Extruding new snack opportunities

FoodProcessing Africa investigates extrusion in the growing African savoury snack market, the trends in different markets, and the equipment available to service the needs of producers in this sector.
Although designing snack foods today can be a complex process to meet changing consumer tastes and expectations, extrusion technology provides snack makers with the opportunity to process a variety of products by changing minor ingredients and processing conditions on the same machine. The extrusion process can therefore produce innovative snacks with different shapes, textures and colours to capture the consumer’s imagination.

Prof LJ Grobler, head of the Centre of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing at North West University in South Africa, says: “Extrusion can be described as a process during which a material is forced through a defined opening. When extrusion is used for food or feed product manufacturing, mechanical cooking also forms part of the process. Products such as breakfast cereals, puffed chips, animal feed and plastic wood composites can be produced using this technology.”

He adds that extrusion technology is ideal for establishing small to medium sized processing plants on farms or in rural areas to produce food or feed products in close vicinity to where the feed-in produce – such as maize, wheat or sorghum – is grown. “There are many opportunities for developing new products in Africa by using extrusion. It is a relatively inexpensive, energy-efficient and easily-operated method to produce a wide range of ready-to-eat foods and animal feeds.”
Market status
According to Jeff Rossouw, Heat and Control’s general manager – Africa, the African snack industry has grown considerably over the last few years as companies have invested in an industry that offers certain growth. “The global trend is positive for the snack industry, and Africa has plenty of opportunity to receive benefit from a growing snack market, but there are also significant barriers,” Rossouw concedes.
“More often than not, snacks in emerging markets are a replacement meal and not a snack in the true sense of the word,” he states. “Do not be surprised to see a corn or cassava chip soaked in milk eaten as breakfast, or mixed with a meat sauce as lunch or dinner.”
Rossouw explains that baked extruded products are popular in markets where distribution channels are limited and roads are bad. “These types of snacks do not travel well and in-bag-damage often occurs. Shelf time for informal products is often a few days only.
Nitrogen gas flush is uncommon. Cost is also a prohibitive factor and price wars are common. In South Africa’s informal market, for example, prices have remained almost unchanged for the last 10 years due to fierce competition.
“In certain countries where temperatures are extremely hot, processors often use thicker BOPP film to overcome quality problems resulting from the environment, despite short shelf time. “Outside of South Africa and especially in East and West Africa, homemade snacks are sold through street vendors and many home-style snacks do not always lend themselves to commercial processing. With many subsistence farmers producing raw products such as potato, cassava, yam, taro and plantain, quality is still a
subjective term. Commercially-viable volumes can only be produced if quality is ensured through proper agronomy,” Rossouw remarks.
Gary Boast of Nicola J Flavours & Fragrances confirms that the most popular snacks remain extruded puffs and naks, with some regions preferring them with a high level of chilli or “heat”, while others prefer much milder flavours.
“Broadly speaking the old favourites such as cheese, spicy tomato, chutney, beef are the common sellers, often with their own local twist.”
Rossouw adds: “In Nigeria you will find a seafood flavour called ‘snoek’ that has its origins in Scandinavian fish imported years ago. The taste is not remotely close to the game fish known in South Africa.”
The challenges
Boast says market research, funding, bureaucracy and punitive duties and levies are all barriers to growth in the African snack market. “Many business people have no access to market research or indeed there isn’t any – and thus find it difficult to maximise potential, identify opportunities for different products and expand existing markets,” Boast states.
“Funding is always a problem leading to many businesses being undercapitalised and thus unable to grow.” Rossouw adds that import duties, transit services and raw material or energy source supply are also big barriers. “Prohibitive import duties on raw materials or significant equipment investment, rather than consumer preference, often determine future trends. Raw pellet snacks are, for example, taxed between 5% and 20% depending on the raw materials they contain,” he says. “A real barrier to entry is also the capital tied up as stock in transit, when shipping -from abroad.”

