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Logistics and supply, Technology

FROZEN FOOD IS A HEALTHY AND WASTE-CONSCIOUS CHOICE

12/04/2021
FROZEN FOOD IS A HEALTHY AND WASTE-CONSCIOUS CHOICE

Frozen food has earned a negative reputation over the years for being highly processed and less nutritious than fresh food. You may be surprised to learn that this is far from the truth. Frozen food can be just as healthy, if not healthier, than its fresh counterpart: it all depends on how quickly and efficiently the food has been frozen and also on how professionally the supply chain has been managed before that frozen food reaches our kitchens.

Freezing food to avoid spoilage is a practice that has been popular since 3000 BC when the ancient Chinese used ice cellars to preserve food through the cold winter months. Also the ancient Romans used to store food in compressed snow in insulated cellars. Even if technology has made a remarkable progress over the centuries, the basic principles behind this method remain the same: by lowering the temperature of the food to a degree where germs and bacteria are unable to thrive we can prolong its life while keeping the nutrients intact.

In the food industry, technological progress is happening at such high speed that when it comes to mechanical freezing even the once popular Cold Store freezing, with its slow freezing time and the consequent formation of big ice crystals that stress the membrane and the delicate structure of the product, is now rather obsolete and it has been replaced by IQF. Individual Quick Freezing is the most recent development in freezing technology: this high-tech, intelligent system relies on components, materials and operating systems that provide the best food safety, low maintenance and energy efficiency. In a few words, the advantage of IQF freezers is their capacity to quickly and separately freeze small, flat, unpackaged food products without creating large ice crystals that damage the cells of the product. The high quality achieved by using IQF pairs well with the benefit for the final customers to defrost the exact amount of food they need for their meals thus reducing waste.

As the frozen food market is experiencing a rapid expansion, new freezing methods supported by innovative technologies are being trialed to better control the crystallization process and to accelerate the freezing rate: high pressure freezing, ultrasound assisted freezing and radio-frequency assisted freezing are some of them.

Innovation, Technology

FOOD PRESERVATION TECHNIQUES

22/03/2021
FOOD PRESERVATION TECHNIQUES

The COVID‐19 pandemic significantly disrupted the food supply chain: think of all the food normally going to restaurants that had to be diverted to other outlets to avoid its waste or all those gaps in the supermarket shelves due to the absence of common items whose availability has always been taken for granted. In this context, having a system in place that allowed distributors to extend the shelf life of foods proved to be essential: it was not just about being able to meet the unforeseeable peaks and falls in demand but also – and above all – about preserving the health of billions of consumers worldwide.

All the new technologies we had already implemented – that control the deterioration of food while preserving the properties associated with quality and health benefits – helped us stay strong during this unexpected, bizarre time. By combining the study and understanding of food science with an in-depth analysis of innovative technologies, we have always opted for food preservation techniques that could fit within the framework of sustainable and healthy practices.

As food safety is the main priority, incorporating innovation and sustainability in every step of our supply chain – from production to distribution via storage and preservation – led us to adopt different methods according to the diverse types of food we process. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and HACCP protocols taught us to favour all the most innovative techniques that contribute to keep pathogens under strict control and reduce food spoilage. Depending on the level of microbial destruction required, a pasteurization or a sterilization process may be necessary: in their conventional application though, these thermal food preservation methods can significantly impact on the retention of nutritional values and the preservation of the actual colour and shape of the original raw material. Considering that these are the two characteristics that consumers nowadays appreciate and find reassuring, we are very interested in seeing how these techniques will improve thanks to the progress of technology. As for the non-thermal food preservation, freeze drying has produced excellent results for us and so has done IQF (Individual Quick Freezing), the most recent development in freezing technology which we adopted many years ago. In order to provide optimal solutions to our clients worldwide, we are also considering HPP (high pressure processing) and active packaging techniques like MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) that contribute to keeping food quality at its best during storage.

Food preservation is no longer as simple as it was in the past, it has become an interdisciplinary science that involves all the players in the ‘farm to fork’ supply chain: it requires knowledge and consciousness as each step of the process – harvesting, handling, processing, packaging, storage and distribution – may easily affect the characteristics of food. Our integrated approach, based also on the constant and open dialogue with both our suppliers and clients, allow us to offer top-of-the-range Italian products all over the world, overcoming what used to be the impossible combination between long-distance shipments and short shelf life and the old prejudice about frozen food being perceived as low quality.

