The beverage industry provides a vast market with a wealth of opportunities for new and expanding organizations.
According to Zippia, the U.S. market alone is valued at $146 billion, while the global market was valued at $1.5 trillion in 2019. And it’s not showing signs of slowing any time soon.
Organizations who want a piece of that pie have plenty of ways to get into the market or expand further. From sports drinks to energy drinks to alcoholic beverages, there are many product categories a company can invest in when it comes to blending beverages.
When an organization starts considering a beverage line, one of the biggest decisions will be how to blend the product to ensure the proper consistency, flavor and shelf life. Commercial blender manufacturers can help organizations determine the right blender for their needs, as long as the organization can provide details regarding the organization’s ingredient, temperature, process and facility needs.
Let’s look further into those needs to see how they influence the type and size of blender needed.
Ingredients are easily the most important part of any beverage processing consideration. In addition to determining the final flavor profile of the beverage and the nutritional information (both of which are going to be extremely important to customers down the road), the ingredients will influence how the blender manufacturer designs and develops the machine.
Beverages are made up of a mix of liquids and solids, and the processor wants them all properly dispersed. Often, the solids are going to be in the form of powders that are added to a particular liquid, e.g., water or juice, and then blended together. The food processor needs to be aware of how easily their solids can be dispersed into their preferred liquid base.
Powder amounts range can range from 10% of the total product makeup all the way to 75%. The amount and type of powder can affect the viscosity, which denotes how easily the liquid flows. Usually, a higher percentage of solids will result in a more viscous, or thicker, solution. This affects the blender design by influencing the type of impeller and amount of power needed. For example, a higher concentration of solids may result in a higher horsepower motor to keep up with the thicker solution. In addition, the equipment manufacturer might suggest a high-shear impeller, rather than a “standard” version, to further break up the solids and disperse them.
The type of ingredients can also affect the equipment design. Here are some common ingredients in modern beverages and their effects on the product and equipment:
- Proteins – There are a number of protein drinks on the market today. The protein in these drinks come from a variety of sources, including whey, eggs, casein and plants. Proteins can foam when improperly mixed or overblended. To avoid this, beverage makers should use a ratio of solids that create a thick-viscosity solution, which results in more of a rolling action and not a violent mixing action. In addition, the beverage maker can make sure there is enough liquid in the machine to stay above the impeller so air is not sucked in and blended into the solution.
- Solids – Some beverage makers want to incorporate real fruits or vegetables into their drinks. To do so, they need to consider high-shear blending options. Depending on the solution, a high-shear impeller might do the trick. But for others, it will work better to use the blender for the base product, and then have a separate high-shear mixer or colloid mill to process the solids and then incorporate them into the solution.
- Gums & emulsifiers – For some products and ingredients, gums and/or emulsifiers might be needed to ensure the solution holds together and doesn’t separate over time, or even just to help the solids disperse into the liquids. These are generally just used to maintain the solution, not to change the flavor profile. When considering adding these ingredients, processors should research how they will interact with the other ingredients. For example, some gums can make a solution more viscous, which will change the blender design.
- Sweeteners – Liquid sweeteners will disperse differently than solid sweeteners. In addition, powdered sugar will disperse differently than granulated sugar. Processors should research how each will disperse into their liquid of choice. At the same time, they need to be aware how the sweeteners will affect the viscosity of the solution.
- Alcohol – In addition to understanding how alcohol disperses and how it will affect viscosity, beverage processors need to be aware of the dangers of working with alcohol. Depending on the alcohol, it can produce flammable fumes. The blender/mixer manufacturer can combat this by outfitting the machine with an explosion-proof motor or control panel.
While most beverage producers will blend their products at ambient temperatures, some would prefer to regulate temperatures to promote better dispersion.
For some, this might mean raising the temperature above normal, just like a consumer would at home with hot cocoa. Others, such as processors who work with dairy, would prefer blending beverages at lower temperatures for safety and to avoid spoilage.
If an organization is interested in blending beverages at a temperature other than the facility’s ambient temperature, they can upgrade their blender with a jacket to help heat or cool the product chamber. Organizations should understand potential complications of jackets, though. For example, if blending really cold products, such as during ice cream reclamation, the cold can cause the liquid in the jacket to freeze. When the liquid thaws, it can expand and crack the jacket, resulting in costly repairs. Organizations can add glycol to combat this issue.
While glycol can help prevent freezing, it won’t prevent another potential issue–corrosion inside the jacket. Processors should discuss all these points when planning their blending solution.
Manufacturers size blender solutions based on how much product the beverage processor wants to disperse per hour.
When determining that, processors need to decide if they’re interested in blending beverages on a batch or continuous basis.
In batch blending, the processor puts the liquid and solids into the blender, blends them for a set period of time and then empties the blender. Fill and repeat.
For continuous blending, the processor is essentially dispersing for the entire shift. The blender is continuously running as the organization keeps it filled with the correct amount of liquid and solids while also pulling finished product out and moving it to the next phase. Some processors use a form of continuous blending called recirculation. In continuous blending, the product only makes one pass through the blender. But in a recirculation loop, the processor pulls the product through the blender and into a holding tank and then back into the blender, all the while adding solids to reach the proper dispersion.
Because batch blending means making more product at once, processors who do it that way will probably purchase larger blenders than those operating on a continuous basis. Batch blending is the most common form in the industry.
All those processes can be automated by setting up a line that feeds the blender without human interaction. In addition, many blenders can be programmed to run in stages to meet the overall needs of the product and processor.
The facility itself can affect the size of the machine. Smaller facilities might need smaller blenders to fit their footprint.
At EnSight Solutions, we’ve helped many of the world’s largest beverage makers blend everything from soft drinks to nutritional and energy drinks to alcoholic beverages. When we work with processors who are blending beverages, we strive to understand their products and processes to design and develop a blending solution that meets their needs just right.