A year ago, Marc Lafontaine and Yannick Gervais were at a crossroads. Partners in Trois-Rivières, Que.-based Charcutérie La Fernandière, one of the province’s oldest and biggest sausage-making firms, founded by Gervais’ grandfather in 1948, the pair watched their profits plummet as the world price for lamb casings soared to record heights. “It basically doubled within a year to around $34 [per 700 yards],” says Lafontaine, a butcher turned businessman who runs the company’s production lines and leads the development of new products. “Casings represented about 20 per cent of our production costs [and] it was getting to the point where it was costing more than the meat. It really cut into our bottom line.”
That significant cost prompted the partners to take a closer look at alternative modern methods of making traditional breakfast and European sausages. And like their principal competitors on grocery store shelves across Quebec, including Olymel, they decided to switch to vegetal casings and install Handtmann’s ConPro system. “It’s improved our production in every possible way,” Lafontaine says about the automated system, which came on line in early December and now accounts for about 40 per cent of the $12 million his company generates in annual sales. “Material and manpower costs are lower, product loss is negligible, quality is uniform, production speed and shelf life have increased – our sausages even eat better now, because the skin is easier to chew. What more could we ask for?”
That’s a refrain Erik Van Coppenolle knows well – and one he never tires of hearing. As president of Waterloo, Ont.-based Handtmann Canada Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of a 126-year-old German company that is famous for precision manufacturing in the automotive and avionic industries, as well as for being the world’s largest maker of vacuum stuffers, Van Coppenolle has been responsible for marketing the ConPro system in Canada since it first came on the market in 2003. “It’s an easy sell,” he says. “Our system has revolutionized industrial sausage production around the world. People want this technology.”
Comprised of two vacuum fillers (one for filling and another for the company’s trademark VegaCasing) that make only a small footprint on processing plant floors, the ConPro system features a co-extrusion head and product slide with drip pan that allows continuous product flow under constant pressure. During production, the co-extrusion head applies a thin layer of VegaCasing (the thickness of which can be adapted to individual products) while a product slide filled with fixing solution feeds the continuous sausage string to conveyor belts, where the casing hardens and product flows in constant and consistent weight in end products. “It’s a simple but precise, accurate and reliable system,” says Van Coppenolle. “It can make 500 sausages a minute all day long, all of them the same weight bang on to the gram.”
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