Delicious hamburgers

No one knows who invented the hamburger. (There does indeed seem to exist a link to the city of Hamburg, Germany. And at least two American cities claim to have popularized putting chopped and seasoned meat in between two pieces of bread.) But it’s very clear who was at the forefront of automated burger patty formation.

During the Great Depression, laid-off Chicago ironworker Harry Holly needed to make ends meet. So, he opened a small hamburger shop out of his grandmother’s house, where he sold hamburgers and pie. Holly soon discovered that he was spending more time making hamburgers by hand than selling them. So, he invented a press for forming patties so that they would be consistent in size and weight.

That press, which was made out of wood, laid the foundation for Hollymatic Corporation. For nearly 80 years, Hollymatic has been a leading innovator and manufacturer of food processing equipment including mixers, grinders, formers, and portioners. At one time, when quick service restaurants still made their food in-house, Hollymatic machines could be found in every McDonald’s, as well as Burger Kings and Wendy’s. Today, the equipment is a staple in butcher shops, grocery stores, and many restaurants — any place where freshness and quality reign. (Read more of Hollymatic’s history here.)

To learn more about Hollymatic’s success and the current state of the burger-making industry, we spoke with Rob Kovacik, Hollymatic’s corporate sales and marketing manager, who has been with the company for 36 years.

During our conversation, we learned how Hollymatic has evolved throughout the years. We also discussed how the right equipment can help meat processors become more efficient as well as keep up with industry trends and consumer demands.

A complete production line + continuous systems = Greater efficiency

Over the past year, we’ve interviewed experts in many areas of the food industry about current trends and challenges. One influence many of them have pointed to is a move toward expanded product lines and one-stop shopping. This move has been driven, at least in part, by consolidation.

Food industry M&A activity has been relatively quiet in 2016. But it was red hot in 2015. As a result, many food processors have sought to consolidate the number of vendors they buy from. Often, that means the advantage goes to vendors that can provide a full range of solutions.

Even for the humble hamburger, there are many steps in the transformation of raw material to finished product. This includes everything from cutting the meat to grinding it, portioning it, and forming it into patties. Hollymatic offers a full range of machines, which allows its customers to maintain efficiency from start to finish.

“Since Hollymatic’s inception, when Harry Holly started with the forming machines, it’s grown to encompass a complete product line,” says Kovacik. “That includes mixer grinders, meat saws, vacuum tumblers, stuffers, and packing machines, for both the retail market and the processor market.”

Hollymatic’s machines work together to help customers achieve the highest levels of productivity all along the way. And, to obtain ideal results, each step in the process requires exacting detail.

For example, says Kovacik, think about the appearance of ground meat in a tray. “The grinding process actually affects the forming process. If the grinders aren’t cutting properly, you don’t get a nice particle definition. You get more of a smear.” For portions to appear firm rather than mushy, he adds, the knives need to be extra-sharp, as well as tightly attached in the grinding machine.

Overall productivity increases even more if you can completely eliminate time-consuming steps. “We offer grinding systems that are continuous,” says Kovacik. “We call them Gemini systems. They combine the first and second grind, which saves time in loading and changing knives and plates.”

Kovacik emphasizes that tracking and reducing the amount of time to bring a product to the counter is key. “Time is money,” he says. “And profitability is always at the bottom line of any business or establishment.”

This holds true whether you’re talking about a small butcher, the back room of a supermarket, or a large processor. “No matter the scale and volume, you want to keep track of how long it takes to do a grinding operation, then a forming operation, then the packaging,” says Kovacik. As the food industry continues to adopt big data technologies, having this type of information at the ready will be a boon for companies working to boost their bottom line by increasing their efficiency.

A spotlight on worker safety

Boosting efficiency with a complete production line has certainly been a popular topic in previous interviews. But it’s nothing compared to safety.

Between the first FSMA implementation deadline and OSHA’s recent penalty increase, it should come as no surprise that safety is top of mind for nearly everyone in the industry today.

Nowhere is this truer than in meat processing. In this sector, safety records have definitely improved over the past quarter-century. But, as we saw in a previous article, there’s still much work to do. Meat and poultry processing activities still result in a higher rate of illnesses and injuries than other areas of food processing.

Fortunately for organizations in this field, even small investments in safety can have far-reaching effects. And not just for the employees working on the lines — workplace safety also enhances profitability. The National Safety Council estimates that every $1 invested in industry prevention results in savings of $2 to $6 in downtime, training expenses, and other indirect costs. Not only that, but 40% of CFOs report that safety programs also boost productivity.

To help customers improve their safety programs, Hollymatic is developing a new saw that it plans to demo at PROCESS EXPO 2017 (now open for registration). “In a meat processing plant, you have to differentiate between a piece of meat you’re cutting and a processor’s hand or fingers,” says Kovacik. “We have a technology that we’ve added to our saw that should greatly reduce the risk of injury to operators.”

We look forward to seeing it!

Even burgers are going healthy, fresh, and premium

Based on our interviews and recent surveys, we can say with confidence that what today’s consumers want is healthy, fresh, and premium foods. “Our mantra is ‘fresh is best,’” Kovacik says. “And how can you argue with that?”

Kovacik notes that customers often call wanting to add vegetables or soy to their products, or to make chicken patties. These ingredients can change how the food needs to be processed. For starters, the mix affects the way a product will form. “Forming a veggie product is much different from forming a meat product.”

The fat content also determines the best temperature for putting meat through processing equipment. Kovacik explains: “When you form chicken it must be much colder than a beef product. There’s a certain temperature at which the fat and the lean will separate, and you can have issues with it adhering to parts of the machinery. There’s a window where things will form the best and cut the best.”

This is an example of where Hollymatic’s nearly 100 years of expertise really comes in handy. No matter what kind of patty you want to make, they can help you determine the ideal equipment and operating conditions to achieve your desired results.

Even for restaurants and retailers sticking with the original beef burger, the trend is toward gourmet, craft items. No longer do you go into a restaurant and get a plain old cheeseburger on a regular bun. Today, you’re more likely to order a Southwest burger on a pretzel bun or a bison burger on a brioche bun.

That philosophy extends to that perfect burger companion, beer. And Hollymatic is experiencing growth thanks to the uptick in consumer demand for these specialty items.

“Craft beer is one of the things that’s driving a lot of the changes and sales,” says Kovacik. “There are so many different restaurants out there that specialize in gourmet burgers. They’ll have a whole menu of different burgers, along with craft beer. And to show the consumer that what they’re getting is fresh, some of them actually have a little processing room right there in the restaurant. They have a small grinder and the patty machine. And customers can watch the food being prepared through a little window.”

If that sounds a bit like Harry Holly’s original hamburger shop, well, it is. From small mom-and-pop shops, to mass production, to the current environment, tastes in burgers have pretty much come full circle.

So, how do you make that perfect patty?

Here’s a tip from Kovacik on how to determine whether any mixture — be it meat, vegetarian, or vegan — is appropriate for machine processing:

“First, ball it up in your hand and squeeze. If it comes through your fingers, you know that it’s viscous and it’ll flow. It won’t be too dry. Then open your hand. If the ball drops out of your hand, you know that it’s not too sticky, and you’ve got a good chance that it’s going to form in a machine.”

If you’re in the burger business, that’s advice you can take to the bank!