Q&A about food science, food settling, and distribution testing with Smithers expert Michael Kuebler

Q&A about food science, food settling, and distribution testing with Smithers expert Michael Kuebler

What is food settling? Why does it matter?

Food settling refers to the way flaked foods, such as cereal or chips, naturally sink to the bottom of the package as a result of being shaken around during transit. Too much settling often leads to the infamous half-empty bag of cereal or mostly-broken chips and, inevitably, customer complaints. If your customer repeatedly feels as if they’re being cheated by what they perceive as a half-empty package, they may stop buying your product. 

What causes food settling?

Food settling is primarily caused by the vibration effects of transportation. It can be exacerbated if the food product is especially brittle and can’t handle much vibration without breaking. Small pieces settle down further, leading to more void space in the package.

Product makeup can also affect settling. Dense items will settle to the bottom faster, such as raisins in cereal.

How can a manufacturer prevent food settling?

It is natural and ultimately avoidable for vibration to cause some food settling. Further food settling caused by breakage can be mitigated by reformulating the product itself. Food scientists would need to adjust the product to be more robust and resistant to breakage, while maintaining the flavor and texture desired by customers. 

Why don’t manufacturers just add more product to the package?

Increasing fill levels to counteract negative customer perception is not a good long-term solution. If fill levels get to high, contaminants can get into the seal area and lead to processing problems. The final package a customer receives was essentially full, volume-wise, when it was packaged. Any void space at the top is the product of inevitable settling during transit, not deceitful shortchanging. This is also why most food manufacturers list the weight of the food product on the package: Even if the volume varies due to settling, the actual product quantity is consistent from package to package. In addition, it goes without saying that increasing fill levels costs more for the manufacturer.

How can a manufacturer know how much a product is settling during transit?

Laboratory testing is an excellent option for manufacturers who want to measure how their product’s breakage and settling throughout the supply chain. It’s also an efficient way to determine whether a new formulation is robust enough to handle the supply chain by testing a small batch before investing in large-scale production.
Our experts utilize vibration testing to simulate road and rail conditions, the most common modes of transportation for flaked foods, in combination with other testing methods to recreate your product’s supply chain.
To learn more, get in touch with Tim Rice at 517-322-2400 or trice@smithers.com. 

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