Innovation, Technology

OUR ADVANCED COLD CHAIN

22/02/2021
OUR ADVANCED COLD CHAIN

As governments all over the world began the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine, cold chain management has emerged as a crucial factor for ensuring the effectiveness of the vaccine itself. An efficient management of the vaccine cold chain requires several degrees of coordination among multiple stakeholders such as – just to name a few – pharmaceutical manufacturers, specialized laboratories for storage and logistics providers who can ensure climate-controlled transportation and distribution.

Even if for a completely different range of products, this process is not dissimilar to the one we experience on a daily basis in our business. The cold chain and logistics management for the food industry is just as complex as the one implemented in the pharmaceutical sector: it entails science to understand the chemical and biological processes linked with food perishability and technology to guarantee that appropriate temperatures are maintained throughout the entire supply chain.

Since we started Alifood our main goal has been to promote Italian food excellences worldwide; at the same time, as the culinary tradition of our country is mainly based on fresh food, it has also been our biggest challenge. For this reason it has always been fundamental for us to have in place an integrated cold chain logistics system that would allow us to safeguard the integrity of the products we export. At the beginning we started off with refrigerated food then, twenty years ago, our love for fresh Italian food made us one of the first global food traders to invest in the research and implementation of cutting edge food technology and advanced food preservation techniques such as IQF. Colloquially known as “flash-frozen”, Individually Quick Frozen foods retain all their nutritional qualities, flavour and texture. Completely safe to store for a long time in domestic freezers, IQF foods show no bacteriological development, are easy to portion and need shorter cooking times. Easy to distribute and store, they also enjoy a longer shelf life as they remain fresh up to roughly one year – or even more – from the date of production.

Today our integrated cold chain management system – that starts from our local producers and ends in our clients’ storage facilities – not only preserves the organoleptic properties and nutrients of all the varieties of food we offer but it also significantly reduces the shipments costs connected to airfreight. Continuous research, training and a constant, open dialogue with both our clients and our suppliers are the catalysts of every innovation we keep introducing. Each advancement is made in compliance with the most recent EU regulations about frozen foods that aim at preventing potential damages and ensuring optimal shelf life. This provides us with the advantage of being able to market in faraway countries even our freshest products like cheese and cold meats which could not otherwise be enjoyed by Italian food enthusiasts all over the world.

Logistics and supply

INTELLIGENT LOGISTICS SOLUTION: GROUPAGE SHIPMENTS

29/01/2021
INTELLIGENT LOGISTICS SOLUTION: GROUPAGE SHIPMENTS

Since our core business is the export of high quality Italian food all over the world, a well-functioning supply chain has always been essential to us. As if to say, there is no excellence without a timely delivery. This is the reason why, for the past twenty years, we have always improved our logistics management with the intent of constantly ensuring a perfect service. Many years ago we introduced in our range of services the sea freight groupage shipment: we chose it because it is a cost-effective, eco-friendly way of transporting goods and at the same time it allowed us to anticipate the needs of an ever-changing market.

As a matter of fact, recent studies show how the demand for LCL (less-than-container load) services has been rapidly growing in the past five years: so much so that nowadays – despite stagnating figures in TEU handling – customs authorities report increased numbers in clearance. This does not come as a surprise if we consider that the ever-increasing competition due to the globalization and the subsequent success of e-commerce are forcing more and more companies to reassess their overall performances, especially with regards to the optimization of their logistics management. In this sense, sea freight groupage has proved to be a valid alternative to air freight as it allows larger senders to counterbalance the seasonal fluctuations in volume by splitting their shipments into smaller ones when necessary.

As far as we are concerned, groupage and consolidation make it possible for us to supply diverse types of Italian food produced by different local companies to all our clients worldwide, minimizing the shipping costs while maintaining the high standards that the market demands. As many of our clients started appreciating the advantages of minimum inventories and a more rational stock management, having such a service already in place allowed us to be prompt in adapting to their requests and be fully operative when the demand for this service increased due to the outbreak of Covid-19. The pandemic in fact not only impacted air traffic but it also called for a new system to better manage decreased orders while still keeping trading alive.

Since we deal with many different local producers, the biggest challenge for us was consolidation; thanks to the cooperative relationship we have with our suppliers and to the innovation of some of our internal processes, we managed to coordinate them in a way that they could all supply their products to us at the same time. Moreover, the advantage of having opted for groupage shipments before many other companies was the creation and implementation of a solid logistics network that is now fully efficient as all the processes are constantly monitored by our staff and managed as an integrated and unique company strategy.

Technology

CLEAN ENERGY FROM WINE PROCESSING WASTE

17/12/2019

 

Is it possible to generate clean energy from wine processing waste? Today, it is indeed. The innovation is a result of the partnership between Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and Serena Wines 1881 – among the top-5 Italian producers of prosecco – which teamed up in a biennial research project based upon a joint patent.

