Extracting potential

Solanic BV is developing its innovative extraction technologies to produce an increasingly diverse range of high-grade potato protein applications

Pioneering technology in the field of high-grade potato protein extraction, Solanic is a newcomer to the industry. Having been founded in 2007, Solanic has already grown to great acclaim for supply to the food and pharmaceutical industries. Responding to the demand and preference of customers for natural vegetable proteins, the company’s products provide great performance in a range of applications with varied functional benefits. For example, replacement of dairy proteins in processed meat, all vegetable ice cream, removing animal proteins such as egg albumin in meat analogues, providing for a new hypo-allergic protein source for gluten-free applications, egg replacement in mayonnaises and salad dressings as well as new fining agent for wine, beer and fruit juice clarification. Its parent company, AVEBE Group boasts a dominant position in the global starch market. The Group manufactures starch based solutions that can be used for food, pet feed and paper, as well as the building and textiles industries. With influence across 20 countries and a staff base of over 1000, Solanic was born as a result of the AVEBE Group’s innovation programme that investigated the development of high performance proteins.

Speaking to Food Chain’s sister publication, Venture in August 2008, Michiel Puttman, operations director of Solanic, identified its position as a subsidiary of AVEBE as a key asset: “Our main strength is our connection with our parent company. AVEBE processes 2.5 million tonnes of potatoes every year, which equates to around 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes of protein – a significant amount. The start-up requirement for any company looking to operate in our sector is to have either a parent company or close partner that has the infrastructure, personnel and experience to process a large amount of potatoes. AVEBE’s operations do just that and allows us to do what we do.” Solanic is also able to gain commercial benefits by tapping into AVEBE’s customer base.

Harnessing the latest priprietary technology in the field, provided by the Danish company Upfront Chromatography A/S, AVEBE looks to create new value from potatoes by the extraction, development and refining of proteins from non-genetically modified specimens. The wide and varied uses of such proteins meet the diverse needs of Solanic’s broad client range. Boasting optimally balanced amino acid composition and superior digestibility to protein alternatives, the company offers high performing natural proteins, which are produced in the most efficient conditions and have numerous functional benefits.

Like any other newcomer to the market, Solanic encountered start-up problems in the first few months of production. However as a company subject to the potato season, its working year runs from the 1st August to the 31st July and it has just completed its first full operational year to great success. The factory, built on the site of AVEBE’s starch facility has a capacity of 1000 tonnes of protein a year. Though it is relatively small scale compared to the rest of the protein market, it provided the company with the opportunity to explore its new technology, gain stability and explore market potential without great risk.

Solanic Issue 2 2009 bAs a result of a good year that has seen demand for unique protein products increase, Solanic is looking forward to expansion over the coming years. By offering innovative ingredients that hold properties such as solubility, foaming, gelation and emulsification, manufacturers are able to utilise the company’s proteins for individual product development. In the ever-changing food and beverage market that is seeing a growing trend in issues such as natural ingredients, healthy eating 47options and general wellbeing, this has never been so important.

Having assessed the industry in regards to growth potential, Frank Goovaerts, director of commerce, is confident that investment in a new production facility will be justified over the next few years: “We are hoping to increase our capacity from 1000 to 10,000 tonnes by 2012. From everything we feel and sense in the current market, we predict that we will be able to sell more than we currently produce and so feel comfortable that up-scaling will reap benefits. However, we are cautious not to run before we can walk and so this is a plan that we will start to refine once we have achieved another year at full capacity.”

In order to facilitate this move, the company is focusing on R&D to improve extraction technology and therefore the efficiency of the production process. Currently only five per cent of the total protein capacity of AVEBE’s potatoes is used, with the remaining waste stream going towards the manufacture of animal feeds. Solanic has always been aware of all the different ingredients present in potatoes, but has spent the last year investigating ways to access all of those valuable ingredients in a way that means they can be commercialised. Extracting vegetable proteins that can be used for human consumption is a breakthrough for the company’s technologies. The business removes protein and fractionates it to make different proteins for different product uses. Following R&D initiatives, Solanic hopes to see the portfolio of different protein fractions grow that are more uniquely targeted at specific applications.

Frank explains: “At the moment we are the only people with this technology – we are pioneers in the market. However, our direct competitors have similar starch production facilities and therefore protein in their waste stream, so we are not expecting to remain the only one for long. As part of AVEBE, the largest producer of potato starch in the world, it is important for us to stay ahead of the game from an innovation point of view. We are in a market where there is a huge range of proteins to compete with; animal proteins such as egg, dairy and gelatine and vegetable proteins including soy and gluten. There have particularly been a lot of developments in the vegetable arena with a significant increase in demands and creations such as pea proteins.”

As a leader in the field, the company has risen to great acclaim following a number of industry awards and accolades, recognising Solanic’s developing potential. In 2007 its potato protein range was nominated for the FiE (Food ingredients Europe) Most Innovative Food Ingredients Award and in 2008 attendance at the CFIA food trade show in France that houses the industry’s top suppliers saw the company win the Innovation Award alongside its partner France Proteines Services in the food ingredients and additives category. Furthermore, in the summer of 2008 the company was nominated for the Food Valley Award, a highly prestigious accolade from some of the best international food companies and research institutes, given for the most distinguishing project or initiative on a food related area. Solanic was nominated for its distinctive performance in innovation, co-operation and socially responsible business practice.

Much of the company’s latest success can be put down to the fact that out of the industries to suffer under the global economic crisis, the food industry has managed to remain relatively unscathed. Compared to those in the automotive, construction or contracting industries, Solanic has maintained a solid turnover throughout the last year but has felt the pressure to produce increasing volumes at lower costs. Though the population will always continue to eat, drivers from retailers to reduce costs are rife, making the company’s series of R&D breakthroughs even more important.

Frank explains his current experience of the market and his vision for the future: “We have actually been quite lucky in the current economic situation that our production volume is quite small; had we been fully up and running, we would have been affected by the down turn. Our plans for next year are completely in place and we are hoping to be running to full capacity. When we are selling more than we can produce, we will begin to put our up-scaling strategies into place in order to play a more dynamic role in the market. In five years’ time, we want to be producing up to 15,000 tonnes of high-grade protein a year and our predictions indicate that we can achieve this comfortably.”