At Hi-Food innovative uses of food technologies for new products and ingredients
Founded in 2012 and grown within the University of Parma, Hi-Food is a company that produces advanced natural technologies and that has studied (and sometimes patented) innovative methods of extraction and production of raw materials and functional ingredients of plant origin, so far for the bakery, gluten free and industrial gastronomy sectors in general. New solutions developed in response to the productivity and marketing needs of food companies (especially the so-called "free-from") as a result of the evolution of the demand. Giampaolo Cagnin, co-founder of Hi-Food – together with Emanuele Pizzigalli (RD Officer and co-founder) – and Massimo Ambanelli (CEO) – offers a perspective over the most disruptive sector of the recent years, the one of alternative raw materials that constitutes an increasingly necessary and therefore promising market.
What are your technologies and what do you want to enhance in this period?
«I come from the world of mixing and I have always made intelligent semi-finished products», says Cagnin «but Hi-Food has a different corporate mission: to use innovative technologies - some of which not yet fully implemented in the production of natural ingredients - to become a direct Italian manufacturer of new generation clean label ingredients. Currently Hi-Food is a completely allergen free and animal free company, which deals with the enhancement of plant-related matrices such as, for example, corn, chickpeas and flax seeds. Our goal is to develop natural ingredients by applying new technologies of extraction, concentration, physical modification and "functionalization" of plant-based raw materials, without ever having chemical processes in use. We’re talking about products that are expression of technological leadership and advanced research, in accordance with current food legislations.»
«Extrusion and fermentation», continues the co-founder «are, for example, technologies that in Hi-Food can produce synergistic results, with extraordinary outcomes in terms of quality and product innovation. If we think about the extrusion, for example, we are talking of an high-pressure and high-temperature cooking process, capable of physical modification, both over proteins and carbohydrates in general. Improving the functionality of vegetable fibers with a wise use of extrusion technologies, can allow the production of individual raw materials or co-extruded compounds characterized by new properties like binding, emulsifying, thickening, etc.
In this framework of innovative use of food technology, Hi-Food is the first and only in Italy with a permanent study center on extrusion technologies, equipped with an industrial pilot plant, which is based in Parma and is available for every national producers. The choice of the Food Valley is ideal for those whose propose is to collaborate with national and international groups, for the development and test of innovative raw materials and semi-finished products, which, let's not forget, can also be customized. Extrusion technologies, in fact, are actually very well known in the milling industry (cornflakes, puffed cereals) but still very little used as technological tools for upgrading and producing natural functional ingredients. Thanks to the formulative and process know-how that Hi-Food has developed around the extrusion, it will be possible in the very next future for the meat industry to obtain the first and only customized texturized vegetable proteins, with density, structure, fiberling, chewing and aroma according to specific needs: and also the only "made in Italy"!
But it's not just the extrusion process at the heart of Hi-Food's innovation journey. In fact, fermentation processes are paving the way for new generations of products and ingredients of interest to the future of the food industry.»
«Hi-Food firmly rests on its scientific and academic preparation, strengthened by the collaboration with the University of Parma and other research centers», continues Cagnin «A background that has allowed to create natural ingredients that derive from the fermentation of selected strains and microorganisms. A deep knowledge of the needs of industrial production allows us to lead fermentation technologies towards those results that the food industry desires. Hi-Food has technologies that have allowed the development of new generations of antimold, antibacterial and stabilizers for the food industry.
What are your expectations from the fair in view of your role as a partner?
«Hi-Food does not intend to market itself as a supplier of conventional ingredients for the meat industry, rather then we expect from the fair a dialogue with the players in the sector, to understand what their technological and labelling needs are and how Hi-Food can be at their side to produce innovative and personalized plant-based ingredients, necessary for their new projects. We believe that having new custom natural ingredients can be an important element of competitiveness. The new large production and research and development center that we are building in Parma (7,000 square meters) - and which will be operational by the end of 2021 - will become the elective meeting place for Italian innovators and beyond. »
Compared to the next few months, what market prospects do you have?
«I am still positive» says Cagnin, «some well-known companies we know succeeded despite the hard times. The majority of Hi-Food turnover is done outside of Italy: we have so far dealt with large and multinational customers. Covid has led to a great ferment, we have found that the crisis has accelerated the process of transition to a high-level vegetable products, a greater consumption of plant-based products and an evolution in the meat sector. For Hi-Food, however, the future will be positive because in our vision every difficulty is also an opportunity, especially with regard to the world of meat and convergence with the vegetable world.
Although we do not deal directly with the meat sector, at Hi-Food we see inevitable convergence because we expect decades of hybrid approach where the plant world and the animal world can coexist in a synergistic way, creating new generations of products that are more suitable, both for the consumer and for the planet that actually faces the challenge of population growth. So, beyond any demonization, we see new generations of plant and animal products living together in a nutritionally correct way. An important opportunity also from the marketing point of view, because this is what the market wants, both for today's answers and for the new generations of products»
Why do you think there has been an acceleration towards alternative products or, at any case, this convergence towards a better quality that you mentioned earlier?
«People tried to feed themselves the way they thought would have been healthier. I say "they thought" because that was often not the case. It is very difficult for the final consumer to get nutritional scientific information so there was a wave towards what was considered emotionally healthier. This must teach a great lesson, both to the meat and to the meat analogues sector. Because they both have to learn from this philosophy. On the one hand, in fact, operators in the conventional meat sector will have to learn to communicate the nutritional importance of meat and its benefits, its completeness in essential amino acids, its high digestibility and ease of assimilation. The plant and analogues sectors, on the other hand, will have to learn that meat cannot be replaced by using many of those additives that the conventional meat industry has rejected years ago. In fact, we are experiencing the paradox of the clean label that the meat industry has wanted and obtained in recent years, now totally forgotten by the plant sector.
Even for the plant sector, in terms of nutrition, fat balancing, absence of additives, there will be a great challenge: consumers want nutritionally balanced, healthier products, with ingredients that each will be to read and understand and, to do this, both the meat and food sectors must learn from each other.»