We’ve got a crisis on our hands! The recent free-from boom in pop-culture, on top of a growing epidemic of food allergies, has led to free-from products becoming increasingly integrated into people’s daily diets. But with prices of key ingredients used in a range of free-from products soaring dramatically, this industry, worth an estimated £652m to the UK, needs to adapt and eliminate costly giveaway.

Rice flour is an integral part of gluten-free bread, cakes, baby food and desserts. With the cost of it rising by 26%, bakers are scrambling for a solution to keep production costs as low as possible. This is where checkweighing comes in as Charlie Graham, European Sales Manager for Sparc Systems explains.

Free-from products typically use expensive ingredients in the manufacturing process; some costing 2-3 times more than their conventional counterparts. Additionally, due to rising allergens, segregated production zones are critical to eliminate cross contamination. Even more essential given the introduction of ‘Natasha’s law’ this October.

Understanding the processing formulations in all free-from products is vital. In free-from bakery categories, for example, several processing variables must be factored in to maintain batch-to-batch consistency.

Inspecting up to 12,000 dough pieces per hour, Sparc Systems’ Hestia Dough Checkweigher provides free-from bakers with unparalleled weighing precision and speed.

Producing high quality and tasty gluten-free bread with comparable volumes and texture requires a degree of experimentation using different flour substitutes. When the perfect free-from dough and process has been achieved, the next challenge is maintaining a consistent weight and bake.

Repeatably delivering a weight accuracy of 0.5 grams, the automated Hestia Dough Checkweigher can save specialist free-from bakers thousands of pounds every day.

Connected to an automated upstream free-from dough dividing line, if a piece of dough is under or overweight by as little as 0.5 grams, the Hestia Dough Checkweigher automatically rejects it. Simultaneously, the machine’s advanced fibre optic-controlled software communicates back to the dough divider in real time to adjust the position of the blade for the next batch.

Charlie expands: “Free-from ingredients can cost over 150% more than conventional breads. There are often 20 or more ingredients within a free-from bread recipe. Placing even greater emphasis on tightly controlling waste.”

Automated dough checkweighing allows for individual pieces that are off target weight to be removed and reworked, as well as providing corrective feedback to the dough divider. The result is a rapid payback on machinery investment.

“Sourcing alternatives to wheat, barley and rye is high cost, making repeatable weight precision even more critical for free-from bakeries,” reports Charlie.

Price volatility for premium ingredients, combined with the well documented global supply chain challenges, was part of the rationale behind the launch of Fortress and Sparc’s Raptor Checkweigher series. Using high-end weighing algorithms alongside sophisticated automated adjustment and data capture software, the robust Raptor checkweigher further supports the rapidly expanding free-from industry to mitigate costly product giveaway. Targeting operational inefficiencies, the Raptor series reduces unnecessary rejections and waste whilst helping to maintain brand reputation.

“A common approach when prices escalate is to reduce the sizes of packs to counteract the rising raw material costs. For premium free-from products it places even greater pressure on the need to adhere to accurate net weights,” Charlie emphasises.  

“Harnessing the power of smart checkweighing technology is rapidly becoming a critical part of the inspection mix. This ensures consumers continue to have the choice of affordable free-from products that don’t compromise their wellbeing and dietary needs,” he concludes.