Projects and budgets remain flat as processors put money into updating existing assets and improving food safety measures.

Albertsons' distribution center in Franklin Park, IL was completed in 2004. Source: A. Epstein & Sons.
Smart, safe, secure and sanitary-that's the mantra of today's food and beverage manufacturers when building a new facility, planning an expansion project or managing a major renovation. With plant projects of $1 million dollars or more remaining flat compared to last year, processors continue to keep a tight hold on the budget as CEOs and shareholders alike demand more bang for the buck from existing manufacturing assets.

Food Engineering's annual construction survey shows a total of 507 food and beverage plant projects planned, underway or completed in 2004. Of these 507, one-third (172) are new facilities and the remaining two-thirds (335) are expansion or renovation projects.

Compared to the previous year's statistics, total plant projects dropped by a mere 1%, greenfield facilities shot up 10% and expansions/renovations dipped by 5.5%.

Food and beverage companies, as well as the architect/engineering (A/E) and construction firms that help them build new plants or upgrade existing facilities, continue to keep many projects out of the public eye for competitive reasons. What you will see on the following pages is the total number of plant projects uncovered by FE's editorial team after nearly four months of research.

The Bell & Evans plant expansion and upgrade project in Fredericksburg, PA, was honored as Food Engineering’s 2005 plant of the year. Source: Bell & Evans.

Taking control

The top trends in plant construction or upgrade projects identified by the A/E or construction firms participating in this survey include an increased need for flexibility and productivity, greater awareness of food safety protocol, better control and handling of food allergens and improved sanitation procedures.

"Food processors are looking for more control over their projects and budgets," says Mike Steur, director of client development for Hixson. "Processors are continuing to shift production among plants to balance operations and optimize effectiveness of the company's assets," he adds.

Now that the initial peak of consolidation projects has occurred, says Jonathan Marshall, vice president of Hanscomb Faithful & Gould, many corporations are focusing on integrating internal resources, processes and procedures in order to reap cost savings and capture best practices across the merged entity.

The need for speed is also a priority in today's manufacturing environment. Jeff Jendryk, director of business development for Food Tech Structures, reports that food makers are requesting innovations such as colder process rooms to increase product shelf life and multi-purpose rooms that allow more flexibility. Jendryk says processors are "demanding quicker start up times and reduced plant construction schedules because (they must) get products to market quickly."

Renovations to facilities and interior modifications with small additions to house new production lines as well as highly flexible lines are key trends in plant projects, says Gerry Gomolka, vice president of process engineering with The Stellar Group. "New grassroots facilities are few and far between due to their longer payback," he concludes.

Andrea Velasquez, vice president, A. Epstein and Sons International, Inc., agrees. Renovating existing facilities through the technique of roof-raising remains a popular solution to the problem of overall space constraints and clear height requirements, she states.

The 50,000-sq.-ft. expansion of the Maple Leaf Bakery plant in Roanoke, VA was completed in May of this year. Source: Maple Leaf Bakery.

9-11 mothers of invention

Before September 11, security may have been a secondary priority at some facilities. Items that were once an afterthought-fences, gates, guard houses, personnel doors, public access, security systems-are now at the front of every project checklist, says Forrest McNabb, senior vice president-dairy and food group, Big-D Construction.

Prompted by the mandates of the Bioterrorism Act, processors are updating or developing comprehensive food security management plans. These plans address security of the site and building; raw materials and ingredients; receiving and finished product storage/utility systems; and personnel.

"Companies are putting procedures in place for random bag and car searches," says Steur. This impacts the design of roadways and entrances. In addition, he says, processors are enabling emergency response teams to get into food plants quickly. "This requires re-thinking of design details such as door hardware."

FE's survey respondents report that very little new construction or facility design is occurring without security as a key component. "It has moved from an option to a necessity," says Darryl Wernimont, a director with The Haskell Co. However, with existing facilities, Wernimont states, manufacturers are requesting structural upgrades, such as secured areas, walls/fences and lighting, as well as system upgrades including code card access/limited access, and cameras/videos. "Based on the size of a facility, investments can range from a couple hundred thousand dollars to a couple of million dollars. It all depends on facility size, breadth of products, existing security and traffic," Wernimont says.

