The Swiss love their ‘shakers’: fresh salads in numerous variations, packaged in a practical to-go cup that includes dressing and a fork. This delicious snack on the road comes from Kellermann AG (www.kellermann.ch), located in Ellikon an der Thur in the Swiss canton of Zürich. With 280 employees, the company focuses on three business areas. First, the so-called Thurtaler Gemüse AG cultivates organic vegetables, lettuce and strawberries on around 80 hectares of open space. Second, the purnatur division addresses cultivation of tomatoes in nine varieties. And third, under its own brand Kellermann Convenience – Made in Switzerland, the company supplies a whole range of convenience products for the Swiss retail market, in addition to its portfolio for the catering and food industry.
Kellermann AG relies on a close partnership with packaging specialist SEALPAC. All the innovative convenience products for out-of-home consumption are produced on SEALPAC’s high-technology traysealers. We spoke with Martin Kellermann, CEO at Kellermann AG, Michael Karrer, Quality Manager at Kellermann AG, Gordon Benedix, Production Manager at Kellermann AG, and Remo Weder, Managing Director of SEALPAC’s Swiss branch office Sealpac Schweiz GmbH, about the top-selling shaker, the partnership between the two companies and current market trends.
What do modern consumers value when it comes to food?
Martin Kellermann: Consumer behaviour in relation to food has changed fundamentally. Convenience is in strong contrast with cooking as an event. When we speak about convenience, this often has a negative undertone, but convenience is needed in everyday life. People have less and less time, there is a growing number of single-person households, and some consumers simply do not want to deal with food intensively. It is obvious that the convenience trend will continue, since to-go and ready-to-cook products are extremely popular. Consumers expect variety in taste, as well as practical handling. More and more consumers are also paying attention to their diet. This has increased the demand for salads.
What is the success story behind Kellermann’s convenience products?
Kellermann: Our bestseller, the ‘shaker’, is a product with a high degree of convenience, therefore loved by modern consumers, especially in urban areas. We offer various fresh salads in a transparent cup with full visibility of its contents. These cups are sealed with a top film. Inside the lid, on top of the film, there is a folding fork, which reaches to the bottom of the cup, as well as a small bottle with salad dressing. After removing the top film, the dressing is poured over the salad, the lid is replaced, and the shaking begins. This leads to an optimally mixed salad. We created the packaging ourselves. In addition to an attractive design, the focus was primarily on functionality. We wanted to enable consumers to mix their salads on the road in the easiest possible way. Our products are made according to different recipes, including popular classics such as lamb’s lettuce with egg. Our success proves that we meet the expectations of consumers regarding quality, freshness, taste, variety and convenience.
What sealing equipment do you use to manufacture your convenience products?
Gordon Benedix: We have four SEALPAC systems. There are two fully automated SEALPAC A6 traysealers, used only to produce the shakers in various sizes, our main product in terms of volumes. There are also two semi-automatic traysealers, which we use to package semi-finished products for the catering and food industry.
Remo Weder: The compact, fully automated, servo-driven lines start with a SEALPAC AS-LS 1200 denester and Walking Beam in-feed. This allows the trays, despite their challenging shape, to be safely transported on a repeatedly moving linear beam instead of a conveyor belt. As such, a uniform high speed and precise stopping at the various filling positions is achieved. The various salad components are filled manually. In order to achieve the required opening quality of Kellermann’s products, the sealing system is of fundamental importance. As the SEALPAC upper tooling always uses individual sealing heads per tray, an even seal quality all around the tray edge is guaranteed. Tool changes are extremely easy with our patented tooling trolley concept, as they can be carried out with minimum physical effort by each employee.
What has changed in the production at Kellermann AG?
Kellermann: When we did the investment, we made sure that the machines would be compatible with each other. Therefore, we use two identical SEALPAC A6 traysealers that offer flexibility in our production. This is highly important, since we manufacture numerous custom-specific products with different mixtures in small quantities, including various private labels. The time factor plays a decisive role for us. It can happen that there are only two to three hours between ordering and delivery. This is quite challenging for our production planning, making the option to switch to a second, identical line very helpful.
Benedix: With our previous sealing equipment of another supplier, we had a lot of downtime. Product safety was never in danger, but we often did not have a constant production flow. We approached Remo Weder at Sealpac Schweiz GmbH, who assisted us personally and comprehensively from the start, regardless of whether it concerned the product that needed to be packaged, the output of the equipment or their installation in the production room. This allowed us to design our processes more efficiently. For example, we used to have many tool changes in the past, which disturbed the production. Now we are working with two tools. With one of them we can run our small and large cups without changing. That way we save at least 50% in set-up time.
