Suzanne Callander takes a look at the hard candy sector – its production methods and potential new market sectors for those wanting to take advantage of consumer trends.
A variety of sources point to the fact that many traditional hard candy outlets – such as hotels, conference venues, and restaurants – were hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic as lockdowns were imposed across the globe through 2020 and 2021 and that is said to have had an adverse effect on the hard candy sector. So, speaking with Keith Graham, Business Development Manager at Baker Perkins, I ask if the pandemic had affected producers of hard candy? “Yes,” he says. “Consumers were struggling with uncertainty and, in many cases, reduced income.”
To counter this, Keith points out that the use of modern, automated processes can provide a more cost-effective hard candy production solution, in addition to opening up new product opportunities.
The first step in the hard candy production process is to dissolve and concentrate the chosen syrup in a batch or continuous cooker until the residual moisture is reduced to between 1% and 3%. Cooking temperatures of up to 155°C may be required at atmospheric pressure, while lower temperatures are possible if the cooker is equipped with a vacuum chamber.
The slurry is then cooled down to between 105°C and 90°C at which point flavours, colours and acids are added, according to the recipe.
At the product forming stage there are two main technologies used today – depositing and stamping. Stamping requires the cooked syrup to be cooled down until the mass becomes viscous enough to be manipulated into a rotary die or a chain die. This does require a lower product temperature for forming than the depositor method. The cooled dough is then forced through rope sizers and rotative punches to form individual pieces.
In a depositor, the cooked syrup will be deposited in a solid mould, cooled down and then demoulded using mechanical action within the machine.
Today’s depositing machines allow confectioners to create an ever-wider array of colours shapes and patterns, and injection systems for adding soft fillings. What many depositors have in common is the fact that they include automated control – usually a programmable logic controller (PLC) and feature human machine interfaces (HMIs) to allow operators to interact more easily with the machine.
In process terms, automated starch-free depositing solutions can offer many advantages over traditional methods, particularly die forming and, according to Keith at Baker Perkins, product quality will be higher. “It is worth remembering that premium products suffer less in an economic turndown, as consumers seek solace in affordable ‘treats’ and choose more expensive but better-quality options,” he says. “We are continuing to see investment from all around the world in hard candy and lollipop production lines.
“Depositing systems can help ensure complete control throughout the line for high dimensional, shape and weight accuracy of finished products,” continues Keith. “High levels of automation, reliability and efficiency will enable much greater product output per operator in addition to enabling rapid changeovers. Automation also helps reduce product waste and energy consumption – which is rapidly becoming a major issue around the world and the cost of power is seeing fast increases.”
Integrated, automated depositing has the ability to produce confectionery with more visual appeal than older processes. Hard candy systems from Baker Perkins, for example, can facilitate the production of a wider range of good quality and colourful candies using both sugar and sugar-free recipes, at outputs of between 50 and 2,400 kg/hour.
One-shot depositing is able to provide multi-colour, multi-component candies in one, two, three or four colours – in stripes, layers or random patterns, with one or two hard or soft centre-fills, and with every possible colour and flavour.
An area where Baker Perkins has identified increased interest from its hard candy customers is for on-line equipment support which is helping reduce their reliance on in-house skills. “This helped many companies cope with staff shortages experienced throughout the pandemic and we believe it will continue to be of value even in more normal times,” says Keith.
Process support and operational trouble-shooting can be achieved via rapid communication with equipment supplier’s engineers, who can be located anywhere in the world. Contact can be made via phone, tablet, computer or headset – indeed, any device with a camera and microphone – to discuss a wide variety of topics. Concerns with machine service, maintenance and operation, process calibrations, breakdowns and training can all be discussed. Minor issues can often be rectified quickly with expert guidance, to reduce downtime.
The efficiency, time and cost benefits of remote troubleshooting can be significant. Problems can be solved in minutes, rather than days waiting for a service engineer to travel to site. Routine preventative maintenance can be undertaken on-line without the need for an engineer’s visit – which proved particularly useful while stringent Covid-19 travel restrictions were in place.
“Indeed, while international travel was not possible, we also found that new equipment commissioning could be successfully carried out on-line. Commissioning, start-up and training costs and time can all be significantly reduced as engineers do not have to leave their base,” adds Keith.
Compared with more conventional processes, automated solutions can help achieve wider ranges, higher quality products, and greater production flexibility. “Combinations of colour and flavour provide a host of possibilities beyond the more traditional choices. Fillings can be softer than with die forming, which provides some interesting possibilities,” Keith explains.
For confectionery companies seeking to enter new markets, depositing can also provide a way of entering the rapidly growing functional sector, where accurate process control and hygiene are critical requirements. Functional hard candies could include antiseptics, menthol or eucalyptus oil to alleviate the symptoms of minor ailments such as coughs, colds, sore throats and nasal congestion.
