A force in flour in Fiji

by Arvin Donley
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Punja & Sons Ltd. is one of the largest privately-owned companies in the South Pacific Region, with diverse interests covering manufacturing, food processing, packaging, printing and distribution. It serves customers with a product portfolio of soap, rice, tea, oil, coconut products, dairy products, wraps and flour.

The company added its flour milling division, Punja Flour Ltd., in 2005 with construction of a multi-million dollar, high-tech, fully integrated flour mill at Lautoka, in the Fiji Islands.

“As a major manufacturer and supplier of foods to the Pacific Region and having a formidable distribution network throughout Fiji and the Pacific Region, it was an obvious fit to complement the range of goods offered to the existing customer base,” the company said.

The major shareholder in Punja Flour is Punja & Sons Ltd. Other shareholders include Bavin Ltd., George Weston Ltd., Fijian Holdings and Yasana Holdings. “Weston Flour Milling Limited provided technical support, particularly in the early stages of the establishment of the operation,” said Richard Eliott, a spokesman for Punja Flour. “It continues to provide cross-checking of product quality with our own extensive laboratory facilities.”

Eliott said Weston Milling, which operates nine mills in Australia and New Zealand, initially provided a mill manager to oversee plant operations, but for the last five years Punja Flour has hired its own employees to operate the plant. Weston Milling also helped establish an in-house Australian-standard food-testing laboratory.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fiji, which does not produce wheat, imports about 140,000 tonnes of wheat each year. Punja purchases both hard and premium white wheat from Australia. The volatility of the global wheat market in recent years has been a major challenge for the company.

“Given the strict price controls on finished products in Fiji, volatility of wheat pricing has a significant effect on the business,” Eliott said.

The mill produces a wide range of flour products for the retail and commercial markets including Bakers flour, “Normal” flour for domestic use for items such as Roti, Noodle flour, Biscuit flour, Atta Flour, wheat meal, whole meal, semolina, sharps and germ in addition to Millmix for animal feed consumption. Punja’s flour is sold throughout the Pacific region to countries such as Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga,Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Punja said the customer base consists of numerous small bakeries that purchase bakers flour and to retail outlets, which mainly purchase “normal flour” used for making roti and other domestic products. Noodle flour is sold to one major manufacturer in the region and biscuit flour is also produced.

Mill expansion

The five-story milling facility was designed, installed and commissioned by Uzwil, Switzerland-based Bühler AG. The initial 24-hour production capacity was 155 tonnes of wheat, and that recently has been increased to 240 tonnes.

“There is now no room to increase production capacity within the existing building based on current technology,” Eliott said.

Resulting from this increase and many other factors, the company plans to increase its wheat storage capacity at the mill to 7,200 tonnes with the ability to intake grain at 200 tph. The present intake capacity is 50 tph. Grain is tipped from the container into a hopper, augered to the intake elevator and then passes over a scale. From there it is moved to a Bühler MKZM separator and through a Bühler MVSG aspirator.

One of the novel features of the plant, according to Eliott, is that the wheat goes through a Bühler MOZL intensive dampening unit prior to first dampening into the dirty wheat bins. Eliott said it is unusual to put dirty wheat over this machine due to the wear fracture, but the company decided to do so to enhance the conditioning process.The wheat cleaning plant includes flow balancers, conditioning bins for blending plus a Bühler MTKB Combi-Cleaner, MTRI Indented Cylinder, an MXHS scourer and other equipment. A screening grindings plant is incorporated into the system.

The milling section consists of eight Newtronic roller mills, one eight-section MPAH sifter, one four-section MPAP sifter, an MPFP purifier and MVSQ aspirator. This section also includes sundry impact disruptors and bran finishers.

There are four packing lines, three dedicated to flour and one to Millmix. Of the three flour-packing lines, two are dedicated to 10, 5, 4, and 2-kg bags, the bulk of which is delivered by truck and the rest which is packed into shipping containers for the export market.

Despite the recently increased milling capacity, only two employees are needed to operate the highly automated plant, which is controlled with Bühler’s WinCos computer system.

Earthquakes and cyclones are prevalent in the region, thus the flour mill was designed and erected to conform to the stringent wind loadings and seismic codes for the area.

It was also designed with the goal of featuring the highest levels of sanitation.

“In conjunction with Bühler and our own consultant, we set the highest possible standards for hygiene and compliance with ISO and HACCP requirements,” the company said.

To meet these standards, great care was taken in the building design and construction to minimize dust ledges and areas of possible infestation from vermin and birds, Eliott said, noting that all points where the walls and floor meet were coved, or rounded, for ease of cleaning. To conform to government requirements, flour fortification has been utilized since the plant was commissioned six years ago, with iron and other micronutrients being added.

Located close to the mill is a wraps plant, which was built four years ago and produces a wide range of tortilla and roti mainly for the export market, although some of the product is sold to nearby tourist hotels. Both the flour mill and the wraps plant are HACCP certified.