Sid Adkins, director of business development at Suitt Construction/BE&K Building Group, reports an increased emphasis on zones of control for personnel and products beginning at the edge of the facility site and continuing all the way through the processing areas.

Bob Hendon, vice president of Hendon & Redmond, Inc., concurs. "Manufacturers are putting more thought into the initial layout to protect products from contamination, both from pathogens and from cross-contact from allergenic materials, he says.

The eight major food allergens, including milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish, are said to cause more than 90% of all food allergic reactions. And according to Wernimont, production facilities must take reasonable precautions to prevent cross-contact with allergens.

"This translates into new standards in facility design from the broad picture of the product moving into and out of a facility to specifics from air handling systems to sewage/drainage and everything in between," Wernimont says. "Capital expenditures are being made to improve allergen control. These investments range from segregation/isolation in existing facilities to innovative designs for new facilities that provide flexible isolation of processing and packaging areas that deal with or could deal with allergens."

Food safety still job one

With food safety remaining a top priority for food and beverage plants, FE asked the responding A/E and construction firms to define the top measures manufacturers are implementing in plant projects to assure a safe and secure food supply.

Upgraded plant security systems and tracking and tracing systems tied as the top food safety measures. This was followed closely by updated sanitation and HACCP plans. Other methods mentioned were segregation of employees within plant areas, limitation of access and proper staff training.

More processors are working on standardization of building and equipment sanitary design principles and practices and are striving for consistency within their companies, according to Steur. Other food safety measures include complete separation of raw and ready-to-eat (RTE) operations, especially in plants that handle or produce meat and poultry products, Steur continues, and clean room design for areas where open or RTE products present a higher risk of contamination.

Velasquez reports that food processors are increasing security relative to both plant personnel and plant visitors. She sees improved process documentation through electronic tracking and tracing as a key method to protect the food supply.

The leading trends, according to Charlie Caban, senior process engineer with The Facility Group, are to "eliminate opportunities for cross contamination through better material handling; get rid of touch labor with mechanization or automation; and provide better lot/batch tracking and segregation."

Not to be overlooked in keeping the food supply safe is better packaging to protect the product and tamper evident packaging. Even the clothing worn by plant workers can make a big difference in keeping the food supply chain secure.

Food plant safety and security is at the top of every processor's list. "It is the focus of the entire industry," says McNabb. However, he concludes, "Production capability along with cost effective maintenance and operation is key."

Projects that were conceptualized, started or completed during 2004 appear here.

The following companies assisted Food Engineering in compiling this survey:

A. Epstein and Sons International, Inc.
Cheryl Mruczek-Sharp

Mark Berezin

The Austin Company
Bob Graham

Andrew W. Booth & Associates, Inc.
Matt Drew

Big-D Construction Corp.
Forrest McNabb

Case, Lowe & Hart Inc.
Kevin Lewis

Amy Holly

The Dennis Group LLC
Becky Liese

E. A. Bonelli + Associates, Inc.
Curtis Manns

Facilities Design
Joe Shaffer

The Facility Group
Donya Edler

FoodPro International, Inc.
Martin Washburn

Food Tech Structures
Jeffery P. Jendryk

Gleeson Constructors, LLC
Diane Tucker

Hanscomb Faithful & Gould
Jonathan Marshall

The Haskell Company
Darryl Wernimont

Hendon & Redmond
Bob Hendon

Mike Steur
Director Client Development

Mead & Hunt
Scott Freye

Memphis Chamber of Commerce
Tom Chamberlain

Middough Consulting Inc.
David Dixon

Mitchell + Hugeback Architects
Jimmy Crouch

Seiberling Associates Inc.
Craig Guyse

Shambaugh & Son L.P.
Mark Shambaugh

Sherman Economic Development Corp.
John Boswell

Stahlman Group
Bruce Ness

The Stellar Group
Mark Sherwood

Suitt Construction
Sid Adkins

Vaughn, Coltrane, Pharr & Associates
William O. Vaughn

Webber/Smith Associates, Inc.
Gary E. Smith