Michael Karrer: From a quality assurance perspective, I can add that cleaning is made extremely easy, as the SEALPAC traysealers only have a few blind spots. Overall, the internal controlling effort has become much less. Our salads have a shelf life of five to seven days. Vegetables are less problematic, because they absorb oxygen. Incidentally, in the past they would add a small amount of cabbage inside the salad trays, to enable natural degassing. Depending on the contents of the salad, we must achieve different gas values inside the packaging. Their hermetic seal allows us to maintain those values. We measure this on a random basis with our Checkpoint devices. All in all, we have very little waste.
Weder: From a packaging technology point of view, I can only underline that the vacuum/gas process for these products is complicated, as they are quite compact and have many air pockets. To achieve the right gas mixture for a fresh salad pack requires considerable know-how. Take, for example, a transparent slice of cucumber. Whether it was slightly frozen or simply handled with too much vacuum, that is hard to tell. In both cases, the cells have burst.
Kellermann: Our salads are ultra-fresh products that are packaged without preservatives. This is a big challenge in terms of shelf life, optics, taste and safety. When the salads are cut, an irreversible process is triggered that leads to optical changes, which will only slow down by taking out oxygen. If we wish to deliver a flawless product to our customers, all parameters must be right. Initially, the SEALPAC traysealers were not on our mind, because we thought they would be out of our league. In retrospect, however, purchasing these pieces of equipment has been worthwhile. In terms of reliability, efficient use of packaging materials and especially the quality of our final product, we have made huge progress.
Does local presence play a role in your successful collaboration?
Kellermann: Definitely. For us, being close to Sealpac Schweiz in Eschlikon has been a true argument. In addition to regular personal advice, this also gives us short response times should questions or problems arise. That happens everywhere, but then it comes down to quick solutions.
Weder: We always believe it is important that our customer’s in-house technicians are in close dialogue with our own service department, so that they know after how many cycles maintenance is required. This depends on the schedule of the production plant, is coordinated by these technicians and is one of our strengths on the Swiss market. Being close to Kellermann, we are able to jump in whenever a bottleneck occurs.
Benedix: At the turn of the year 2019/2020, we had a high demand for a particular product, but could not handle that with our existing equipment. SEALPAC helped us out immediately by delivering an additional machine at very short notice.
Weder: For us, being a family-owned company and an experienced partner in the dynamic food industry, maintaining high levels of inventory of raw materials and spare parts has never been a significant cost factor. In times like these, such a company philosophy is more important than ever! In this case, we were able to install the additional equipment shortly before Kellermann’s Christmas production peak. Owing to our plug & play concept, the machine was immediately ready for use.
What role does the trending topic of sustainability play in your daily business?
Kellermann: In general, the mindset of the consumer is changing. Looking at products, vegetarian and vegan foods have long been a must have in our industry. In contrast, organic products are difficult to market in the convenience sector, as the packaging does not really fit. Nevertheless, we have been producing organically for four years now. Our approach is not to detach organic products completely from our portfolio. You could almost say that we offer these products in such a way that convenience seekers can access them “even though“ they are organic. As far as the packaging is concerned: in case of salads it is not easy to apply more sustainable concepts. Hybrid packaging, containing both cardboard and plastic, like is used for yoghurt cups, do not work for these products. I personally consider packaging made from replacement materials, based on food-grade products, as ambiguous. Many other alternatives often fail because of costs, as most consumers are unwilling to pay a higher price for them. We therefore try to use mono materials instead of plastic composites wherever possible, as this is a basic requirement for sustainable recycling. This has also been the case with our shaker project.
Weder: Next to the issue of raw materials, sustainability in our view also means reducing food waste, for example by offering optimal product protection and longest possible shelf life. This is what we achieve with the consistent sealing process on our equipment. But also by downgauging on the materials used, such as ultra-light tray concepts.
Where do Kellermann’s ideas for product innovations come from, and which trend is currently determining the future?
Kellermann: In our company, we have very creative employees with innovative ideas that we show at exhibitions and to our inner circle. Not all of these make it to the market. The true megatrend that we see in our industry, which we cannot really influence as a food manufacturer, lies in resourcing of retail data. Information on purchasing behaviour, such as product contacts and frequencies, serve to guide the customer through the store. First attempts with automated shops are currently being carried out in Switzerland. However, despite all the enthusiasm for the technical possibilities of data collection, we should not forget that we are all individuals, not machines. Some consumer tendencies are simply unpredictable.