With 115 years of experience, Leclerc Foods is an old hand in the cookie and bar business and knows what matters most: top quality and satisfied consumers. The cookie and bar manufacturer is fully dedicated to this mission and, in doing so, counts on the support and know-how of innovative processing and packaging technology partners, such as Syntegon Technology. As part of its current expansion and modernization plans, Leclerc bought a total of two new state-of-the-art bar systems, each of them with two packaging legs, from Syntegon for its sites in Canada and the United States.
Canada-based Leclerc Group is a leader in today's food industry. The success of its products lies in the company's core values: maximum quality standards, safety and flexibility throughout production, and a relentless drive to deliver customer satisfaction. When François Leclerc started baking cookies in his small kitchen in 1905, he probably did not imagine how long-lasting and successful this undertaking would be. What started as a small biscuit bakery soon became a thriving family business that overcame the uncertain times of the 20th century and today supplies the whole world with delicious cookies, bars, and crackers.
Family-business and co-manufacturer create growth through innovation
Thanks to its 'anything-is-possible' mindset, Leclerc has successfully identified emerging food trends and expanded its product range according to the current zeitgeist. When Leclerc expanded its portfolio to granola bars in 1980, the business started to record significant growth rates. As a result, Leclerc expanded from Quebec to other locations in Canada and beyond national borders to the United States, soon operating eight production facilities. Today, the Leclerc brand name is synonymous with delicious cookies, crispy crackers, and healthy bars. That, however, only accounts for approximately a quarter of the entire business: Leclerc is also a successful contract manufacturer for private labels. Over the past years, the company has achieved its most significant growth in this business segment.
"As a contract manufacturer, we have to respond quickly to current market requirements and meet our customers' demands for affordable, high-quality products," explains Jean-Sébastien Leclerc, vice-president, co-manufacturing and manufacturing infrastructure at Leclerc. "This not only calls for flexibility and speed but also puts product quality and food safety at the forefront. That's why we need efficient, long-lasting technology and reliable partners that support us with their expertise."
Leclerc and Syntegon: the success story continues
Driven by the ongoing diversification of the bar market, Leclerc decided to expand its production capacities in 2019, building a new facility in Cornwall, Ontario. When it came to investing in the expansion and modernization of its production, the company trusted a partner who has known the family company's philosophy and aspirations for many years: Syntegon, formerly known as Bosch Packaging Technology.
Leclerc and Syntegon first started working together in 1996, when the company supplied processing and packaging systems for fruit and rice crispy bars for Leclerc's Canadian production facilities. The collaboration continued and expanded to production facilities in the United States. "We like to work with partners who fully understand and support our corporate values and share our commitment to quality," Leclerc says. "We need suppliers who come up with innovative solutions that are tailored to our needs. We are happy to have found such a partner in Syntegon."
Meeting high demands within a dynamic market environment
Especially in bar processing and packaging, having a flexible and reliable partner is key for companies like Leclerc: Not only is the bar market dynamic and constantly diversifying, the product itself is versatile, high-end, and delicate. Leclerc uses high-quality ingredients for all their products, which require gentle handling and spoil easily if they are not packaged right due to the limited use of preservatives. The hygienic conditions within the lines must therefore meet high food safety standards and ensure optimal product protection. Packaging different bars and batch sizes on one line is standard everyday business for Leclerc. Yet, it is no simple task, especially when the product contains allergenic ingredients such as nuts. Cross-contamination has to be eliminated at all costs.
For Leclerc's contract manufacturing business, another challenge in terms of machine flexibility is how many different products are produced in which batch size. To minimize downtime in small batches, short format changeovers and cleaning times for the entire process and packaging line are essential. Gentle product handling is another important factor in ensuring that the ingredients are packaged reliably and reach the consumer in perfect condition. What is more, product breakages and waste are economic factors because high-quality materials are expensive to buy. Reduced product waste also has a positive effect on the environmental footprint. With many years of experience with these challenges and Syntegon's competence in integrated system solutions, it was the logical consequence for Leclerc to opt once again for consistent packaging lines from the German expert.
Premium technology for premium products
At its new production site in Cornwall, Leclerc planned to produce snack and breakfast bars filled with fruit and grain– an increasingly popular on-the-go breakfast alternative. To offer consumers maximum convenience, the bars are flow wrapped individually and then packed in tri-seal cartons of different sizes and counts. The products are marketed in various configurations in sizes. Consequently, Leclerc needed to be able to change between formats easily and with minimum downtime. To make this process as smooth, flexible, and efficient as possible, Leclerc decided to invest in a brand-new, state-of-the-art packaging system from Syntegon.
