Interviews

Bühler: “We Work Together to Create Solutions for Customers That Otherwise Wouldn’t Have Been Possible”

Bühler Group is a prominent Swiss company known for its advanced technology solutions for food processing and manufacturing. Founded in 1860 by Adolf Bühler in Uzwil, Switzerland, the company has grown to become a global leader in providing technologies for processing grains, rice, pasta, chocolate, and other foods.

With its global presence, Bühler operates research and development centers and manufacturing sites around the world, serving customers in over 140 countries. We spoke with Lukas Frei who leads the market segment Alternative Proteins and Food Ingredients at Bühler. He is based at the headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland.

In what ways is Bühler innovating in the field of meat alternative processing technology?
One of the main challenges in the industry has been the texture of the products. With the key process innovations of protein aeration and breaker plates, Bühler’s customers can achieve unique meat- or fish-like textures in high moisture extrusion for best-in-class alternative products. Aeration technology optimizes the texture of the products by injecting gas. The gas injection results in a meat or fish alternative with a better mouthfeel, brighter color and optimized texture due to the microporous structure. The patented breaker plates are perforated plates that impact the flow of the viscoelastic, plasticized mass entering the cooling die from the extruder barrel section. These innovations can be applied in combination with our powerful portfolio of five cooling dies covering the full range of capacities from lab scale to industrial scale at capacities of more than 1,000 kg/h.

plant alternative with protein aeration technology and breaker plates
Plant alternative with protein aeration © Bühler

How does your collaboration with Givaudan enhance the results for your customers and what specific benefits can they expect from this cooperation in terms of product development and innovation?
We believe that close collaborations with other industry leaders result in benefits for our customers, consumers, and ultimately the planet. By leveraging our unique and collective expertise, we work together to create solutions for customers that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. For example, Givaudan and Buhler have collaborated on numerous Innovation Centres around the world: Mista in San Francisco (USA), Protein Innovation Center in Singapore, Tropical Food Innovation Lab in Campinas (BR), and The Cultured Hub in Kemptthal (CH). We work hand-in-hand to co-create with customers and to move the industry towards more sustainable and delicious food experiences.

Please share an example of a successful product development or innovation that you have achieved in collaboration with one of your customers. How did this collaboration contribute to addressing market demands or consumer preferences, and what were the key factors that led to its success?
One of our customers approached us to develop three wet textured protein products mimicking chicken and beef. The product development entailed a broad range of raw materials including pea and soy from various suppliers but also other, less common proteins. To minimize the raw material consumption in the initial explorative phase, we started off on our smallest 30mm extruder. Once the product range was narrower, we executed the scale-up on our 62mm production scale extruder.

“Bühler covers the entire alternative protein value chain”

Our texturing solutions breaker plates and protein aeration were of course paramount in achieving the desired texture. Furthermore, Givaudan as a partner for product flavoring and coloring fully participated in the development process. The close collaboration with Givaudan and our customer during the trials as well as our versatile Extrusion Application Center were key in ensuring a fast, iterative product development.

Extrusion Application Center in Uzwil, CH
Extrusion Application Center © Bühler

Can you tell us about some of the work that takes place at Bühler’s Extrusion Application Center?
The state-of-the-art Extrusion Application Center combines more than 30 years of extrusion competence embedded in a global network of universities and food science institutes and other extrusion platforms. Together with its in-house R&D and technology, this Application Center & Training Center (ATC) is for customers the cornerstone for future innovation. Bühler offers workshops and conducts trials for and with its customers to create the future of food together – by developing new products, testing novel ingredients, and exploring new processes.

With the increasing interest in alternative proteins, what role does Bühler see itself playing in shaping the future of the vegan food industry, both in terms of technology and market trends?
The plant-based space is evolving rapidly. One trend is the creation of more affordable, sustainable plant-based products by optimizing supply chains: minimal processing of locally sourced and potentially novel ingredients to meat or fish alternatives in one production location and reduction of the energy-intensive drying step. Bühler covers the entire alternative protein value chain and is therefore perfectly positioned to address this challenge.

“We work hand-in-hand to co-create with customers and to move the industry towards more sustainable and delicious food experiences”

The recently opened Protein Application Center, located in Uzwil, Switzerland, is a collaborative space where customers can develop and validate their ideas in the field of protein processing. Equipped with the latest techniques for separation of protein, starches, and fibers, the application center is operated in collaboration with our strategic partner endeco.

Protein Application Center, Uzwil, CH
Protein Application Center © Bühler

The unparalleled combination of the Protein Application Center and the Extrusion Application Center enables the direct feeding of dry- and wet-separated proteins into an extrusion system. This helps to find novel and more sustainable processing solutions from field to fork, e.g. by avoiding the energy-intensive spray drying step for protein isolates.

Another trend, albeit at its very beginning, is the creation of products consisting of combinations of real or cultivated and alternative meat in the same product to leverage the strengths of nutrition and taste of meat proteins with the benefits of plant-based ingredients for diets and future food security. Bühler addresses this trend by combining its bioprocessing and extrusion know-how.

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