Canadian Packaging

Sweet Rewards

By Andrew Snook   



Fast-growing chocolate producer keeping pace with demand growth with world-class packaging automation

Life has gotten a whole lot sweeter for Chewters Chocolates since the Delta, B.C.-based chocolate production facility recently invested in a new Syntegon Technology packaging line to meet growing market demand for its premium cocoa creations.

“Over the last five years, our business has grown almost 600 per cent; last year alone we grew by over 50 per cent alone,” says John Oucharek, vice-president of operations for Chewters Chocolates.

“We have gone from producing 500,000 pounds of chocolate annually to 5.3 million pounds a year,” says Oucharek, outlining several factors for the company’s meteoric rise in recent years.

With 75 years of chocolate-making expertise shred between the company’s two owners, Richard Foley and Wade Pugh, the company excels in making the best-tasting chocolate for its flagship ChocXO brand.

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That expertise is coupled with the efficient operation of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for producing Chewters’ products and its co-manufactured (co-man) products, says Oucharek, adding that the plant’s production output is roughly split 70-30 between ChocXO branded and co-man products, respectively.

“First and foremost, at Chewters, we are chocolatiers,” Oucharek told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview.

“That is why we decided to create our own brand ChocXO featuring simple ingredients, high cacao dark chocolate and low in organic sugar products.

“We saw an opportunity for dark chocolate products in the snack-food market, but even we were impressed with the demand for our products, which came even faster than expected,” Oucharek says.

“Our ChocXO brand is based on making the best chocolate with low sugar,” Oucharek explains.

“Our chocolatiers have sourced special, fine flavored cocoa beans that are naturally fruity, nutty and less bitter.

“We use only small amounts of organic sugar to underscore our natural, delightful taste,” he says.

“Moreover, our manufacturing facility and processes are state-of-the-art.

“We operate a world-class, SQF Level 3-certified facility with equipment that provides industry-leading efficiency,” Oucharek asserts.

“Our processes are highly flexible, which support the diverse needs of our co-man customers.”

Only five years ago, the chocolate-maker’s co-man business was a larger part of the operation than its branded products, according to Oucharek, noting that it’s still a strategically important source of revenues for the facility.

“It may only be 30 per cent of our business, but the co-man business has allowed us to grow,” Oucharek says. “This year, we’re going to grow another 55 per cent [and] next year we’re forecasting 8.4 million pounds of chocolate.

“That’s the growth trajectory we’re on now,” he extols, “and it’s phenomenal.”

As Oucharek points out, continuous investment in new technologies has been a key driver for the aggressive growth at Chewters.

The most recent major capital investment was centered on the installation of a new production line (Line 3) at the company’s 55,000-square-foot Delta facility, where Chewters produces its ChocXO brand Organic Almond Butter Cups and KETO Snaps and wraps them for Club and Caddy Packs.

The high-performance Line 3 includes a wide array of Syntegon packaging technologies supplied by Charles Downer & Co. Ltd., including:

  • A Syntegon Sigpack HRM flow wrapper;
  • A Sigpack TTME top load cartoner;
  • A Syntegon 3220 SVE DZ series vertical bagger; and
  • A Syntegon Elematic 3001 WA casepacker.

“This line provides them with high efficiency, a rapid and positive changeover, and running with the least amount of labor possible,” says Jeff Downer, owner of Charles Downer & Co. Ltd., Richmond Hill, Ont.-based supplier and installer of the Syntegon equipment at Chewters.

As Oucharek relates, Chewters previously worked with Syntegon and Charles Downer & Co. Ltd. to install the same packaging equipment on Line 2, and he was extremely impressed with the results.

“Four years ago, we bought our first Syntegon packaging system, which has been operational for just over two years,” Oucharek says. “One year ago, we purchased the new line and we used Syntegon for the project distribution.

“We just went through the commissioning and start-up of that line, and we were at 90-percent efficiency after two weeks of operation.”