“Consistently accurate weight and dosage control means that these products are reproducible, and capable of validation, with the active ingredients present in precisely the quantities claimed,” concludes Keith.
According to a study by Allied Market Research, the functional food market size was estimated to be $177,770.0 million in 2019, and was predicted to reach $267,924.4 million by 2027, recording an annual growth rate of investment of 6.7% in the forecast period 2021-2027.
Some hard candy producers have sought to benefit from this trend by adapting their product offerings – turning to the use of natural and organic raw materials, for example. The certifications that give these products organic, vegan, or natural status or products with nutritional and medical-healing properties, can also help remove the perception of hard candy being an unhealthy product.
Medicated products are also well-suited to a hard candy delivery system – particularly where slow release of an active ingredient is required such as anaesthetics, menthol or eucalyptus.
Further, a hard candy that can boast in its list of ingredients some dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, natural extracts, or omega 3, can acquire status and value higher than that of a simple hard candy.
One company which has successfully addressed this trend is Zile, a producer of hard candy products, located in Rupperswil in Switzerland.
“Opening up new markets and customer segments within the pharmaceutical sector, required us to have a high-performance plant to meet the high good manufacturing process (GMP) standards demanded by the over-the-counter (OTC) sector,” says Marc Lehnert, Owner and CEO at Zile.
Over the years, the company had become more oriented towards new pharmaceutical and nutritional trends, and when the time came to increase the production of tablets (lozenges) for OTC and pharmaceutical products it created a new department. This included a clean room, with the highest modern standards of automation, hygiene and efficiency.
The candy that Zile wanted to produce was a lozenge – either with or without sugar – based on isomalt, sorbitol or other sweeteners. This lozenge needed to be produced with maximum accuracy and consistency, of the filling dosage in particular.
An essential feature for this type of OTC, nutraceutical or candy containing active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) products, is the repetitiveness and consistency of the recipe and ingredients, which must always be present in the same concentration and with minimal variation. An overdose of certain active ingredients could produce undesirable effects in the human body and the manufacturer could be held responsible.
Zile had been working collaboratively with hard candy equipment supplier, Nuova Euromec, for over 25 years so it made sense to contact the company again to help it develop a suitable production line for its new venture.
Euromec was able to provide pharmaceutical equipment for tablets and pastilles, including a high-capacity forming line, customised to meet Zile’s very specific needs. The forming line interfaces with a high-capacity cooking plant that is able to produce around 1,500 kg/hr of lozenges.
High-speed chain die sets were employed to ensure accurate product forming, seamlessly with the possibility of introducing high quantities of filling.
Consistency and precision in filling dosing is vital and this is achieved using an advanced filling pump fitted with high precision measuring instruments – this also helps ensure accurate synchronisation with the forming line.
Pump accuracy, together with the constant and continuous feeding of the mass coming from the continuous cooker, ensures the creation of a hard candy product with a constant percentage of filling and minimum fluctuation.
A cooling tunnel allows the complete, fast and easy inspection of each product and incorporates an automated clean-in-place (CIP) process, which has helped Zile to reduce its water consumption and optimise its washing and cleaning times.
The new production line has achieved Zile’s goal of producing a consistently round pad shaped candy that is then wrapped in blister. The line is now producing herbal lozenges, lemon ginger lozenges, Vitamin C lozenges, lozenges with echinacea and Vitamin C, and honey lozenges.
The line also enables Zile to produce products containing API or medicines, including sore throat lozenges, anaesthetic lozenges, children’s cough drops, flu throat lozenges, medicated lozenges, and menthol cough drops.
According to research from Transparency Market Research hard candy remains one of the most popular sugar confectionery products across the world and across all age groups. However, despite its popularity, the fact that sugar is the main ingredient in most hard-boiled candies poses a problem due to the growing consumer trend towards reduced sugar or sugar free offerings. It is, therefore, important that hard candy manufacturers consider adding reduced sugar or sugar-free alternatives in their product range or, like Zile, consider moving into new market sectors, such as functional foods. So, with the adoption of more innovative processing solutions and formulations the hard candy sector seems secure.
The production and manufacturing of hard candy can be a complicated process and the forming machine has an important role to play. Without it, it is difficult to achieve consistent shaped products.
According to China-based ESM Machinery, choosing the right forming machine should be a top priority for hard candy manufacturers. It suggests that the following functionalities should be considered as important – having the ability to monitor the production process; the machine should have a conveyor belt to facilitate the transport of the product within the line; it should have a stainless-steel body and contact parts to ensure hygienic conditions; and it should be able to offer high production capacities – an automated solution will speed up production; and it should be possible to install different moulds to create a wide variety of product shapes.
In addition, ESM Machinery highlights the importance of having a machine that is easy to clean. It suggests looking for a solution which has removable parts to allow for quick and easy cleaning to help reduce production downtimes.
Editor: Kiran Grewal email@example.com