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Consider this the unofficial announcement. As our industry segment councils meet this week, they’re discussing how we pull off three new production lines once again at next year’s Process Expo.

For the uninitiated, Process Expo features live production lines where we make finished products with the actual ingredients to highlight the latest technological innovations in food processing and packaging by bringing together a variety of different manufacturers. Going back to 2017, the Process Expo production lines have manufactured deli meat, sausages, cookies, pet food kibble, sliced cheese, frozen pizzas, hamburger patties, summer sausage, gluten-free focaccia, plant-based chicken nuggets and good ol’ Italian meatballs, beginning with raw ingredients and running all the way through to packaged product right there on the show floor during three different demonstrations each day.

It has been my honor to spearhead these lines, depending heavily on the technical expertise on the participating OEM’s, the generosity of ingredient suppliers, and our end-user community that has provided input on what they are looking for in their mission to satisfy a hungry consumer base.

That’s not to say this is easy, anything but.  I like to say that when I started this project in 2017, I had a full head of hair. That’s obviously not the case anymore but it’s fun nonetheless.

Each line requires at least one planning and coordination call per month. You might say it’s a bit like herding cats – if these cats were all different sizes, ran at different speeds, had different ideas about product formulation, some lived over in Europe thereby complicating their participation, and all these cats were focusing on a million other strings pulling them in different directions while I’m talking with them. Yes, despite all that I still say it’s fun!

This year we’ll be putting together production lines to manufacture sliced bacon, empanadas, and a snack/treat/stick for pets. When we start our calls in January, I already know what some of the concerns will be, at least for the newbies to this work. What will the formulation be? How fast will we run and how much do we need of the raw materials? Do we run right to left or left to right? The list goes on and on but there is one question that gets more attention than all the others by far. How do we clean our equipment once installed at McCormick Place?

Yes, that is a challenge and if you haven’t done it before, it can seem daunting. No, there’s no wash down ability so you’ll need to bring lots of towels, buckets and whatever else needed to hand wipe the insides of the equipment. It’s not perfect by any means but it does the job and gets us to the next day and three more demonstrations. Whenever I say that, I always get a look from the member, that look that says, “Are you kidding me?” I get it. I certainly would never claim that this is a good manufacturing process but in the end, this is a show (in more ways than one) and no one will be eating these products anyway. So instead, let’s talk about product transfers and all the other topics we’ll need to discuss over the next eleven months to make this product!

Anyone interested in learning more about these lines, either as a participant or in coming to the show to see them, should feel free to reach out to me at anytime.

Andy Drennan, FPSA SVP