Hamburger patty paper

If you look at almost any food category, you’ll see a piece of paper. Paper between meat patties, sliced cheese, even tucked in between individual slices cut into a whole cheesecake.

Food processors are not only using more paper, they’re using more types of paper. Examine those meat patties, cheese slices, and cheesecake, and you’ll find that the paper for each product is different.

To better understand the paper side of the industry, we spoke with Lawrence (Larry) Czaszwicz, President of Framarx, a Chicago-area paper company that has been supplying the food industry for 50 years. He and his daughter, Framarx Sales Manager Julia Saeid, shared their perspective on the important issues facing paper and other food industry suppliers today.

In particular, Czaszwicz and Saeid mentioned food safety, specifically GFSI certification and lot code tracking, and how suppliers must shift to accommodate the dynamic nature of consumer preferences, and the food industry in general.

Food safety: GFSI certification and traceability

One of the most significant changes resulting from FSMA is an emphasis on traceability and accountability. Under the Preventive Controls rule, food companies must trace the origins and verify the safety and security of every ingredient that goes into the food they produce. This includes extensive documentation for every step along the supply chain.

Crucially for suppliers like Framarx, the Preventive Controls rule doesn't just apply to food. It also convers any products that come into contact with food, like paper.

To meet these supplier verification requirements, food facilities increasingly rely on their suppliers being certified according to recognized safety standards.

Czaszwicz told us that Framarx commonly receives surveys from their customers about their food safety programs. “We’ve been audited under good manufacturing practice (GMP) for a dozen years or more, so we can answer all those questions.”

Certification programs like the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have made this type of verification much easier. In fact, Czaszwicz notes that “now, the first survey question is usually ‘Are you GFSI certified?’ And if you’re following this global food safety standard — if you answer that question ‘yes’ — you don’t even have to answer the rest of the questions. They’ll just ask for your GFSI certification and that’s the end of that.”

In terms of traceability and documentation, lot tracking (aka lot control tracking) is taking center stage. Lot tracking is the process of documenting information about a specific batch of product.

Every product in a particular batch receives a code. This code allows processors to track information like inventory and expiration dates. It can help companies identify the source of a problem should anything go wrong, protecting them from potentially disastrous consequences. As Joe Sciosia, VP of Sales at software company VAI, notes in this article for Food Logistics:

“With today’s tighter food safety regulations, suppliers must have a lot control tracking initiative in order to reproduce recall reports – essential documents that protect them in the event of a food recall by providing full traceability. If a food manufacturer does not produce this report immediately after a recall, that supplier may be forced to recall entire shipments nationwide if they don’t know which specific products were impaired. This lack of preparation has caused some food suppliers to go out of business because their product brands and reputations were forever tainted.”

By providing lot tracking on all of their products, suppliers like Framarx can help protect their customers against these negative outcomes. “It’s very important to our customers,” says Czaszwicz. “If there were to be a recall, or something would go wrong with a product, our customers need to be able to demonstrate where it came from.”

Product diversification, sustainability, and “customer astonishment”

In addition to helping their customers meet food safety requirements, suppliers must also be able to nimbly shift to accommodate an ever-changing food product landscape, increasing focus on the environment, and the need for great customer service.

The proliferation of niche products

Nearly all of the industry experts we’ve talked to say that consumer preferences are trending toward more niche products. For example, fresh prepared foods are taking over grocery store cooler cases, the number of dairy products available is constantly increasing, and niche beverage products are significantly outperforming traditional ones.

These food trends impact nearly every aspect of production, including paper.

When Czaszwicz’s parents, Larry Sr. and Dolores, started Framarx in 1966, a relatively small number of paper products served the entire food industry. “There were maybe 12 to 15 different items that worked for just about everybody,” says Czaszwicz. “Now there are hundreds.”

Before starting his company, Larry Sr. worked for the Hollymatic Corporation for 20 years. Hollymatic specializes in automatic grinding, mixing, and forming machines for hamburgers.

“That’s how we began,” says Czaszwicz. “We gained expertise making hamburger patty paper. Today that’s still our primary product — the little sheets of paper that go in between hamburgers. But over the years we’ve grown our sales into other areas. Now we make well over 200 different items for the wide diversity of food processor needs.”

