Despite the market challenges of Brexit, economic uncertainty and the ongoing effects of the pandemic, the convenience food sector continues to grow. In 2021, revenue in the sector is estimated at £12,648million, with annual growth forecast at 0.44% (CAGR 2021-2025). This increase in demand is presenting challenges for food processors, including finding equipment which can automate processes, particularly in light of staff shortages and the need to continue to identify potential ways to make the workplace more COVID-safe.

Interfood Technology is the partner for Alco Food Machines, a German company that has been developing food processing solutions for over 40 years. Complete line solutions for convenience food production is a key focus for Alco, with Interfood working closely with a number of customers throughout the UK and Ireland to identify their specific needs and develop tailored lines accordingly.

The Alco offering includes machines for mixing, forming, flattening, cutting, coating, frying, cooking and cooling. Such operations are widely employed in producing poultry-based products, including Kievs, nuggets and a variety of battered, breaded and coated options.

The Alco ACB cordon-bleu-slicer is designed specifically for products which require a precise incision to allow insertion of a filling. Depth and height adjustment of the blades ensures accuracy of cut for Kiev cutlets, grill pockets and butterfly cuts. Products can also be split into two halves, with minimal weight deviations between the upper and lower portions.

Uniform product thickness is a key attribute of the Alco ASP flattener. This helps to ensure shorter cooking times, as well as producing a more consistent product quality through calibrated portions and a larger surface area. For products such as schnitzel or the North East speciality of Chicken Parmo, the desired product thickness can be defined in advance through a simple height adjustment of the machine’s rollers which evenly flattens the meat.

Simon Jubb is Divisional Manager for Interfood’s Preparation Division. He comments – “One of the reasons for chicken being so popular globally is undoubtedly its versatility. Through automating many of the processes employed in generating products for the convenience foods sector, new and innovative variations can be developed, as well as ensuring consistency in how those products are produced. The range of options available from Alco is impressive. But this makes it even more important to ensure that for a complete line solution the right machines, with the most efficient connectivity and layout, are chosen to meet the needs of a given application. That is why we regularly take customers to Alco’s own dedicated application test facility to see how their products will perform. This has obviously been more difficult with the travel restrictions surrounding COVID but we look forward to continuing this approach to ensure that customers maximise the potential that a convenience food line has to offer.”