Despite the intrinsically anti-bacterial nature of stainless
steel, cleaning crews at food-processing companies take their
jobs seriously. And that's a good thing for the stainless steel
Rick Spiak, vice president of sales and marketing at
Wirebelt Co. of America, a Londonderry, N.H.-based company that
makes stainless conveyor belts for the food processing
industry, said his company's replacement business is slightly
larger than its original equipment business thanks to those
rough sanitary squads.
"Cleanliness is next to Godliness at a food plant, so the
cleanup crews have to be aggressive," he said. "Eventually the
equipment would wear out. But it's rare it actually wears out;
it's usually torn up."
The same type of belt on the same type of machine at two
different plants can last anywhere from two days to six months,
depending on this kind of wear, Spiak said. "As a business we
want to try to forecast this need, but there's no consistency
One thing is certain food processing machinery parts makers
are seeing an increase in demand. "With the economy in the
state it's in right now, people-when they decide to eat out-are
not going to midrange (restaurants) like Chili's or TGI
Friday's. They run to Burger King and Wendy's because it's
cheap," Spiak said.
Although overall food equipment growth generally trends
alongside population growth, there are peak times for
purchasing, according to Doug Grunder, president of Marion
Mixers Inc., Marion, Iowa.
Those peaks depend on when food processing companies have
cash, and that time is now, he said. "Last summer, people were
looking for places to put their money and they put it into
grains futures. Those high prices soon hit grocery stores. But
now grain futures have dropped, yet prices at the grocery store
haven't dropped," Grunder said. "People who are processing food
right now have money in their pocket and they're spending it on
But an executive at Paul Mueller Co., Springfield, Mo.,
which makes stainless steel processing equipment for the food,
farm, beverage and chemical industries, noted that "the economy
hasn't done us any favor. It's really impacted us because
projects haven't moved forward."
Many of those stalled endeavors had to do with ethanol.
"There was a big boom in corn for making fuel, but that's
almost died," said Paul Hume, Paul Mueller's director of
marketing. "But we just got an inquiry from a dominant cheese
company for eight cone-bottom processors for whey protein
concentrate. There are some real large projects in stainless
that are going on. People have to eat and companies need to
grow to expand their markets."
When stainless prices were at a peak 18 months ago, some
companies sought less-expensive alternatives. But Grunder said
substitute materials didn't catch on. "We looked at
alternatives when pricing was really high, but it's a hard
thing to get our customers away from the 300 series," he said.
"It's what is certified in the industry."
What did become popular during nickel's heyday was stainless
Type 2101, an Outokumpu Stainless Inc. product that has
21-percent chrome and 1.5-percent nickel vs. the traditional
Type 304, which has 18-percent chrome and 8-percent nickel.
"There are no threats out there to stainless," Hume said.
"But 2101 will be more widely used, replacing 304 in
applications other than dairy. I think 2101 will become a big
player. It's about 15 percent less expensive than stainless
304." MARIA GUZZO