Snack Quip offers a super low-oil volumefried line that utilises external heat exchanger technology, which allows clients to select different fuel/energy options that may be available in outlying and harder-to-service areas. Typically, these lines start at 200kg/hour with one extruder, and can be expanded with a second extruder.
“Currently, cassava and plantain processing enquiries dominate West Africa, while corn and cassava dominate East Africa. Egypt in recent years has become a major player in the snacks market, and there is movement in Mozambique, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.” – Jeff Rossouw, Heat and Control’s general manager, Africa

“With a population of 150 million, Nigeria should be a big market for all kinds of snacks. But manufacturing is a challenge because electricity supply is a significant problem along with poor infrastructure, poor support services and other necessary services to run a factory. Clearing from the ports can take upwards of 15 days and the political environment impedes significant progress in the snacks market.” – Jeff Rossouw, general manager Africa, Heat and Control

Opportunities and constraints
Even with all the barriers to entry in the market outlined above, Rossouw says that there are some opportunities to be exploited. “With a strong Indian influence throughout Africa, there are opportunities to produce Namkeen (Indian) snacks with an African ‘twist’. And if the trend to export tree nuts, such as macadamias and cashews, to other
emerging countries for further value adding and processing can be reversed.
A whole new industry can be established with all the socio-economic benefits that go with this. Coated spicy nuts have already been established as a good product line in certain regions.”
He also believes that the potential for pellet-type snacks is huge as equipment investment is reasonably low and the producer can run any number of different raw pellets and offer a basket of products with bases such as corn, potato, rice and multigrain, off one machine.
Rossouw adds that the product range for the smaller, entrepreneurial type of processor, so often found in Africa, is very limited and that the initial investments required are out of reach for most. “The typical system that would be replacing roadside ‘woks’ would be a small gas or electrically-heated batch fryer. The availability of gas, electricity and the fact that these types of units are not mobile, in itself poses a challenge, as most vendors pack up their shops at the end of a trading day. These machines are more suitable to fixed premises with services supply in place.”
Boast adds that small-scale producers often also have difficulty obtaining the volumes required to be profitable due to a lack of funding. “Producing snack foods is generally a low-profit, high-volume business, making economies of scale necessary to achieve profitability.” – Melissa Jane Cook

Equipment considerations

“Potential snack manufacturers should select a company to supply not only the equipment, but also all of the surrounding services, including assistance with sourcing raw
materials, flavouring and packaging,” says a Snack Quip spokesperson. “They should ensure that the prospective equipment supply company can offer them growth with innovative new ideas and the ability to implement service into Africa.”
The spokesperson adds: “We also advise clients not to underestimate the quality demanded by the little client, even in outlying rural conditions. People across Africa demand very high quality products, and generally, high-quality machinery is required to achieve this.”
Jeff Rossouw of Heat and Control says that one of the most common mistakes made by inexperienced processors or investors is to buy equipment on price alone, or to acquire secondhand equipment from a reputable manufacturer that has been modified by an equipment broker. “The cheaper equipment often has no history of research and development, resulting in failure and unreliability. And the OEM parts used are more often than not unknown brands and not readily available for emergency maintenance.
“Second-hand equipment, on the other hand, is often more than 20 years old and has been modified over the years, or the brokers have matched filter fryers and heat exchangers that are not designed to function together,” he notes. “Almost every single call we receive on our own brand of second-hand equipment is a case of the latter and endless problems are the order of the day.”

ExtruAfrica, Prof LJ Grobler: Tel +27 (0)18 299 1329; lj.grobler@nwu.ac.za; www.extruafrica.org.za
Heat and Control: Tel +27 (0)21 948 5934; www.heatandcontrol.com
Nicola J Flavours & Fragrances: Tel +27 (0)11 315 6582; www.njflavours.co.za
Snack Quip: Tel +27 (0) 11 965 0582; www.snackquip.com