Brazilian processing plants invest in automation

Balancing between national economic fluctuation and export interests


Brazilian processing plants have invested heavily in automation in recent years. Next to the ongoing demand for cost reduction and process efficiency, this process was also triggered by the need for adapting to the new Brazilian regulatory norm NR-36, establishing requirements related to labor safety and ergonomics inside processing plants. Humberto Luis Marques from Avicultura Industrial interviewed Lambert Rutten, Commercial Manager for Marel Poultry in Brazil, about this subject.

In the last five to eight years, the Brazilian poultry processing industry has made a huge effort to automatize its manufacturing processes. “Brazilian entrepreneurs traveled to Europe and the US to observe the processing plants there, seeking to apply similar technologies. Around 80% of the national plants have already taken giant steps toward automation of their production lines. They now have the same technological level as the main plants installed worldwide. I’m not saying that Brazil should copy what is being done abroad, but make the most of the existing technology, adjusting it to both Brazilian needs and reality. That’s why Marel doesn’t sell standard line set-ups which are suitable for Europe as well as Brazil. The technology is the same, but each line is largely customized to the needs of our clients,” asserts Lambert Rutten.

How is the Brazilian poultry processing industry performing?

“In order to compete in international markets, there’s no other choice for the Brazilian agro-industry than to keep investing in automation of their processes. Especially since other arguments, such as labor issues, also call for automation. In recent years, the processing industry started to meet several regulations related to ergonomics and labor safety, among others. This is another reason for companies to invest in cutting-edge technology.

The Brazilian poultry production market consists of the two well-known giants, followed by a strong group of cooperatives as well as other major private companies, and finally a group of medium-sized and small processing plants. The first three groups have already finished all steps toward automation. They recognize that continuous investments are necessary to increase efficiency, meet legal requirements, enhance product quality as well as diversity, and stay competitive in a fierce market with growing competition every day.”

How can processors further improve efficiency and cut costs?

“Marel’s role is to empower our customers to achieve the lowest possible cost per kilo or per part, supported by the most efficient process. On the other hand, each product has to be the best possible; the final quality of the meat product must be uncompromised. Another way to cut costs is to process greater volumes, that is, lines operating at higher speed, generating more kilos of meat.”

What kind of products is Brazil exporting?

“Sales of whole chickens are dropping, with the exception of the typical “griller” for the Middle East, so about 80% of the processing plants have already dealt with this issue. Companies exporting to Europe already work close to 100% with specific cuts. Even the Brazilian market has its sales based on cuts, especially in large consumer centers. An optimized carcass balance is essential, as it reduces processing costs.”

How can Brazilian export stay strong?

“Brazil is obliged to meet the requirements of all locations it exports to. Annually, many international audits take place, conducted by importing countries and by each processor’s industrial customers. Europe has its own meat purchase rules, which are very different from the requirements of companies from the Middle East. Brazilian exports to countries which don’t accept stunning before poultry slaughter have to comply with halal certification. On the other hand, animal well-being has high priority in European norms and is required by important supermarkets and fast-food chains. Brazil has to overcome these challenges when it wants to remain an important exporter in the international meat market.”

What are the options for Brazilian processors to invest in automation?

“Most automation developments are currently related to animal welfare, ergonomics, computerization of all processes, and the search for better production efficiency. A very important focus is the integration of processing software. Marel Poultry seeks to offer cutting-edge technology to our clients to facilitate all internal operations. Not only related to manufacturing control and efficiency, but also traceability and maintenance.”

Do Brazilian plants also invest in further processing?

“Further processed products have greater added value, and for this reason, are attractive to processing plants. Marel Poultry has the technological conditions and expertise available for the production of a large number of new products. However, the variety of further processed products in Brazil is rather limited, compared to Europe and USA. Furthermore, these products are sold primarily on the domestic market, not exported.

Nowadays, Brazil has to deal with reduced purchasing power of its population. As a consequence, the price of chicken may drop, resulting in price drops of cut pieces too. On the other hand, the price of further processed products stays the same, which makes them relatively expensive, resulting in less demand. Due to these fluctuations in the market, national producers are reluctant to invest in further processing.

In the last five to ten years, Brazil registered a great progress in further processed products. But nowadays, going through tough times in the market, demand has shrunk. The big companies have taken some initiatives, such as a project with ready meals endorsed by chef Jaime Olivier. But only specific consumers can afford these products.”

How did Marel grow in the last years?

“As a global company, acting worldwide, Marel has experienced enormous growth. Year-over-year, we have surpassed our results, thanks to the increase in sales in the US, Europe and Asia, mainly. The main expanding South American markets today are Chile, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, next to significant activities in Central America. The Latin American market, including Brazil, will continue to grow in the coming years, despite the economic challenges we are facing. The Brazilian agro-industry and cooperatives have still been investing a lot and will remain to do so. It is amazing to see how much the level of technology has grown.”

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