The primary and secondary packaging system consists of a two-legged product distribution system with two gentle cross-feed stations and a multilevel product buffer, two Sigpack HRM flow wrappers for cold sealing with FIT intelligent infeed two integrated Sigpack TTM2 top load cartoners. Klaus Haebig, sales manager for North America at Syntegon, was responsible for the project, "Our highly flexible and efficient system was engineered to meet highest hygienic standards. The equipment features a high level of automation as well as excellent format flexibility. It is an ideal fit for Leclerc and paves the path to further growth."
Matching high-quality production with flexibility
Once the granola bars have been formed, dried, and cut, the Sigpack DGDE distribution station gently arranges them crosswise and distributes the bars to the packaging legs. In case of a product jam or machine downtime on one of the legs, the products can be diverted to the DBM-3 buffer station for storage on as many as three decks. Once the packaging process picks up again, the products are automatically fed from the buffer back to the flow wrapper.
The Sigpack HRM flow wrapper packs the bars at a speed of up to 720 products per minute. The flow wrapper features the intelligent Sigpack FIT product infeed based on the clever application of linear motor technology. It facilitates non-contact and gentle product feeding as well as fast push-button format changes. Syntegon's patented, fully automated high-performance splicing unit enables seamless splicing, reducing product waste.
The packaging solution for Leclerc also features the new Sigpack PFI module, a flexible, vacuum-free infeed solution for high-speed cartoning machines, which also uses linear motor technology. While feeding the wrapped bars into the cartoner, it fully accommodates the speeds of the Sigpack HRM flow wrapper: Thanks to linear motor technology, each product is individually brought into the correct position and fed into the Sigpack TTM2 top load cartoner. The PFI module offers a large format range. New format parts can be produced by 3D print. Changeovers are carried out tool-free within a very short time. Thanks to the TTM's compact and open design, only one operator is required for operation, format changeovers, and machine cleaning. Syntegon's patented changeover concept with pre-set rods is toolless for quick, easy, and fully reproducible adjustments. The TTM offers Leclerc maximum flexibility for current and future production with its wide product and format range. Jean-Sébastien Leclerc explains, "What applies to our site in Cornwall applies to all our factories: we have to work extremely flexibly and efficiently without compromising the quality of our products. Therefore, this interplay of high-quality production and flexibility is essential for us."
State-of-the-art production ensures customer satisfaction
The new line, which is already in operation at the Cornwall production site, and the whole collaboration with Syntegon delivered such satisfying results that Leclerc decided to upgrade even more packaging lines at other sites using Syntegon equipment. "After the successful launch of our plant in Cornwall, we decided to upgrade our granola and snack bar production capacities at other sites with Syntegon machines as well." As a result, Leclerc sourced additional packaging systems for sites at its headquarters in St Augustin, Canada, and Montgomery, United States. Additionally, St. Augustin Leclerc also produces and packs snack bars from well-known international brands in six different primary packaging formats. A high degree of format flexibility is therefore also required here.
St Augustin and Montgomery systems also comprise Sigpack distribution stations, HRM flow wrappers with FIT intelligent infeed, and TTM2 top load cartoners. In addition, Leclerc also invested in four case packers from Syntegon, opting for the Elematic 3001 WA wrap-around case packer. "The challenge: we needed machines that could process corrugated as well as solid cardboard," Leclerc explains. "The Elematic 3001 can process both types of cardboard and, thanks to its lowerater principle, it offers a large format and pack style flexibility." Format changeovers can be realized quickly and easily thanks to the machine's patented Elematic Click System, which achieves perfect results from the very first case. The click system, a standard feature on the Elematic 3001 series, indicates when parts have successfully locked into place with an audible clicking noise. This eliminates the need for adjustments and minimizes errors, helping Leclerc to reduce scheduled downtimes. Format changeovers can be performed in under ten minutes – depending on the grouping pattern. The machine also features an external hotmelt granulate container and an HMI intuitive control panel, enabling operators to program format selection, position, speed, timing, and glue position.
Thanks to their investments in Syntegon's state-of-the-art technology, Leclerc is well equipped to continue to thrive. "We always strive to do our best – this means staying as flexible and innovative as possible in response to market developments. We are fully dedicated to our quality promise, and our new equipment from Syntegon will help us achieve to deliver on this goal," says Leclerc. He adds, "In everything we do, 'Family business' is the keyword for us: Despite countless changes, we have always remained a family-owned company. Our employees, customers, and cooperation partners form a part of this family. And as a member of our family, we trust in Syntegon to walk alongside us."