Nick Tetlow understands the food industry. “I’ve been in the food business all my working life,” he says, noting that he started right out of college and has more than 40 years of experience.
Today, Tetlow is an international sales manager for Lyco, a company he recently joined because of their unique processing technology and culture of innovation.
Founded in 1980 by Dave Zittel, Lyco is a leading manufacturer of industrial rice and pasta cooking and cooling machines, dry bean cookers canning machinery and wastewater screens. The company remains privately held. Dave is Chairman of the Board, supported by two sons and long-standing CEO Steve Hughes.
We spoke with Tetlow about the pressures shaping the food industry today. In particular, he sees changes coming in these three areas:
- How equipment manufacturers should connect with their customers by providing lasting value
- Processing innovation and a move toward automation to improve efficiency
- Demands for greater flexibility in processing equipment, as well as increased emphasis on equipment hygiene and ease of cleaning
A focus on value
When it comes to equipment, food manufacturers are primarily looking for value. “Effectively, they want a quality product at a value-based price,” Tetlow says. Given that food manufacturers invest more in capital equipment than most other industries, this focus on value and return on investments is understandable.
Tetlow notes that customers look at each purchase from multiple perspectives and that different customers have different definitions of value.
Here are some of the ways Lyco conveys value.
Offering high quality build and equipment design
Lyco provides robust machinery that has a long-lasting, low-maintenance life.
Providing education and support
Educating customers is one way to stand out in a competitive marketplace. Thus, Tetlow works closely with clients to help them make purchase decisions. “We spend a lot of time supporting our prospects and giving them the documentation they need to make sound decisions,” he says.
Taking company culture into account
When thinking about meeting a customer’s specific needs, Tetlow says, it’s important to take company culture into account. “You can’t expect a company that has produced their goods the same way in a batch system for the past 10 to 20 years to suddenly embrace full automation and continuous processing technology.”
Instead, he advises an approach that fits better with their culture. For example, “if they like the benefits of continuous technology — such as labor savings, product consistency, and reduced utilities — but would rather not fully automate, you can find a compromise.”
Validating product performance with empirical data
Food processors can’t afford just to take a salesperson’s word for it. They need to know that the products they buy will work and deliver an ROI. That’s why Lyco provides their prospects and customers with empirical data to back up their equipment operational claims and has a laboratory to demonstrate them..
“If you have a very well-proven piece of equipment, then you’ve got a lot of empirical data to back it all up,” Tetlow notes. If a client can say, “we’ve got four of these machines in – they’ve been running for 4½ years – and not one bearing’s had to be changed,” that track record provides powerful support.
Catering to differences in international markets
Lyco has clients all over the world. “We’re on every continent except for Antarctica,” Tetlow jokes.
The most important thing for suppliers to understand is that all markets are different. For example, Tetlow notes that in Europe, processors often want to do smaller runs of multiple products all in the same day. In Japan, quality is of the utmost importance. Meanwhile, in the nearby Republic of Korea, the emphasis is more on equipment that is “robustly built and reliable.”
Understanding and adjusting for such differences is essential for success. “Those differences are the things that Lyco can cater to,” Tetlow explains. “We’re constantly looking ahead to new designs to accommodate emerging and developing markets.”
Trends in food processing
Tetlow’s expertise also gives him unique insight into current and upcoming trends. Here are three he sees having a big impact on the processing industry:
- Energy re-use, efficiency, and the conservation of natural resources
- Flexibility and cleanability of equipment
Similar to SPX FLOW Global Sales Manager Jeff Sporer, Tetlow believes that automation may be the biggest single trend in the food industry today. He stresses that processors must “either automate or die slowly.”
In future, Tetlow imagines the trend toward automation will continue to grow, coupled with consumers’ demands for higher-quality products. Indeed, many experts expect more automation of food safety and quality management systems in coming years.
Lyco has 50 years of experience creating innovative designs.
Energy re-use, efficiency ,and the conservation of natural resources
As we’ve seen in previous articles, energy and utility savings are also increasingly important. “More and more people these days are looking at total cost of ownership,” Tetlow says. “What is that machine going to cost us to own for the next five or ten years?”
Energy and resource usage is a big part of that equation, and many processors are looking closely at innovative ways to save on utility costs.
Tetlow specifically points to water usage, noting that processors use water for cleaning, cooking, and hydration, among other purposes. Lyco’s machines use the minimum amount of water possible, while maximizing the utilization of latent and spent energy through water recirculation and reuse.
Flexibility and cleanability of equipment
Finally, Tetlow sees is a move toward flexibility and cleanability of equipment, especially in the era of FSMA.
“With the requirements on manufacturers these days, the bar is getting raised all the time.” New equipment can help manufacturers reach that bar. For example, Lyco’s Clean-Flow continuous cooker cooler for pasta, rice, and pulses. The machine was specifically designed to handle quick changeovers and be easily cleanable via CIP, which has made it a hit in Europe.
Tetlow also notes that hygiene is more important than ever as just one piece of negative news can have severe implications. As new FSMA regulations come into play, easy-to-clean equipment helps minimize hygiene risks and promote compliance with rising standards.
Food trends, and public perception about processed foods
We also asked Tetlow about upcoming food market trends and how they might influence the industry. He offered quinoa and ancient grains and pulses as an example of a recent trend that propelled Lyco to create specific equipment for these difficult-to-process products.
When asked what might come next, he says the answer is elusive. “What will people be eating in five years? Who knows? There’s been an ongoing public demand for healthier foods for some years now, and recently it has been growing rapidly. I don’t see this trend abating, but rather continuing to grow.”
Studies like these from the Nielsen group and the International Food Information Council Foundation back up Tetlow’s views on the increasing popularity of healthy foods. In this climate, the challenge for the processing industry is to change consumers’ minds about what “processed” really means.
“What the processing industry needs to do as a group is to shake off the adage of ‘oh, it’s processed,’” Tetlow says. Indeed, recent research suggests that consumers think processed foods are less healthy.
But Tetlow notes that the negative connotations are unwarranted. The problem is that consumers don’t have a clear idea of what processing really is. “Essentially, ‘processing’ is exactly what you’re doing in your kitchen. If companies want to shed the negative stereotypes, then we need to do a better job of educating consumers.”
In a similar vein, Tetlow thinks the idea of ready meals needs to be redefined in public thinking. “A ready meal these days is basically a high-quality, very safe, industrially processed meal.”
In the end, Tetlow recognizes that the food industry faces challenges, but he urges companies to see the silver lining and maintain their passion for their work. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” he says. “The food business is a great business to be in.” We agree!