Over the last decade JBT’s juice processing business has undergone a transformation that has taken the company from principally being a technology provider to the citrus processing industry to a global leader in the liquid foods field, offering solutions across the juice sector into dairy, canned foods, nutraceuticals and beyond.
Donn Sabato, JBT’s US Liquid Foods Sales Manager, is well qualified to speak about the radical changes that the company has undergone over recent years, having helped oversee much of JBT’s development in its domestic market.
Juice extraction leader
For much of its history, citrus processing has been at the core of JBT’s business, with the company leasing juice extraction equipment to businesses across the globe; in fact, Sabato estimates that JBT’s juice extractor accounts for approximately 75% of the world’s citrus juice production.
“We’re in all the countries – the US, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, Spain – wherever there is citrus, there is JBT citrus extraction technology,” he says.
“What that entails is a machine that is never purchased by the customer – it’s a lease where we retain the asset, and we provide both service and the parts. That was, and continues to be, one of our core product lines.”
JBT also manufactures the ancillary equipment that goes around the extractor, from belt conveyors, bucket elevators, graders and sizers through to fruit handling equipment that feeds the extractors. And once the citrus has been juiced, JBT provides by-product recovery systems for pulp, valuable d-Limonene oil and other key ingredients.
But while such technologies remain among JBT’s core competencies, the onset of the citrus greening disease and its negative impact in particular on Florida’s citrus industry encouraged the company to look beyond citrus into other fruit and vegetable juice processing opportunities.
The application of related technology for fruit and vegetable purees ultimately led to the building of a new sweet potato juice plant in North Carolina in 2015.
With the appointment of Tom Giacomini as JBT CEO and President in 2013, the company began adding complementary businesses to its portfolio, including ICS, A&B Process Systems and Stork Food & Dairy Systems, while also integrating with JBT’s previously separate filling, closing, and in-container sterilization businesses based in Madera, California and Sint-Niklaas, Belgium.
The consequence of these actions, says Sabato, meant that JBT now offers far more than it has previously in terms of liquid and other foods, adding blending systems, installations, tank manufacturing, and enabling entry into the dairy industry through Stork Food & Dairy.
“We are growing both vertically and horizontally, not just in the juice sector, but also in markets other than those which we have historically served,” he explains.
While protecting its core market – citrus – Sabato says JBT has been exploring other liquid foods, fruit and vegetables, and increasingly dairy solutions and nutraceuticals.
He says JBT’s move into non-citrus fruit and vegetable juice markets was partly influenced by negative press coverage that affected orange juice sales.
“There have been a lot of attacks against carbonated beverages because of their high sugar content – orange juice has a high, natural sugar content as well as a lot more vitamins and minerals – but the press has lumped all sugary beverages together and negatively affected the amount of orange juice people are drinking,” explains Sabato. “This has opened up the doors to other fruits and vegetables as well as alternative beverages.”
With the mergers and acquisitions, Sabato says the Liquid Foods business is now able to offer a more comprehensive package, adding that the company will continue to add to its portfolio, while also aiming to grow both organically and through new additions.
“We now offer pasteurizers, sterilization equipment, blending systems and skid mounted tank systems, which control, for example, how much cranberry juice is metered in to make a drink.
“Prior to merging with Stork Food & Dairy we only supplied bulk aseptic filling systems, meaning either in a 55 gallon drum or a 300 gallon aseptic bag-in-box, but now we can also fill individual retail bottles. The consolidation with our filling, closing, in-container sterilization business means we are also now in retorts, rotaries and hydrostatic sterilizers. In fact, over 50% of canned foods globally are processed through JBT’s sterilization technology.”
He adds: “We’re keeping our eyes on all of the new technologies for juice products and other liquid and canned food segments – where is the next generation of retail product? Is it going to be a pouch? Will it continue to be in cans or will it be in plastics? And, what is the best technology to make sure that product is safe for the marketplace? Where is the next piece of the puzzle that will fit in with what we’ve been building?
“Three to four years ago, the juice processing business of JBT had sales shy of US$150 million but through organic growth and acquisition our Liquid Foods portfolio has now trebled – so we’ve got a good track record and we feel good about the future.”