Ca’ Foscari President Michele Bugliesi and the Director of the Conegliano (Treviso)-based company, Giorgio Serena, have signed an agreement for the in-lab development of new generation PV cells that will exploit the natural dyes of the lees – the waste product of winemaking and clarification.

In the eyes of Bugliesi, the operation is “A significant example of the impact that the corporate-scientific research collaboration may have in terms of technological progress, innovation of economic processes, and production systems”.

The method patented by Ca’ Foscari and Serena Wines 1881 is the first ever in which the dye to use in the ‘Grätzel cells’ is extracted from a waste product. In the innovative PV cells, the dyes capture sunlight and transfer electrons to a semiconductor, mimicking plant photosynthesis.

The research activity is performed at the labs of the Science Campus of Ca’ Foscari in Mestre (Venice), equipped with state-of-the-art devices on which the university is investing 3 million euros in the 2018-2020 triennium, aiming to be a place of gathering and contamination for research and development purposes, open to any cooperation. Studies behind the patent will take place, in particular, at labs specialized in photocatalytic processes and renewable energy, boasting the tools for design, synthesis, and investigation of functional inorganic nanomaterials.

Innovation

WINE GROWS ON INSTAGRAM

17/09/2019

 

2018 saw a 71% increase in wine followers on Instagram. Such result – recorded by Omnicom Pr Group Italia by surveying the top-25 Italian wine makers in terms of income (source: Mediobanca) – highlights how Instagram is the most active social network in the wine world: 17 of the 25 companies – as opposed to 15 in 2018 – have an official page. While Facebook is the main network
in terms of the number of profiles – 21 of 25 companies – Instagram is on the rise in terms of users. YouTube and Twitter – on the other hand – have not reversed the negative trend recorded in the past few years, and appear poorly visited and updated: the former is often used as a corporate archive, whilst the latter is used to sporadically post news.More specifically, the research underlines how the most popular contents among wine making and vine growing companies are, in their different expressions, native vines (64%), wine tours (52%), and food pairing (44%). Finally, an interesting piece of data must be noted: in the past 12 months, companies with an in-house e-commerce system increased from 3 of 25 (2018) to 6 of 25 (2019).

Wine influencers

Wine influencers are growingly attractive figures in the wine world. Let us first define “influencers”: they are professionals considered authorities and experts in the field, who – in a growingly connected and digital world – convey their contents through the web, and in particular through social networks. The first influencers came about in the fashion sector, and the food sector followed short after. Today there is a growing number of companies in the oenological field that rely on wine influencers: they have an immense potential, but in a certain sense it is still unexplored. The strength of these new professional figures is that they communicate directly to consumers by remaining at their same level, and in most cases speaking their same language. They trigger involvement and empathy, being perceived as natural human beings and not purely commercial tools.

Innovation

PROTECTING BIODIVERSITY AND AGRICULTURE IN ST. PETERSBURG

29/11/2018

 

St. Isaac’s Square, St. Petersburg: a baroque construction towers before the statue of Czar Alexander II. This building hosts the institute dedicated to Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov (1887-1943), one of the most remarkable personalities in modern science.
A geneticist, botanist, and agronomist, Vavilov was one of the most brilliant minds in the first half of the 1900s. He conducted numerous studies concerning the origin of cultivated plants and collected an enormous quantity of seeds, all meticulously classified and recorded at the Institute of Applied Botany, currently named after him: the Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry.

One can say that Vavilov was one of the fathers of research on agricultural biodiversity, which he was the first to ever approach with an open, holistic, and multidisciplinary philosophy. In over 180 expeditions in the Soviet republics, Europe (including Italy), Middle and Far East, North America and Latin America, Vavilov has not only achieved a great botanical and genetic research operation, but has also given considerable importance to the cultural, environmental, social, and even language context.

Walking through the hallways and rooms of the institute today, you can perceive a strong emotion: the immensity of a still ongoing project, with the structure hosting over 323 thousand seed varieties from all over the world. A heritage that is constantly preserved, renewed, and broadened. In fact, every two or three years – depending on the seed’s life cycle – all the plants are bedded out in order to update the collection with new seeds.
The Vavilov Institute collection is not museum-like or static, but a living tool available to all those wishing to perform studies and research.

http://www.vir.nw.ru

Innovation

FROZEN FOOD IS AS GOOD AS FRESH

14/11/2018

 

Despite it has existed for over a century, a large number of consumers are still somewhat sceptical towards frozen food. It is a common belief that fresh products are of a higher quality, and especially that they have more vitamins and nutrients compared to those exposed to temperatures lower than -18°C (-0.4°F). In reality, a number of scientific reports have proven that there are no significant differences between fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit, and even hint that a number of greens are stored better when frozen.