The new packaging line has given Chewters increased flexibility for its own production, as well as its co-man business.

“It was absolutely needed to support our growth,” Oucharek says. “We’ve also been able to fill up roughly one-third of the line with co-man opportunities.

“We have people knocking on our door wanting to get our packaging format options.”

Formerly operating as Bosch Packaging Technology (and SIG Packaging before then), Syntegon Technology is a company that Oucharek is very familiar with, having with Jeff Downer and similar advanced technologies for over 30 years.

“I have been involved in over 12 major SIG, Bosch and Syntegon project system installations,” Oucharek relates.

“Each project had the same thing in common: they were all successful,” Oucharek says. “Every project met or exceeded the original project objectives.

“I’ve never experienced a project failure working with Jeff and selecting SIG, Bosch and Syntegon,” he states.

“Chewters is a great company to work with, and John is a fabulous guy, he’s doing a wonderful job,” says Downer, adding that investing in Syntegon equipment allows Chewters to be a low-cost producer.

“That’s what this equipment helps you do in the long run, so you’ve got control over your own destiny,” he says. “Chewters wants the best in performance and value in their packaging systems, and we provide both.”

Despite his confidence in Syntegon technologies, Oucharek always performs his due diligence when selecting packaging equipment to invest in.

“I have always looked at multiple equipment options for each project,” he states.

“When I do a technical evaluation on new equipment, I have always based the final decision on total life-cycle of the project.

“When the cost benefits of higher run speed and higher operational efficiency of equipment or system is calculated over the total life-cycle, Syntegon continually justifies the purchase decision,” he says.

“Syntegon is often a more expensive capital purchase option, but when you roll the monthly capital depreciation cost in with the ongoing lower operational costs, over time Syntegon’s operational performance pays for itself.”

With the aggressive expansion needed to keep up with demand for Chewters’ products, and the cost of investing in a new packaging line, the company can’t afford to choose the wrong equipment.

“We can’t afford a misstep [and] Syntegon offers that guaranteed level of quality,” Oucharek says.

So, what makes Syntegon packaging technologies stand out against the competition?

According to Oucharek, the three-part answer is speed, operational efficiency related to minimal downtime, and increased packaging flexibility.

“There are very few manufacturers whose equipment can operate at the speed that Syntegon equipment can,” he says.

“The higher speed rates are, first and foremost, where Swiss-built equipment stands apart.”

For example, the Sigpack HRM flow wrapper features product output rates of up to 1,500-ppm (products per minute) and film speeds up to 150-m/min.

The flow wrapper’s size ranges include a product length ranging from 25-mm to 180-mm; product width from 10-mm to 90-mm; and a product height up to 50-mm. The packaging material reel has a reel diameter up to 500-mm; a core diameter of 70-mm to 76-mm; and a packaging material width up to 250-mm.

Some of the flow wrapper’s flexible packaging options include:

  • Tight-fitting or loose pillow pack packages with or without gusset folding;
  • End fins: longitudinally or cross-crimped, with straight, zigzag or clip cut-off;
  • Longitudinal seam: longitudinally or cross-crimped;
  • Print code, cardboard insert, label or coupon application, tear strip, tear-open notches, and other opening features.

The Sigpack HRM flow wrapper ensures optimized system integration as well as various transverse sealing stations, heat-seal design or film infeed HPS lighting.

The strict separation of product or packaging material handling and drive elements meet the highest levels in hygiene requirements. All the components remain lubricated throughout their life cycle, which ensures continuously low maintenance intensity.

Once the individual chocolates are wrapped in the HRM flow wrapper, they drop down a hopper into a vibratory feeder (to control the flow) and then on through to the Yamato 14-head bucket weigh scale. From there, the chocolates are dropped through a timing hopper, and then either transferred directly into a Syntegon 3220 SVE DZ series vertical bagger for Club packs; or transferred over to the Sigpack TTME top load cartoner for Caddy packs for retail sales.

