Stork Food & Dairy Systems moves beyond dairy following JBT acquisition

By Richard Groenendijk

- Last updated on GMT

SFDS moves into the juice market. Picture: Nimbus.
SFDS moves into the juice market. Picture: Nimbus.

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'Big plans' are in place for Stork Food & Dairy Systems (SFDS) following its acquisition by JBT, with the company getting ready to integrate all its technology across a range of JBT products.

SFDS has maintained a presence in the global dairy sector for over four decades, whether as a standalone business or as part of its former parent company Stork, working as a major supplier of sterilization and filling equipment to the European dairy industry.

But following its acquisition by JBT in 2015, the Amsterdam-based company is preparing for a huge expansion in its activities, moving into new markets and integrating its technology into systems across the broader JBT business.

SFDS has multiple product lines from processing – specifically sterilizing and pasteurizing dairy and juice products – to filling and blow molding systems. Products are sterilized using Stork Sterideal-branded UHT equipment, following which they can be stored in aseptic tanks before going on to aseptic fillers.

SFDS’s sterilization options run from 2,000 liters per hour up to 25,000 liters per hour, while tanks go from 10,000 liters up to 50,000 liters.

Dairy – from long-life milk through to puddings, creams and dairy sauces – as well as high-end juices are the principal aims, although SFDS has also supplied equipment for a range of food products, including sauces containing beans, tomato sauce products and soups, and nutraceuticals (low acid products with high protein and vitamin content).

Larger network

Traditionally, SFDS’s client base has been concentrated in Europe and in particular on long-life milk countries in the south, such as Spain, Portugal and Italy, which are classic UHT dairy countries – although puddings and other dairy products also have a strong market in Northern Europe.

The origin of UHT equipment dates back to the 1960s, so we have a large installed base with many of our customers making repeat orders because they know us and the equipment.

For the last 20-30 years, SFDS has also had a strong presence in Latin America – principally Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, all of which are growth markets for the company. Over the last 10 years, SFDS has also invested in South East Asia and is growing strongly there.

Being part of JBT means SFDS has the added advantage of now having access to a larger and wider worldwide sales network with more sales people on the ground, which is expected to lead to the company having a better spread of products throughout the world.

We have a very strong Customer Care business in dairy, mainly from UHT equipment – about 30%-40% of our turnover is post sales Customer Care – but being integrated into JBT will make us even stronger and give us a greater presence worldwide with far more field service engineers.

Technology integration

SFDS’s integration into JBT will progress further during the course of 2017, with the company’s technology set to be introduced into equipment supplied by A&B Process Systems, the US-based stainless steel process system specialist acquired by JBT in 2015.

A&B Process Systems is strong in the mixing and blending of products – their clients, for example, use a milk base to which is added a strawberry or chocolate flavor, then sent to a UHT to be sterilized, so we are working on product integration with A&B.

The advantage here is that JBT will be able to supply a far broader range of products, including A&B mixing and blending technology combined with SFDS sterilization and aseptic tank systems.

Another important SFDS product that is being integrated into existing JBT systems is the company’s coupling-free heat exchange technology.

We make heat exchange technology that has no couplings in it – our competitors have tube-in-tube heat exchanges which typically use a six meter-long tube, a coupling, and then another six meter-long tube. This is important because each coupling is an aseptic risk – a coupling can leak and if they leak you can have bacteria entering your product, so having long tubes without couplings is an advantage when it comes to building heat exchangers.

In conjunction with JBT’s operation in Parma, Italy, the SFDS technology is being integrated into existing JBT systems, meaning it could soon be in practice in sectors where the former company has not previously had a notable presence, including fruit and juice sterilization.

Expansion focus

SFDS’s ambitions for its processing systems business are echoed in its other principal area of business, filling and blow molding, where it is expanding beyond its original focus into new markets under the leadership of Patrick de Groot, Aseptic Systems product line manager.

SFDS has been a major supplier of sterilization and filling equipment to the European dairy industry since the 1960s. In fact, de Groot comments that taking one market as an example, in this case the UK, 80% of the milk bottles are filled on SFDS fillers.

Over the course of the years, with the advent of new technology, SFDS has moved into aseptic technology – the technique whereby liquids are subjected to a high temperature for a few seconds to kill potentially harmful bacteria before cooling and filling into retail packaging – and is now a supplier of the systems to dairy companies.

UHT sterilizers and aseptic filling equipment are also used to sterilize empty containers – typically bottles – before they are filled and closed.

Through this approach SFDS can supply long life, shelf stable technology for dairy and juice makers, with the advantage that the products can be subsequently stored almost anywhere for a relatively long period of time.

Safety a priority

De Groot, who has a background in mechanical engineering, originally joined Stork after writing his graduate thesis on the company, starting in the marketing department before moving into business operations.

Since assuming responsibility for SFDS’s sterilization business, he has concentrated on areas where the company’s technology could be applied outside its traditional dairy business.

SFDS is now studying how such technologies can be used across sectors in other parts of the world. In the case of the US, he says SFDS is already well established with US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its aseptic filling equipment and it is now looking for a way to support that process and work with US dairy farmers.

However, the approach SFDS takes to this and other new markets is likely to be different to the past. Over the course of the past two years, de Groot says SFDS has moved from being an engineering company to a build-to-order specialist, which configures specific machines for specific customers using proven technology.

Change in emphasis

In terms of markets, de Groot says there are virtually no limitations on where SFDS is able to supply, although he says the US, China, Thailand and Indonesia have assumed particular importance over recent years.

Although still important, de Groot says demand in Europe has slowed during the past decade, while SFDS now receives orders from as far afield as Zimbabwe, Australia and New Zealand. This change in emphasis, he says, is partly down to SFDS’s effort on long-life dairy and juice products, meaning demand tends to be greater in countries where such products are typically consumed such as Spain and Italy, rather than the likes of the UK where fresh remains dominant.

So what has changed at SFDS since being acquired by JBT Corporation in summer 2015? According to de Groot, being part of JBT is giving SFDS access to an established international sales network.

We are a company based in Amsterdam that was part of the Stork industrial group, and as such it was a challenge to service our customers throughout the world – with JBT, we have access to a larger footprint worldwide with sales and service that is close to our customers​,” he said.

Although it remains strong in the dairy sector, SFDS has moved into the juice market in a major way over the last few years to the extent that 30-40% of the aseptic fillers that it manufactures are now destined for juice processors.

Richard Groenendijk is JBT Stork’s director of operations in Amsterdam.

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