Most fruits and vegetables have a water content between 70 and 90%, thus tend to perish quickly once picked: microorganisms use water, sugars, and other substances to feed on and multiply, thus reducing the food’s duration.
Natural decay – a process that begins almost immediately upon picking – also induces the loss of vitamins and other nutrients. A vegetable or fruit on a supermarket shelf or market stall will never have the same nutrient concentration it had when it was freshly picked.

Frozen fruit and vegetables store a greater quantity of nutrients as they undergo freezing almost immediately upon collection. Modern technology allows to freeze them completely in only few minutes, and make it so that they preserve at least as many nutrients as their fresh equivalents.
A study performed by the University of California and published on the British newspaper The Guardian made a comparison between eight fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables (corn, broccoli, spinach, carrots, peas, string beans, strawberries, and blueberries). Testing revealed no significant differences between fresh and frozen in terms of vitamin count or other nutrients. As for corn, string beans, and blueberries, it was recorded that frozen products contained a higher amount of vitamin C.
The same was recorded for one type of vitamin B (riboflavin) in frozen broccoli.
The research group also assessed the effects of freezing on vegetable fibres, and compared mineral levels (magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron) in fresh and frozen goods. Once again, no significant differences were reported, as a further confirmation of the fact that freezing maintains nutrient content for the most part unaltered.

Freezing techniques
Deep-freezing has been an important step in food preservation systems, but has only been made possible in the first half of the 1900s, thanks to the evolution in technology and consequent creation of freezers capable of reaching very low temperatures. Before deep-freezing technology, throughout the centuries food was stored using natural freezing processes during the cold season: snow and ice were used to improve the durability of the more perishable goods. Nonetheless, the flaw of such natural systems was that they froze the food slowly, leading to the formation of large ice crystals that damaged its cells, thus changing its composition once defrosted.
A new system was required.
The modern deep-freezing technique is attributed to US inventor Clarence Birdseye. Birdseye sensed that foodstuffs needed to be frozen as quickly as possible, both for production quality purposes and for a better preservation. In simple terms, deep-freezing allows to freeze food very quickly, avoiding the formation of ice crystals damaging its tissue. Starting from the late 1920s, Birdseye patented solutions to create more powerful freezers, capable of reaching lower temperatures and making deep-freezing possible. Since then, freezing technology has improved even further, and today it allows the preservation of fresh and pre-cooked food for months, or in some cases years.

Innovation

THE EVOLUTION OF THE RISOTTO, IN THE NAME OF LIGHTNESS

12/09/2018

 

The risotto culture had birth in Italy in the mid-19th century. In Northern Italy, to be specific: Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. After nearly 170 years, the risotto is one of the most representative dishes of our country around the world, hand in hand with pasta and pizza.

 

Italian grandmothers and great-grandmothers, as well as traditional recipe books, passed on the custom to start its preparation by browning onion in butter and olive oil, add rice, sizzle it and simmer it with white wine, and at last gradually add the warm stock.

Christian Costardi, a young chef who manages the restaurant “Cinzia” in Vercelli (one Michelin star on the 2018 guide) with his brother Manuel, has created an evolution of this world-famous specialty by looking at history. The Michelin-starred chef has dug back into the origin of the sauté as the first step of the preparation.
In the past, rice in Italy was transported in large jute bags. Jute is a perfect fabric to carry cereals and other products, but has one flaw: it has a strong odour, which it conveyed to the rice – a very porous cereal that absorbs anything around it. Therefore, commencing the preparation by sautéing the onion and sizzling the rice had this specific purpose: to remove the jute smell.

Today, Italian rice no longer travels in jute, thus beginning the preparation of risotto as tradition tells is only useful if we want our dish to have a distinguished taste of onion and wine. Chef Christian Costardi thus presents a “lite” version of the recipe. First of all, you heat a pan as it is and then – without the use of any form of fat – you add the rice and toast it until it is warm. Afterwards, you start adding the vegetable, meat, or fish stock until the rice is cooked, while you toss in the other ingredients to customize the dish.

Rice in Italy

140,000 types of rice exist worldwide, of which 126 are registered in Italy, earning the country 1st place in European production. All rice varieties branch from 3 subspecies: Indica, Japonica, and Javanica. Japonica is the most farmed subspecies in Italy, and is the one generally used to make risotto dishes.