The Syntegon 3220 SVE DZ series vertical bagger is a continuous-motion VFFS (vertical form-fill-seal) system with precise machine motion for smooth production and high-quality bagging.

It can produce up to a hundred Doy Zip bags per minute, and features patented corner sealing that does not increase machine height.

The unit offers reclosability by means of zippers for Doy-style bags and three-side seal bags, as well as fast changeover capabilities that allow for the user to be up and running in 30 minutes when switching from pillow style to Doy Zip.

The Syntegon 3220 SVE DZ series vertical bagger is constructed using corrosion-resistant materials—suitable for packaging products in cold and moist environments—and controlled via an intuitive HMI (human–machine interface) that allows easy operation and short training time.

“Excellent machine: good flexibility, quick changeover, and absolutely exceeds what we need for equipment,” Oucharek says.

For its part, the Sigpack TTME top load cartoning system offers scalable output of 30 cartons per minute, along with quick and tool-free format changes for maximizing product and pack style flexibility in a compact footprint. Other TTME models can hit speeds of up to 150 cartons per minute.

“The Caddy pack is a new format that we’re really excited about,” Oucharek points out. “It’s going to give us the opportunity to get new locations in the store, end-of-aisle displays and cashier display units.”

The flexible cartoner can handle product lengths from 50-mm to 300-mm, product widths from 10-mm to-150 mm; and product heights from 10-mm to 150 mm. It also handles carton dimensions of 100-mm to 400-mm in length; 100-mm to 300-mm in width; and 25 mm to 160 mm in height.

The cartoner system’s standard features include:

  • Sigpack TTME technology for precise carton forming, loading and closing;
  • Product infeed conveyor;
  • Driven blank magazine;
  • Allen-Bradley control and drives;
  • HMI with color touchscreen, recipe and user management;
  • Integrated hot-melt system; and
  • Tool-less changeover with vertical restart.

Optional features include a double infeed conveyor and collating unit; feeding wheel for high-speed applications; on-edge loading of products; integration of a multipack infeed chain; open flap control; miscount detection; and a trolley for change parts.

After sealing, the finished Club packs and Caddy packs are then conveyed to the Syntegon Elematic 3001 WA case-packer for secondary packaging of both types of products.

“The machine has great flexibility to go between a tray format and our wraparound case format, which gives us the highest sustainability from a corrugate usage,” Oucharek says.

Standard features for the Syntegon Elematic 3001 WA case-packer include a hot-melt system that can be operated via the machine’s HMI; standardized collation platform for the modules infeed conveyor, acceleration belt, collation belt and product transfer belts; an ergonomic blank magazine height at 820-mm to 860-mm; and an external granulate hopper refilling for the hot-melt system.

Optional features include a twin infeed; bi-fold doors; a light package for illumination of inner workings; and a stainless-steel machine frame.

“Syntegon’s equipment is highly efficient, doesn’t break down, and its operational efficiency is bar none,” Oucharek says. “The packaging flexibility that the Syntegon equipment offers is vital for Chewters’ future growth.”

Says Oucharek: “Having the capability to take a piece of equipment and go from a 12-pack tray to a six-pack wraparound case at the speeds that the whole line runs at, and every piece having the right gate range and flexibility, provides us the capability to do all of our products and shop the line out for more products for our co-man production.”

So what lies ahead for Chewters in the future? Simply put: more growth. Will Syntegon be a part of that growth? It’s certainly a strong possibility.

“We’re currently working on expanding our manufacturing capability,” Oucharek confides.

“We are designing a new 200,000-square-foot [plant] that will be just as technically advanced as our current manufacturing plant,” he says.

“We will invite a number of equipment vendors into the RFQ process,” Oucharek sums up, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if Syntegon gets future orders based on speed, operational efficiency, and format flexibility.”

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