Fresh product instead of frozen food

By purchasing the R 145 thermoforming packaging machine, the Bulgarian filo pastry manufacturer, UNIBEL, has been able to make the change from frozen to fresh product. The new packs keep the pastry fresh for so long that sudden peaks in demand can be absorbed. it has also been possible to open up new sales markets abroad.


UNIBEL AD is a daughter company of Bulgaria’s largest food manufacturer, Bella Bulgaria, which is represented by at least one product in over 90 percent of Bulgarian food shops. The product range of the company, which was founded in 1992, includes sausage products such as scalded sausage, salami and ham, as well as a variety of pastry products and an extensive range of frozen pies in small and large sizes.


New packaging machine eliminates bottleneck

The filo pastry and wide variety of associated products, available under the Bella brand name, are among the most successful of the approximately 200 products in the range. “Because Banitsas, which are pastry parcels filled with cheese, are one of the Bulgarians’ favorite foods, there is probably not a single household in Bulgaria where pastry of our Bella or Familia brands has never been prepared,” says Tsvetelina Tomina, Marketing Manager for the Bella Bulgaria brand in Bulgaria and Romania.

The popularity of the product presented the manufacturer with challenges when the seasonal demand suddenly increased. “Our production capacity was too small to cover the demand, which would rise dramatically at short notice before public holidays. Since the pastry only had a short shelf life, we were also not able to produce it in advance for the times of high demand,” says Tsvetelina Tomina describing the difficulties. The limited shelf life of the raw pastry also forced the manufacturer to supply the product as frozen. This made transport more expensive and was not very popular with consumers; they preferred fresh product and had therefore in recent years reached for the frozen Bella product with much less frequency.

“The investment in the R 145 thermoforming packaging machine was able to solve our problems with production and storage capacity at a stroke,” says Tsvetelina Tomina. It enables the product to be packed in a modified atmosphere, thereby extending its shelf life. This means that UNIBEL is no longer reliant on energy-intensive freezer storage.

A shelf life that is five times longer

It is vital for extending shelf life that the modified atmosphere is retained in the pack. A precondition for this is the high quality of the seal seams. The lifting units of the R 145 distribute the pressure in the sealing die very evenly,allowing the packs to be produced with a high level of reproducible seal quality. The filo pastry now remains fresh in the new pack for five whole months instead of four weeks - and without freezing.

“We had to experiment slightly with the gas flushing parameters before we were able to achieve this high packaging quality. MULTIVAC supported us very professionally in finding the optimum configuration for our product,” says Tsvetelina Tomina. MULTIVAC had already proved its expertise in giving advice on several occasions before at Bella Bulgaria, since solutions for packing sausage and meat products had already been installed for some time at other daughter companies. “This outstanding cooperation was proven again in our project, as well,” says Tsvetelina Tomina with praise. “The packaging specialists quickly recognized what was important to us and very soon developed a suitable solution for us.”

Increasing demand for ready-to-cook pastry

Customers now find the pastry sheets at the fresh food counter instead of in the freezer cabinet and they can now use these immediately after purchase to make the much-loved Banitsas, spicy pies or sweet cakes, such as Baklava and strudel. The switch from frozen to fresh product is undoubtedly one of the reasons sales of filo pastry have risen rapidly. However, Tsvetelina Tomina also ascribes the customer interest to the modernised pack design: “Since the new thermoformed pack offers less space for product presentation and the front of the pack is smaller than before, this challenged our creativity. The new design has obviously been met with the full approval of consumers.”

Thanks to its great success in the market, UNIBEL has expanded its number of machines in the meantime, and since the end of 2014 it has been operating a total of three R 145 thermoforming packaging machines. The compact machine is designed for small to medium-sized batches, and is suitable for modular extension and a wide range of dies. When packing the 500 gram portions, the company benefits in everyday operation from the ergonomics of the modern packaging machine, which can be operated intuitively via a 12” touch-display on the graphic HMI 2.0 user interface. The MULTIVAC Hygienic Design™ also makes cleaning easy: the stainless steel machines are capable of being washed down, while removable side panels and generous cleaning clearances make it easy to thoroughly clean all areas of the machine.




Modern packaging opens up new markets

Thanks to the MULTIVAC machines, the manufacturer can now regard the regular peaks in demand with a relaxed attitude: the long shelf life of the pastry in the thermoformed packs enables UNIBEL to increase production in time before the periods of high demand, and then to store the packed pastry portions until they are called off. This means the company can cover the requirements of the supermarkets for fresh, high-quality pastry, even when the seasonal demand increases by three or four times, as is the case for example before Christmas.

In addition to this, it has also been possible with the switchover to the R 145 to market the filo pastry abroad - and this has also led to a rise in sales. Thanks to the extended shelf life, the high-quality products can now survive transportation over long distances without compromising quality. “In the last two years, consumers in Central and Western Europe have also discovered a taste for Bulgarian filo pastry specialities,” observes Tsvetelina Tomina. “We can now fully meet this demand. The greater flexibility and reach, which the new pack has given us, have developed within a very short period of time into a decisive competitive advantage in the international market.”

R 145 thermoforming packaging machine

Cut-off length (mm) < 500
Forming depth (mm) < 130
Output (cycles/min) < 14*
Hygiene standard MULTIVAC Hygiene Design™

*Depending on the equipment