Julia Saeid identifies pet foods and health foods as two niche markets making a big splash. “We’ve been seeing more of both,” she says. “And they’ll be needing paper materials. There’ll always be a place for paper.”

The trick to accommodating these diverse needs is flexibility and customization.

“The food industry is so dynamic with developing new products,” says Czaszwicz. “Sometimes we’ll have a satisfied customer who then comes up with a variation, say a pork, a beef, or a chicken product with maybe a little different spice or some other ingredient added to it. All of a sudden the paper they’d been using isn’t working anymore. Maybe the meat has a little more acid in it or is a little stickier. So we’ll do some testing and come up with a new solution.”

Getting the paper right involves taking a close look at the food processor’s exact requirements. “It could be the way they want it labeled and packaged, maybe sized to the 1/16” so that it fits exactly into their box,” Czaszwicz says. “Maybe you want to make sure that you have the grain of the paper in the right direction to suit a machine run or slicer. The right paper can really improve a processor’s operations compared to buying something off the shelf, say the 18” roll of freezer wrap that might be at every paper distributor. Unique, specialized products require unique, specialized solutions.”

Here are some of the considerations processors need to think about when they’re selecting paper:

  • The type of machine the product and paper are running on
  • How the product will be packaged, whether in a modified atmosphere package, vacuum packaged, fresh, or frozen
  • What is the end use, e.g., a restaurant or grocery store

“When we understand those things, we can help customers choose the right material so that it can be both cost effective and used the way it was designed,” says Czaszwicz.

Having broad knowledge about their customers’ applications also helps Framarx provide other services, like advice on buying the right equipment.

“We work with a lot of distributors that are also equipment manufacturers,” says Saeid. “So imagine somebody’s just starting up a company to create a veggie burger or some new product. We can help guide them in figuring out the best equipment to buy, and what kind of paper is going to run on it. They can even buy the paper directly through that distributor if they like. We always like to do what’s best for our customers.”

A focus on environmental issues

Paper is also getting a boost because it’s more environmentally friendly than plastic.

Saeid notes that customers are also becoming ever more focused on the environment and are demanding the same from their suppliers. “They really want you to have some environmental awareness,” she says. “And sustainability is an important part, especially with the younger generations coming through these corporations.”

Consumers agree. Almost three-quarters of Millennials would rather purchase products and services from companies committed to saving the environment. And they’re willing to pay more for it. For food companies, using paper can demonstrate an environmental commitment. “The natural, brown paper is really in right now,” Saeid says. “People like the look of it paper that’s not bleached white.”

Elevated customer service and the role of trade shows

Flexibility, customization, meeting environmental requirements — these are all ways food processing suppliers can help their customers succeed.

Framarx goes it one better. One of their core company values is “customer astonishment.” “It’s like 11 on a scale of 1 to 10,” Czaszwicz says. “We work hard to instill it in all our employees.”

Saeid describes a recent example:

“On a Friday we had a luncheon for our employees, and it was wrapping up around 2:00. The first shift at our plant shuts down at 2:30 and we got a call from a customer. They needed 10 cases for the next day, Saturday delivery. Everybody was getting ready to go home, but they got it wrapped up and got it out. It was delivered the next morning, and our plant manager said, “that’s customer astonishment!”

In an era of widespread industry consolidation, providing this type of elevated customer service is more important and more challenging. “Over the years we have seen some of the best family-run businesses, or privately owned meat processors or food companies, get bought by an industry giant,” says Czaszwicz. “One of the things that changes in that model is the ability to develop a really close relationship.”

For example, large companies often create portals to handle all of the purchasing, order processing, and bill paying. While this increases convenience, “it eliminates some of the face-to-face relationship building,” says Czaszwicz. “We still really believe that relationship-building has a place in customer-supplier relationships.”

This an area where trade shows like PROCESS EXPO can provide tremendous value because they bring back some of that face-to-face.

“That’s one of the big reasons we really appreciate PROCESS EXPO,” Czaszwicz says. “Because even in the case of some of these Fortune 500 companies, like JBS or Tyson, it gives us a chance to put ourselves in front of the right people. Hopefully they’ll recognize our name when they walk by, stop, and then we can make an introduction that puts a face to a name.”

It’s wonderful to hear that we’re helping suppliers like Framarx connect with their target customers. That’s our definition of customer astonishment!

Registration for PROCESS EXPO 2017 is now open. We hope to see you there!