Tollers Expand Service Breadth To Meet Food Companies' Needs

Instead of basic services only, tolling services are pushing into turnkey solutions for clients.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Products typically arrive at a toller in their final packaging. TFS has the ability to vacuum pack meals prior to pasteurization. With its sister company’s manufacturing expertise, TFS is extending its service menu to copacking and cobranding. Among its partners: Southern Living, the magazine franchise best known for indulgent eating.

TFS recently secured an export license to better serve clients who are shipping products to Asia and Europe. “It makes sense,” comments Jasmine Sutherland, president. “It’s a lot of paperwork, but we’re the last person to touch the product.”

With 10 HPP lines in four locations, Universal Pasteurization Co. (universalpasteurization.com) boasts of being North America’s largest toller. No service enhancements have been added since the Lincoln, Neb.-based toller was founded in 2010, according to CEO Mark Duffy, but that doesn’t mean Universal is a barebones toller. Through its sister company, it is able to offer cold storage services as well as blast freezing, tempering, ink jetting and logistics. Services extend to assembly of meal kits.

“We don’t even use the term tolling anymore,” maintains Duffy. Shrink wrapping and distribution up to 400 miles from the HPP centers are among Universal’s ala carte services. With growing interest in reducing food waste in a market demanding fresh foods, the case for HPP is growing, he says.

Universal’s 10 HPP lines each can pasteurize 4,200-6,500 lbs. of packaged food per hour. That gives it the capability to toll for some of the country’s largest branded foods, as well as emerging opportunities in foodservice. Chipotle restaurants are among the new recruits to HPP pasteurization as the franchisor attempts to resolve a series of foodborne illness issues.

Demand for HPP tolling is coming from large food companies with their own presses, as well as foodservice and smaller firms that can’t justify their own HPP lines, points out Errol Raghubeer, Avure’s senior vice president-HPP science & technology (www.avure-hpp-foods.com). During peak demand periods, it makes more sense to send packaged foods out of house than to add more in-house capacity.

“The major tollers are all adding machines, food science staff and sales associates,” adds Raghubeer, a microbiologist. He cites a recent report that predicts the value of HPP pasteurized foods will more than double by 2025 to in excess of $25 billion.

Recall insurance

Shelf life extension first made the business case for HPP pasteurization, but insurance against a food contamination event increasingly is the driver for HPP and other technologies. Besides Safe Sterilization’s dry steam process, irradiation billed as electronic cold pasteurization is an option.

A toll center tailored for fresh produce arriving from Mexico is under development in McAllen, Texas. The opening of ScanTech Sciences Inc.’s facility has been pushed back until the end of 2017; in the meantime, the firm is developing its capabilities in logistics and information services, including traceability and demand planning.

“We don’t typically describe our services as toll services because we aren’t simply collecting a fee for our treatment,” Lindsay Carswell, marketing manager of ScanTech (www.scantechholdings.com), says. “Instead, we think of ourselves as a post-harvest food treatment program.” Because product temperature only increases a few degrees, e-beam proponents describe it as cold pasteurization.

Call it what you will, it reflects the response in the service sector to offer more value-add for today’s food companies. A toller by any other name faces pressure to offer more comprehensive services.

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