—the Versatile; Wash-down; and High Accuracy systems, all with an available combination unit featuring an integrated Anritsu metal detector.
There are more than 150 standard Checkweigher models in the Anritsu catalog and more than 70,000 installed systems operating around the globe, according to the company.
For Post Foods, the SSV Versatile provides a good fit for the application, equipped with a highly flexible strain gauge load cell to provides what Abbey packaging calls ‘industry-leading accuracy.’
The real challenge for Abbey Packaging wasn’t in just selling the appropriate machinery, but incorporating it into the very limited space at the Post Foods facility, where the existing metal detector conveyor line was located.
“We chose to go with the combination system because it is more effective to approach consumer complaints by eliminating the consumer complaints before they happen,” explains Friesen.
“Historically, one of the leading complaints we received on Shredded Wheat was that customers were missing biscuits in the package, even though the packages still met the declared weight,” he relates.
“Initially, our approach was to try and detect missing biscuits in the product flow at the point of wrapping, but this was found to be unsuccessful.”
Friesen notes that prior to this project with Abbey Packaging, Post Foods had always deployed its checkweighers at the end of the packaging system to guarantee regulatory compliance, but it sought an improvement to avoid future customer complaints.
Traditionally, a vision inspection system on the wrapper infeed would be used for inspection of missing items, but both Abbey Packaging and Post Foods agreed that this approach was not reliable enough.
To resolve the problem, Abbey Packaging installed intermediate checkweighing systems immediately after the Shredded Wheat biscuits were wrapped to verify individual package count.
As Friesen explains, “We selected the Anritsu SSV Versatile Series combination systems from Abbey Packaging as they were the only vendor able to meet our tight footprint requirements and they came highly recommended from an aftersale perspective.
“The Anritus systems we purchased from Abbey Packaging fit my existing line layout and reduced the cost to retrofit compared to the competition.
“Along with wanting our equipment to be capable of working at our high level of expectations, we also felt it was imperative that we also maintain high-quality local service, and Abbey Packaging was able to bring all of that to the table for us,” he adds.
Post Foods’ new SSV Versatile model KDS5206BP3D has a stainless-steel finish with integrated Anritsu Dual Wave (duw) metal detection unit, and dual flipper reject system with a lockable reject bin and reject confirmation.
Adds Abbey Packaging technical sales representative Andrej Bagrincev: “Only Anritsu was able to offer a combination unit with a double flip-arm reject system that did not require any major rebuild of the production line.
“Moreover, the reject confirmation function was added to ensure that no product with contaminants or incorrect weight will leave the inspection point.”
In order to meet Post Foods’ HACCP reporting requirements, a networkable software package for plant-wide data collection from Anritsu was implemented.
This software package, known as QUICCA, is a powerful tool for overall quality management, control and reporting.
Bagrincev explains: “The solution to the restricted space problem was made possible by the design of the combination system. Anritsu’s advanced technology and design enabled the duw metal detector to be installed directly upon the Versatile Checkweigher’s infeed conveyor—within a space of just 800 millimeters.”
The first four stainless-steel SSV Versatile systems sold to Post Foods utilized Anritsu’s duw dual frequency metal detection heads, while for the second project, a fifth SSV Versatile combination system featured the duw-h high-sensitivity dual-frequency metal detection head.
“For the first project, the standard duw metal detectors were adequate to meet the customer’s sensitivity standards,” asserts Bagrincev, “while the second project required the higher-sensitivity duw-h option in order to meet the requirements of a larger product size.”
Bagrincev explains that the Anritsu duw series of metal detectors actually runs two electromagnetic frequencies simultaneously—one is tuned for detection of ferrous metals, and the second frequency is optimized for stainless steel detection—and is the only company to offer this technology.
“It’s a unique approach that provides the user with essentially two metal detectors in one, offering the best performance for both ferrous and stainless-steel,” notes Bagrinvec, adding that the duw-h series owes its higher sensitivity to improved signal processing and a new head design that allows for optimal contaminant detection.
“When combined with the Anritsu Checkweigher, it provides a very compact inspection solution without sacrificing functionality or reliability,” he says.
Some of the other equipment utilized by Post Foods Canada at the Niagara Falls operation includes:
“The Anritsu systems are very high-quality in both their build and function,” relates Friesen. “Most importantly, they are very easy to work with and have a very simple learning curve for new people.”
As for the mutually, beneficial working relationship developed between Post and Abbey Packaging, Friesen sums up by saying he hopes it continues to move forward.
“I am currently scoping out two new systems for a future installation with them, and if all goes as well as the previous projects, I’m confident we’ll continue to work together on new projects.