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Newport Juices goes ultra clean

Newport Juices sits unnoticed in the shadow of Ellis Park stadium, one of Jozi’s less attractive domains. And this is just the way that owner, Mitch Coetzee, likes it. However, its unlovely exterior belies the fact that this is a premium beverage producer, dedicated to Woolworths as a key supplier of its chilled fruit juices. It also has recently acquired a world-class Filmatic ultra-clean filler.

IT WAS THAT well-known Jo’burg watering hole of the 1970s, the Sunnyside Park Hotel that put the fledgling Newport Juice company in business, when its manager agreed to buy into a totally new convenience concept being punted by founder, retired newspaperman, the late Noel Dellar: namely to procure his freshly-squeezed, pure orange juice, then an entirely novel commercial beverage idea.

Newport has come a very long way since its early days as a supplier to hotels and restaurants, but has always remained true to its original ethos as a producer of preservative-free, chilled juices, and has stayed the course in tackling the processing (pasteurisation in a tubular heat exchanger) and packaging challenges that go with it, doing so long before anyone else dared to venture into this pathogenically-daunting territory.

Woolworths, always ahead of the game and who habitually presents consumers with choices they didn’t yet know they wanted, came knocking on Newport Juices’ door in 1987. The retailer had ticked chilled, preservative-free, 100% juice products for its refrigerator shelves – and still, to this day, is the only major retailer with the cold chain protocols to do it – – and so began a healthy partnership that has seen both companies’ scope and fortunes expand multifold.

Despite its prosperity, Newport prefers to stay under the radar: ‘We’re a little old-fashioned, I suppose,’ comments Mitch Coetzee (pictured below) who acquired the company on Noel’s death. ‘We don’t need to look flash or shout about ourselves; we’re in a niche market and we operate on forging close partnerships with our main customer and our key suppliers. Everyone who needs to know us does, and vice versa, is how I’d put it!’

Innovation is a vital component of the Newport-Woolworths’ partnership: the duo jumped into PET as an option for premium 100% juices some years ago and, on a continual basis, work together in devising exciting new flavour and ingredient combinations -– Woolies can luxuriate in adventurous new product development for its well-heeled customers that others can only dream about. Up to 40 000 litres of product leave its factory daily in over 30 different flavour and pack sizes. Newport has also had to consistently reinvent its factory to cope with growing volumes and the extraordinary expansion of Woolworths’ food business and stores.

To this end, Mitch latterly decided it time to pre-empt capacity satiation and sort out some filling bottlenecks in his plant, and so went browsing at his favourite filler shop, Filmatic in Paarl. The company’s renowned locally-designed and built fillers have been Newport’s technology of choice since its first foray into semi-automation years ago, and its two current production workhorses are 12 and 18-head Filmatic fillers.

Now, newly ensconced on the floor and awaiting final commissioning is an ultra-clean filler, added to Filmatic’s range several years ago to meet the growing demand for extended shelf life (ESL) products. It has sold several of these machines, with a number going to customers abroad.

This 24-valve Filmatic rinser-filler sterilises the bottles and caps and fills the juice in a sterile environment eliminating contaminants and ensuring extended shelf life. The monobloc can handle a variety of PET labelled PET bottle sizes, delivering these by air conveyor to the filler bloc. Of major importance is the fact that it’s a neck-handling system ie no changeover between bottle sizes which means minimal change over times, low maintenance and reduced downtime. Depending on the product, from 250ml to 2-litre containers can be filled at speeds ranging from 12 000bph for smaller bottles, to 9 000bph for larger containers. The added hygienic dimension is provided by HEPA filters over the filler bloc, ozone sterilisation of both caps and bottles and automated CIP (clean-in-place).

Mitch Coetzee of Newport Juices
 

For Mitch, this considerable investment of several million rand in total was motivated by several factors: ‘Perhaps our foremost concern was to enhance our productivity, and this filler’s lack of change parts is a major boon, especially in our business which demands flexibility as we do relatively short runs of many different size and flavour variants,’ he explains.

‘But we also had our eye on its ESL benefits, and the extensive supply chain advantages and savings that go with it. Currently, we have a shelf life of around 15 days, but we know this will be substantially enhanced with this ultra-clean technology.’

Mitch stresses that this is largely an investment in the future, given the trends toward minimising risk and the premiumisation of products: ‘We have a Woolworths’ mindset when it comes to quality and safety standards. As a manufacturer, we have to constantly re-evaluate the options as technology advances and the cost/benefit ratios improve. We’re looking for a competitive edge; for cost efficiencies in production and logistical savings and less wastage or fewer returns, but we also have to be prepared to meet the consumer demand for convenience and more “natural”, additive-free products. I felt it important to get a “Rolls Royce” filler at today’s prices and over time I’m confident it will more than pay for itself,’ he concludes.

Clean-fill, ultra-clean, aseptic?

WITH CONSUMERS showing vibrant interest in higher-quality, additive-free, fresh, refrigerated foods, extended-shelf-life (ESL) products represent a growing market, especially those in single-serving, convenient packaging. As this trend booms, clean-fill and ultra-clean-fill technologies, sometimes partnered with aseptic processing and/or packaging approaches, continue to thrive.

Clean-fill, ultra-clean, aseptic? What’s the difference? While it’s expected that all products are filled under hygienic conditions, there are different degrees of cleanliness in packaging technology from a microbiological standpoint. These centre around the level of sterilisation inside the package at the time of sealing and the means to maintain it, and these conditions increase in sophistication with each level of the technology. In selecting a processing and packaging system, the essentials are microbial safety (in which the filling procedure plays a critical role), payback, line speed, versatility for product and package changeovers, and the ability to fill and assemble variety packs.

Aseptic processing and filling systems to produce shelf-stable foods are very expensive and are not engineered for the stop-start manufacturing of small quantities of product. The premise behind high-tech ESL packaging is the adoption of high standards for processing and packaging of refrigerated foods; it offers a cost break over aseptic, and allows processors to achieve refrigerated product shelf lives of 60, 90, even 120 days.

South Africa currently has only two products that can be truly dubbed ESL: fresh, pasteurised milk from SPAR Brands and Clover that were launched almost simultaneously at the end of 2005. SPAR’s co-packer, Woodlands Dairy in Humansdorp, opted for Pure-Lac rapid steam-infusion technology from APV that extends life by up to 45 days in resealable two-litre Elopak Pure-Pak cartons, while Clover chose Tetra Pak for the pasteurisation, centrifugal separation that significantly decreases the bacteria and spore content of the milk, and sterile filling and Tetra Top packaging for a product that is ‘Fresh for 50% longer!’

First published in PACKAGiNG & Print Media, August 2007 

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