Food company Valio is having a new preprocessing facility constructed at the Suonenjoki production plant’s old freezer storage. The more than €10 million investment will enhance the preprocessing of the frozen berries, fruit, vegetables and herbs processed in the plant and increase predictability in production and raw materials management. The new automated preprocessing facility will become operational in 2025.
Construction of the new preprocessing facility at Valio’s Suonenjoki plant has begun in December 2023. The upgrade will add several hundred square meters to the preprocessing area, and a new melting system for frozen products will be introduced to improve and facilitate the handling of frozen raw materials at the beginning of production. The construction work will not affect the plant’s operations.
“The investment will also bring new technology to the plant, enabling it to raise the temperature of frozen raw materials from the -20°C during transport and storage to the product processing temperature of -2°C in a matter of a few minutes. Additionally, new automation will facilitate the handling of heavy, frozen raw materials. This will significantly increase the efficiency and speed of the plant’s production and bring flexibility to the manufacturing of products,” notes Suonenjoki Plant Manager Markku Ihasalo.
The robotics technology to be built in the new pretreatment facility will help to considerably reduce physically taxing work. This will have a positive impact on the wellbeing and work resilience of Valio employees.
“The growing pretreatment and production area and the upgraded process technology will allow us to develop and expand our plant’s operations. This is an important investment in the future of the Suonenjoki plant and also a vote of confidence in our work,” Ihasalo continues.
Around 500 different raw materials pass through the Suonenjoki plant each year
Valio’s Suonenjoki plant is Finland’s largest jam plant; it produces a wide range of jams, marmalades, cream fillings, purees and flavoured oils for both Valio and other food companies such as bakeries. In all, the plant processes some 500 different raw materials, from exotic fruits to Finnish berries.
The berries arriving at the Suonenjoki plant are frozen and the fruit is usually prechopped or otherwise preprocessed. After raw materials been melted, the raw materials are thawed and then preprocessed, i.e. pureed, sieved or chopped. Depending on the product, flavourings or gelling agents, for example, may be added to the berry and fruit raw materials.
“For example, we make vanilla creams for bakeries, Valio AURA® cheese filling for ready-made meatballs and butterscotch filling for doughnuts. We also make the berry, fruit, vegetable and herb preparations used to flavour all Valio’s yoghurts, fresh cheeses and quarks,” notes Ihasalo.
The Suonenjoki plant employs around 100 people in product production processes, in raw materials receiving and handling, and in product development. The product development side of the plant produces dozens of new and seasonal products every year. Customised development work is also done for bakeries and other customers. Around 85% of the Suonenjoki plant’s production is used for Valio’s yoghurts, flavoured quarks and other snacks. Most products go to Valio’s plants in Riihimäki, Oulu and Seinäjoki. Purees are delivered to Valio’s Pitäjänmäki juice plant. The rest is sold to food industry companies in Finland and abroad via Valio’s B2B and Food Service sales.