Sugar decorations company Alldra solves storage problems with the purchase of big bag handling systems
Only thirty employees yet still the European market leader. This is how a little company can be a big player in sugar toppings and sugar sprinkles for ice cream and confectionery or for decorating baked goods, a market that is all about customisation and expediency of supply. The bottleneck was the limited storage capacity. Alldra recently switched from using stainless steel boxes to big bag handling systems. "This means that we can even stack three high without contamination risks. In this way, we can generate inventories that allow us to offer our clients a guaranteed supply even at peak times such as during a heat wave," says site manager Tony Schoorlemmer.
Without knowing, you and your family probably consume Alldra products dozens of times a year. An ice cream cone with disco dip, ice cream with sugar sprinkles or liquorice allsorts or, during the holidays, chocolate Christmas wreaths with hundreds and thousands. A miniscule product perhaps, but these sugary wares happen to be the finishing touch on many delicacies, both in terms of appearance and taste. Alldra mainly supplies industrial ice cream, confectionery and baked goods companies. Perfetti Van Melle, Dr. Oetker, Nestle, Holiday Ice and Baronie comprise just a small sample of the many brands they are able to call clients. 70 percent of annual production goes abroad to such countries as Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Enormous product range
Alldra stands out thanks to its enormous product range, extending from hard and soft nonpareils to sugar sprinkles and all kinds of sugar decorations. Within the niche market in which the company is active, Alldra has competitors in Germany and Scandinavia. The European market share in hard nonpareils is approximately 35 percent, and for sugar sprinkles nearly 25 percent. "Most of our competitors produce only hard or soft nonpareils, for example. When you look at our entire product range, we are the European market leader," explains Managing Director Hank van Hasselt proudly. Although some clients purchase roughly 30,000 kilograms every month, most bulk deliveries are under 2,000 kilograms. What is remarkable is that virtually every consignment is custom-made. Tony Schoorlemmer: "Every brand wants to be emphatically different from their competitors. In taste, granule size and especially in colour, too. A nice, eye-catching product sells better." Alldra's enormous inventory of samples with countless creative colour combinations is a prime example of this kind of customised production. One important aspect is developments in the use of natural raw materials. This has resulted in many bright colours being replaced by pastel-like hues. "Clients do not want E numbers, which have certain negative connotations. We add colour to our products using, among other ingredients, beetroot juice, black carrots, spinach juice and paprika extract," explains the site manager.
Home baking is on the rise
'Heel Holland Bakt' (the Dutch version of the Great British Bake Off) is a television programme familiar to most in the Netherlands, where home baking has become a real trend. The result of such programmes is that supermarket sales of jars of sugar decorations have increased enormously over the past two years. Van Hasselt: "The popularity of home baking has grown abroad, too. This has resulted in the home market representing nearly 30 percent of our overall turnover. We expect this trend to continue in the coming years." Alldra has grown right along with the rising market demand over the past years. While this company from Rijssen produced 75,000 tonnes per week just three years ago, current production has risen to 120,000 tonnes per week. The last expansion in 2011, which added 25% extra production area, made this increase in capacity possible. Schoorlemmer: "In this new space, we have big plans for the production of our base product. Raw materials are added automatically. Sugar panning is then carried out in a purely traditional fashion."
This process of panning, which is Alldra's specialty, is carried out in a total of approximately two hundred copper pans. The heated pans of sugar spin round while staff coat the products in syrup and starch until a nice round white granule is created. It is a traditional trade, carried out by fourteen experienced employees, some of whom have been working for Alldra for dozens of years. Schoorlemmer: "Panning is a subtle art. It's all about choosing the right moment to add the starch and powdered sugar and subsequently allowing it to dry." The process of turning an angular little sugar granule into a larger, round ball takes roughly half a day to achieve. The core is built up by adding layer upon layer. For the production of hard nonpareils, wheat starch is added for the drying process. Overheating is required in order to allow the moisture to evaporate. Soft nonpareils are dried using powdered sugar and syrup, instead. The product hardens further during storage in big bags. After panning, the products are coated in different pans, and flavours and glazing agents are added. The client's desired colouring is also added at this point. In order to prevent contamination with metal particles, the confectionery producer has installed a metal detector. The reason for this is that copper can come free of the copper pans during heating, and it is also possible that metal particles are present in the supplied raw materials. "The metal detectors identify and immediately remove the metal. This is how a completely safe food product is created," says Schoorlemmer, adding that Alldra is also FSSC 22000 certified.
Expansion of storage capacity
With the most recent extension in 2011 and the resulting expansion of production capacity, the company is on track to achieve its ambitions. "We want to grow gradually in the coming years. But we do want to remain realistic, because our site in Rijssen offers no further room for additional expansion." Relocating or outsourcing production is not an option. Panning is also an extremely meticulous, custom-made quality process for which no other faster production methods exist. For that reason, Alldra has focused on improving its existing operational processes, including the enlargement of its base product inventories. Van Hasselt: "The weather in Europe can change in an instant. In the Netherlands, for example, we might suddenly have a week with temperatures of around 30°C. Our clients in the ice cream industry are then operating at full steam and want us to supply rush deliveries of sugar decorations. In our sector, speed means revenue." The limited number of square meters Alldra had available for storage were not being vertically utilised. That was where more storage space could be gained. The company therefore decided to switch from using stainless steel boxes to big bag handling systems.
After purchasing fifty big bag handling systems in 2013, Alldra again invested in another fifty this year. Schoorlemmer: "Our big bag supplier NNZ in Groningen pointed us towards the Indus Neva by Indus Integrated Bulk Logistics, as their big bags are ideally suited to big bag storage and stacking systems." Alldra uses a combined solution for the storage of soft nonpareils. The insides of the big bags are comprised of a strong gauze which allows for ventilation. The moisture is thereby removed from the stored confectioneries, which cannot then form into clumps, resulting in a neat, perfectly hardened product. Alldra also uses this system for the storage of coloured products. "Not only is the quality of the stored product improved, but with the Indus Nevas, we are also able to store vertically thanks to the extremely stable construction at the bottom. We now have forty spaces where we can stack three high. The biggest advantage is the enormous increase in inventory capacity. We can help clients faster when they experience production peaks. What's more, the purchase has resulted in better production distribution and process management within our company," explains Schoorlemmer. According to the site manager, the quality is much higher when compared to the old stainless steel systems which you could not stack. "In a production environment where you work with forklifts, which can be quite rough, the material has to be rugged and durable. The Indus Nevas have shown to be suitable in practice and seem a better fit for us than the alternative big bag handling systems. What's more, this is a system that does not require a whole load of separate parts. So it's really practical, as well. We are very pleased with it." Alldra seems eager to keep it up, and the company is tirelessly continuing to optimise its processes. "We're always looking to further anticipate our clients' needs. Building up more inventory of our white base product brings results. In addition, we are also busy making a frame for unloading at the bottom, which is possible with the Indus Nevas. This will prevent a forklift from having to hold the big bag in the air for a period of time during unloading. For 2015, we are considering doubling our current number of big bag handling systems," says a contented Schoorlemmer.
Alldra at a glance
Alldra was founded fifty years ago and has operated under a number of different companies over the course of the years, including as a subsidiary of CSM and as part of Heinz. After a management buy-out in 2004, six entrepreneurs bought shares in Alldra. In 2008, four of the participants were bought out by the current shareholders. The current Managing Director is Hank van Hasselt. As a former supervisor, he has been responsible for the day-to-day management of the company since 2013. The name of the company is a fusion of the Dutch words 'allemaal drageren' or 'total panning', the specialised sugar processing technique of Alldra that is largely done in the traditional fashion.