Specialty flour products
Feb. 19, 2013
by Meyer Sosland
Weinfelden, Switzerland-based Meyerhans Mühlen AG, a family-operated business, has a proud history of providing flour to its customers and an eye to the future with innovative carefully developed products. In 2010, the Meyerhans family successfully completed the succession plan from the fifth to the sixth generation.
The family originally acquired the company in 1890. The community flour mill in Weinfelden, where the company was founded and is still headquartered, first went into service in 1784.
“The longevity of the company results from the owner family’s belief in the importance of skilled employees, state-of-the-art processes and continuous, market-oriented production and process innovation,” said Dominic Meyerhans, who heads the company’s in-house product development department and is the sixth generation of the Meyerhans family in the business.
Meyerhans Mühlen is the largest family owned grain milling company in the Swiss market. The company noted that the three largest Swiss wheat mills own 70% of the market.
“In recent years, our market share has grown both organically and by purchasing mills with critical size for independent future development,” Dominic Meyerhans noted.
The company, which has 120 employees, has four mills in Switzerland. Its facility in Weinfelden, the company’s newest, includes a 100-tonne-per-24-hour flour mill and the company’s headquarters and administrative offices. The Malters, Switzerland flour mill provides additional grinding capacity and a development office and an additional laboratory. The Villmergen, Switzerland facility consists of a wheat and durum mill and a specialty mill and flake production facility (oats, barley, wheat and spelt). Thus, there is the company’s corn (maize) mill in Rheineck, Switzerland. Meyerhans Mühlen has a total grain storage capacity of 70,000 tonnes and a total flour storage capacity of 5,000 tonnes.
Meyerhans Mühlen produces standard flours, flour blends, specialty flours for bakery products, durum semolina for pasta, corn (maize), semolina for polenta, and oat flakes for artisanal and industrial bakeries, small food businesses, food industry suppliers and retailers in Switzerland. By volume, the company’s best-selling products are standard flours like white flour. Dominic Meyerhans noted that “due to a strong Swiss currency, we (currently) only market our products within Switzerland.”
In 2009, Meyerhans Mühlen decided that in order to meet its customers’ demands for specialty flours, a new mill was needed. The company decided from the outset to enlist Uzwil, Switzerland-based Bühler AG to help it construct its new Weinfelden mill.
“We never gave consideration to any other partner,” said Diego Della Cà, chief executive officer of the Meyerhans Milling Group. “We believe that Bühler is the only company in the world capable of building the mill we imagine. In addition, Bühler’s track record has been outstanding for decades. We speak the same language — verbally and technically.”
The mill was designed and constructed on the basis of the Bühler principle of the “New Art of Milling.” To satisfy the high sanitation requirements, all the components in contact with the product are made of stainless steel. Moreover, all the corners in the new mill building are rounded, which facilitates easier cleaning. Controlled air management inside the building — with controlled air supply and heat recovery — ensures a consistent climate throughout the mill.
Bühler noted that the flow chart of the new Meyerhans mill is based on several break, grading and reduction stages separated by quality grades. This guarantees a top flour extraction rate.
The heart of the plant, the grinding section, incorporates the Antares roller mill, Sirius sifter and Polaris purifier.
The ability to blend specific flour formulations for its client’s individual needs meant that Meyerhans Mühlen’s Weinfelden mill needed a specialized blending section.
“We must be in a position to blend the required flours within a short time from the different base flours and ingredients, both for bulk deliveries and for bagged products,” Della Cà said. “It was therefore very important to us to have a high-capacity and flexible blending system as well as large intermediate storage capacities.”
Thus, the new mill has no less than 49 storage bins for the different base flours, each capable of holding 5 to 80 tonnes. The actual blending section features a Sanimix batch mixer and several differential batching scales for recipe-compliant blending and mixing.
The WinCos control system monitors the different process operations and controls them in a highly efficient manner. This Bühler-designed control system also ensures product retraceability, process logging and recipe management. The WinCos also monitors the energy consumption of the entire plant and automatically fine tunes it as required.
The company’s Weinfelden mill went into service in early 2012 and was officially inaugurated at the end of April 2012
Nationally and regionally sourced food is preferred in the Swiss market. Meyerhans Mühlen’s target customers are not looking for just any flour. To supply this market, the company works closely with its customers to develop the formulations they want with grains sourced from within Switzerland.
