2.1 Food products that are suitable for small-scale processing
Some processed foods are not suitable for manufacture on a small scale and others have no local or regional demand. The factors that determine whether a food is suitable for production in a particular location are complex and inter-related. They are also specific to each production site. However broad guidelines on how to select the types of food that can be produced are as follows.
The selection of the type of food to process depends in part on the level of skill and experience of the staff that will do the production. Care should be taken with all low-acid wet foods, including meat products (especially sausages, burgers and pies), vegetable products, milk products (except yoghurt, butter and ghee) due to the risk of food poisoning. These foods require strict hygienic processing and an understanding by the operators of the risks involved. They should not be produced by inexperienced or untrained people.
Other products require the use of expensive high-technology equipment that is not generally affordable or repairable by small-scale producers. Examples include any low-acid canned foods (for example, canned meats, fish, vegetables, milk), hot-extruded snackfoods, carbonated (fizzy) drinks, homogenized or UHT (Ultra-Heat Treated) milk, solvent-extracted cooking oils and irradiated foods (the last is not legal in some countries). Some foods (for example, some baked goods and sugar confectionery) require a degree of flair, skill, imagination and experience to produce interesting and appealing products. Again these would normally only be produced by trained or experienced staff.
It can be seen from the above considerations that packaging is only one of the many factors that should be taken into account when setting up a business to process foods for sale. However because of problems of availability of packaging materials in many developing countries the problem of packaging assumes great importance. The methods used to select a product and the scale of production may need to be modified to take this into account. For example, the authors know of at least one food business in Africa in which the entrepreneur first found an available source of packaging materials and then designed a product that would suit it.
With these considerations in mind it is possible to analyse the factors that influence the likely success of a small food business and plan carefully to overcome any constraints. Typical questions that should be asked during the planning stage are shown in Table 2-1. In all cases, for a small business to be successful there should be:
- a good demand for the food, either locally or as exports to neighbouring areas or countries,
These considerations are shown as a 'decision tree' in Figure 2-1.
Table 2-1: Typical questions that should be asked during the planning stage
Taking these and other factors into account, Table 2-2 shows the foods that are commonly seen as suitable for production at the small scale. Short shelf-life products are those that are expected to be eaten within a few days of production. In general the following short shelf-life products are suitable for small-scale production because there is a good opportunity to add value to low-cost raw materials. There is often a good demand for such products and there are fewer packaging and distribution problems than occur with some other foods.
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