Top Plant: Mother Parkers: Recipe for growth
The popularity of the single-serve coffee capsule has created quite a stir at Mother Parkers RealCup plant, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada-a 2014 Plant Engineering Top Plant winner. The company has maintained quality and safety while rapidly adding personnel, products, processes, procedures, and equipment.
Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee is the largest private label coffee producer in North America, and the fourth largest roaster in North America behind Folgers, Maxwell House, and Starbucks. “We’re considered a specialty roaster facility,” said Stephen Leung, plant manager, at Mother Parkers Capsules Operations Plant. “We started six years ago as an organic roaster with eight employees. Then about two years ago, when our RealCup business started to grow, we began to expand quite rapidly. Now we employ 130 people.”
RealCup is Mother Parkers’ proprietary single-serve beverage capsule. EcoCup capsules were developed by Mother Parkers technology and innovation team led by Liberatore Trombetta. “EcoCup is the next generation of single serve beverage capsules based on the RealCup platform,” Trombetta said. “We developed EcoCup here. After brewing the coffee, you can cleanly and easily separate the components allowing the ability to compost and recycle most of the capsule.”
RealCup and EcoCup are the primary products at the Mississauga facility. Coffee products for hotels, restaurants, office coffee service, coffee houses, gas stations, and convenience stores are also made at the Mother Parkers RealCup plant.
Chris Meffen, production manager at Mother Parkers said the RealCup plant processes coffee from beginning to end-from procuring the green bean coffee, through roasting, grinding, and packaging, to finished goods. “We make the capsules here as well,” he said. There are 13 lines producing coffee in RealCup and EcoCup capsules, and another eight lines producing fractional packages for food service and filter pods for hotels.
The RealCup plant has undergone considerable transformation in a short period of time. In addition to adding 13 manufacturing lines in as many months, and hiring personnel, the plant also expanded its product offering. “We have launched 174 SKUs in the past year,” said Meffen. “And in the last three years, we’ve launched more than 300 SKUs.”
Maintaining quality and safety during growth
The RealCup lines are automated, which means that each new product the company launches must be set up correctly from the beginning. Recipes and work procedures must be established. Packaging and pallet configurations must be verified.
The automated coffee plant control system is integrated with Mother Parkers’ coffee processes. In addition to centralized control of the roasting and grinding processes, the system provides product tracking and tracing, which is required for safe quality food (SQF) Level 3 certification. SQF is a food safety certification standard under the umbrella of the Global Food Safety Initiative. “We are SQF Level 3 certified, which is the highest level,” Meffen said. “It means we have good food manufacturing methods and practices in place, and that we have repeatability and traceability throughout our entire system.”
Although the roasting and grinding processes are automated, there’s still plenty to do at Mother Parkers. And where there’s work, there must also be work procedures. “There’s a high level of engagement here,” said Meffen. “The operators have been developing most of the procedures for equipment operation, cleaning, quality checks, and troubleshooting. The operators take ownership of their positions.”
Job ownership and employee engagement are not exclusive to quality. Mother Parkers has also excelled at maintaining safety during its rapid growth. The company’s goal is a 15% reduction in the total incident frequency rate (TIFR) at all sites. However, the plant more than doubled that between 2013 and 2014 with around a 33% TIFR reduction. “Safety is the core of everything we do here,” Meffen said. “We begin our production meetings and shift handovers by talking about safety. We also have regular Joint Health and Safety committee meetings.”
Improving the coffee manufacturing process
Rapid growth also means perfecting manufacturing processes and procedures on the fly. This is particularly important for automated systems.
Customer orders are entered into Mother Parkers’ ERP system, then integrated throughout the appropriate systems via the MES, which manages the recipes, as well as the roasting and grinding profiles for the various coffee blends. “The MES downloads a recipe of which green coffee beans to load,” said Meffen. “We have more than 50 blends on-site and we can mix up to 16 different types into a single blend.”
After the recipe is set, the automated coffee control system controls and monitors the roasting process. The system also measures, records, and tracks each profile during roasting for every product on each of the lines.
After roasting, the beans must cool for 2.5 hr regardless of variety. This cooling process is called “tempering.” Tempering allows the beans to reach the proper consistency for grinding. Mother Parkers purchased the grinders, which are part of the automated system, specifically for the RealCup product. “The different grind profiles are recipe driven,” Meffen said. “We verify that we have the right grind particle size using a laser particle analyzer. If adjustments are necessary, we make them and then continue to grind the rest of the batch.”
After grinding, operators move the ground coffee to the packaging line in stainless steel totes. “Our product packaging lines are fully automated,” said Meffen. “We load coffee in at one end and the capsules come from a gravity-fed system on the mezzanine above. The coffee is automatically measured into the capsules, which are placed into cases. Robots transfer the cases onto pallets. At the end of the process, we have fully palletized finished goods.”
Mother Parkers makes the capsules from plastic roll stock on a mezzanine floor directly above the automated filling and packaging line. Machines stamp the capsule shapes in the plastic, the filter material is applied, and the capsules are cut into individual units, which are fed to the filling and packaging line below.