“Swissness is an important criterion for our customers. Some even expect regional grain from within already small Switzerland,” Dominic Meyerhans said.
The company imports minimal amounts of foreign grain. The small amount it uses consists of protein-rich wheat from Canada and Austria for flours for industrial baking processes, and the company imports oats from Finland where the midnight sun produces large kernels, which are important for the oat flake quality desired by the Swiss (Birchermüesli) consumers.
Traditional millers tend to measure success in product volume.
“This is fine for the basic flour market in which we see fierce competition and therefore steady price erosion,” Dominic Meyerhans said. “Due to these circumstances, we started to invest into the development and production of specialty products. Hence our claim, ‘Mehr als Mehl,’ which can be translated to ‘more than flour.’ In this segment, we need to think in value added rather than volume and market share.”
In the last 18 months, the company has introduced a number of innovative new products. PanFresh, for instance, is flour based on all natural non-GMO ingredients, which significantly increases the shelf life of bakery products. The company has also introduced a “Gipfelmehl” specialty flour for crispy butter croissants and “Pizza Verace” flour for the Italian pizza dough.
One of the company’s leading products for many years has been ParaPan. Meyerhans Mühlen jointly developed this flour with a leading Swiss diet provider.
“It is balanced to meet diet requirements and is so delicious that a great number of non-diet consumers enjoy it,” Dominic Meyerhans said.
In Switzerland, consumers are increasingly sensitive to wheat gluten and carbohydrates. Meyerhans commented that this is either because they are allergic to wheat protein (celiac disease) or because they perceive carbohydrates as “fattening food.”
“We have addressed these trends by launching a low-carb, protein-rich bread flour based on soy and oilseeds. And we have launched new products based on spelt, an ancient grain which has never been crossbred with modern wheat and therefore provides well-tolerated gluten.”
The company said that knowing the needs of its customers is central in both the marketing and sales department.
“Once a customer need is identified, we evaluate the respective market segment or market niche. If we see enough potential, we draft the requirement specifications for the new product and start the development. Zero series products are often given to selected customers in order to judge the new product’s performance before its initial launch. In many new product developments, we collaborate closely with suppliers, external partners and research centers.”
UNIQUE DELIVERY SYSTEM
Being a family-owned company with generations of institutional knowledge and reputation can be helpful when working with customers.
“In Switzerland and Central Europe, value creation in a family-owned company is highly appreciated — for many consumers it provides confidence and tangibility in an ever increasing global marketplace,” Dominic Meyerhans noted.
Approximately 70% of all the flour Meyerhans Mühlen produces is delivered in bulk. The majority of bagged flour leaves the company’s mills in 25-kg bags. Some retail and restaurant products are bagged in 10-kg units.
In May 2012, the company introduced a revolutionary new flour delivery unit.
“Our new GustoFlex flour containers were developed for customers with a large number of bags and no room (or no budget) for flour silos,” he said.
The company’s customers can rent a flour dosing system, and basic and specialty flours can then be delivered in stainless steel containers, which are refilled in the mill when emptied.
“The system provides a significant increase in efficiency and product safety and lowers flour-dust emission in the bakery working area,” he said.
For generations, Switzerland’s strengths and weaknesses have been tied to its geographic and cultural isolation.
“Due to the limited number of grain producers in Switzerland, it is almost impossible to hedge grain prices for local wheat,” Dominic Meyerhans noted.
The strength of the Swiss franc in relation to its neighbor’s currency, the Euro, has made exporting goods difficult for many companies throughout Switzerland.
“Some of our customers used to export their bakery products to European markets. In many cases, this is no longer possible due to the currency crisis or they have moved production abroad. Therefore we experience a certain reduction in flour sales to exporting producers.”
Dominic Meyerhans noted that the biggest challenge for the Swiss wheat milling industry is the future development of the Swiss farming industry and how the Swiss government handles import policies on wheat, flour and baked products.
“In Germany, for instance, many millers make no more profit after years of fierce competition. Lack of innovation has fueled the downward price spiral,” he said. “If Switzerland decides for an agricultural-free trade agreement, the Swiss milling industry will face these low prices. Ultimately, the consumers will have to decide on price or quality. If they decided on price, the rich bread culture in Switzerland will eventually be heavily diminished or even disappear.