Hard at Wok
By Pierre Deschamps
Cutting-edge X-Ray product-inspection technology a big boost for quality control and food safety for Quebec producer of beloved Asian appetizers
Growth and investment go hand-in-hand in the fiercely competitive food industry, with companies large and small perennially locked in battle for market share in just about every category out there—from cheese and yogurt to deli meats and ready-to-eat offerings.
While such competition rewards consumers with an abundance of choice when they go grocery shipping, it also puts enormous pressure on successful food manufacturing startups to keep expanding and modernizing their operations at a relentless pace.
More often than not, this means automating many production processes and methods previously performed manually, which is what an enterprising Quebec-based food producer Deliwok 2000 Inc. did a couple of years ago to build on its success in the market for frozen Asian-style appetizers like spring rolls, alongside breaded chicken and Latin-inspired fare such as quesadillas and churros.
Located in the Henri-Girard industrial park in Chicoutimi, the main administrative and commercial center of the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, Deliwok has come a long way since it commenced operations in 1997.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the company claims to be the largest producer of imperial rolls and the second-largest supplier of egg rolls in the province, according to the company’s founder and owner Roger Lévesque.
“We are Number One in Quebec in the manufacturing of imperial rolls, with about 60-percent market share,” he says, “and Number Two in the manufacturing of egg rolls, with a 30-percent share of the market.”
With about 90 per cent of its output capacity dedicated to production of private-label products for retail and brand customers like Costco, Thaïzone, Yuzu, and Aki, among others, Deliwok relies primarily on local suppliers for the lion’s share of ingredients used in its products—notably poultry meat and cheese—contributing to the local economy.
Employing about 45 full-time people, Deliwok carried out a major capital investment upgrade at its Chicoutimi plant in 2019 as part of a larger business strategy aimed at expanding its export markets outside of Quebec.
Estimated at about $4.6 million in total, the investment included a 4,800-square-foot expansion of the production facility and, more importantly, installation of various state-of-the-art robotics and other high-speed automatic equipment that significantly increased Deliwok’s productivity.
“We had to do something,” Lévesque recalls. “Our imperial rolls were 100 per cent hand-made, and our production process was saturated.
“At the time, we were just able to meet the demand of our customers, who were ordering more and more of our products,” he relates.
“The equipment we acquired at that time really changed our way of doing things,” Lévesque relates, “while allowing us to reduce a very large number of manual tasks that seriously limited our ability to increase our production rates.”
The influx of automated machinery has enabled Deliwok to install a new production line that can process up to 7,000 imperial rolls per hour in constant 20-minute cycles from making the rolls, cooking them in the ovens, and then freezing the product at -23°C.
All in all, the plant currently produces about five million imperial rolls and three million egg rolls per year on this line, which also boasts a VC999 packaging machine and four Reiser portioners, with capacity to accommodate annual production volumes up to 15 million imperial rolls and eight million egg rolls.
According to Lévesque, the spare capacity provides the flexibility the company needs in coming years to grow its business by 15 per cent annually.
While Deliwok’s 10,000-square-foot plant has been certified for HACCP (Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points) compliance for several years, the management has recently embarked on working to achieve the international GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certification to open up new market opportunities.
Unfortunately, “the COVID pandemic has slowed down,” Lévesque acknowledges, quickly pointing out that the company has nevertheless made the necessary capital investment it needs to complete the certification process.
Notably, this investment included recent acquisition of an of an Eagle Pro 240 X-ray inspection system from PLAN Automation, a leading Canadian packaging systems integrator and exclusive Canadian distributor for the full range of X-Ray inspection systems manufactured by the Tampa, Fla.-based Eagle Product Inspection.
Designed specifically for high-speed inspection of flow-wrap lines, blister-packs and many other kinds of small packaged products, the state-of-the-art system provides reliable detection and rejection of a broad range of contaminants—including glass shards, metal fragments, mineral stone, some plastic and rubber compounds, and calcified bone—to ensure optimal quality control on busy production lines.
According to Eagle, the compact high-performance X-ray inspection system is designed for easy cleaning in wash-down environments, including fresh, chilled or frozen packaged meat and poultry production lines, dairy products or other food applications where daily equipment disinfection is mandatory.
“It had become necessary for us to have proper equipment that guarantees the safety of our products,” states Lévesque.
“The guarantee of safety that it offers us is essential in the markets we serve,” he says, complimenting PLAN Automation for its outstanding service capabilities and fast response.
“PLAN Automation gave us exemplary service,” Lévesque says, citing service excellence as prime reason why Deliwok chose to go with Eagle X-Ray technology.
“Because of our production volumes, we had to be assured that we would be able to get help quickly,” Lévesque points out.
“When we did have a problem, PLAN Automation sent us a technician who solved everything in no time,” says Lévesque, adding the Eagle Pro 240 X-ray system has already proved to be an excellent investment.
“The operation of the system is truly remarkable,” he extols. “We are so satisfied with our acquisition that we are seriously considering acquiring a second X-Ray detector from PLAN Automation.”