Innovation, News

THE FOOD PRODUCTION INDUSTRY AND INNOVATION: DELOITTE CHOOSES ALIFOOD

02/01/2018

 

At a time when the food production industry is going from strength to strength in Italy (it accounted for 11.3% of the country’s GDP in 2016, second only to the steel industry), it is now time for operators to consolidate this positive trend by applying the principles of innovation on products and processes. Deloitte, one of the most prestigious corporate consultancy firms in the world, has dedicated a book entitled Il Settore Alimentare: l’Innovazione nei Paradigmi (‘The Food Industry: Innovating Models’) to the exemplary cases driving such innovation.
The innovation that Deloitte proposes is not just technology or product based; it has more ambitious goals, and aims to change the very rules that govern the industry. The focus is now on consumers and the need to keep them informed. It is therefore necessary for industry operators to cooperate in order to achieve a shared aim. Last but not least, there is a need to develop products and make them available on modern distribution channels where a consumer that is increasingly ‘emotional’ when making purchasing decisions can reach them.

Deloitte has included Alifood, a leading food trading company specialising in high quality Italian products, among the 11 case histories described in the book, companies that innovate the Italian food production industry. This Genoa-based company is joined by Amadori, Casillo Group, Eataly, Illycaffè, Inalpi, Matrunita Mediterranea, Mutti, Noberasco, Oropan and Parmareggio. Alifood carries out a number of different roles within the food supply chain: it chooses products and producers, it monitors all logistical phases, it identifies the documents and certificates required by each individual country and manages the after-sales needs of clients, which includes the best way to use their products. The company’s most innovative field of expertise, as described in the book, is undoubtedly product preservation, which avoids the problem of not being able to export fresh specialities. Indeed, Alifood has carried out constant research and development in conjunction with food production companies in order to bring the technology to a level whereby preserved products, once returned to their original state, are totally identical to their fresh versions.
This is the second time Alifood has been mentioned in Deloitte publications that describe the jewels in the Italian food industry’s crown, the first time having been in Why Liguria: Il Bello e il Buono: L’Arte di Essere Imprenditori (‘Why Liguria: The Great and the Good: The Art of Being Entrepreneurs’).

Innovation

HOSPITALITY: A LUCRATIVE RESOURCE FOR MADE IN ITALY FOOD & BEVERAGE

01/12/2017

 

More than any other Made in Italy speciality, food & beverage is the one that most attracts international enogastronomy dealers and tourists to visit the places of production. Many wine cellars and agricultural business are already prepared, while others are organising themselves, for what is considered an important strategic incentive in their relationship with the public.

The marketing of hospitality is a vital point of growth for Italian food & beverage producers, especially from the value point of view. Some real opportunities for “experience” have been created: visits to the agricultural company, products tastings, all organised to reveal the secrets behind production, and introduce the historical and artistic attractions of the territory. In fact, in an open and globalised world, we are increasingly on the lookout for genuine experiences to bring us truly into contact with the culture of the place; also meaning the visitor then shares his experience, becoming an ambassador of the company to the world.

Significant investments have been made throughout almost all the main regions in Italy, particularly in wine-production, in some cases with the commissioning of famous international architects to create innovative structures, buildings that – without betraying their primary function – act as a bridge between nature and civilisation, the beauty of the landscape and the work of man. Places such as Antinori, Frescobaldi, Petra and Rocca di Frassinello in Tuscany, Tramin and Ferrari in Trentino Alto Adige, Tenuta Castelbuono in Umbria, Ceretto in Piemonte and Feudi San Gregorio in Campania are listed as obligatory stops in tourist guides from all over the world.

Innovation, Technology

Food photography: techniques and advice

10/05/2017

 

If it’s not an art, it’s not far short either. Photographing food is becoming increasingly important for those who work in the food industry: producers, traders, caterers and food bloggers. What could have more impact than an image when promoting one’s products?

Some turn to professional photographers, others do it themselves, but it’s the finer details that always make the difference. Here is some practical advice for beginners.

 

1-Your subject

A camera lens emphasizes every single imperfection so you need to make sure the dish you want to photograph is absolutely perfect.

 

2-Framing the shot

Your distance from the dish and your position will affect the angle of the shot. A 30° angle is the most natural because it’s the point of view we usually have when we’re seated at the dinner table, while a right-angle shot highlights the thickness of the dish, its container and the setting. It’s best to avoid standing too far: the shot needs to be filled with the image, even focusing on a tiny detail and not the whole dish.

 

3-Light

The best light for photographing food is natural light, either from the back or the side. The flash on a digital camera is public enemy number one: you’re better off deactivating it and raising your camera’s ISO (light sensitivity) to its maximum level.

 

4-The setting

Making sure your setting is perfect – cutlery, napkins and contrasting elements – helps create an appealing effect and increases the effectiveness of the shot.

 

5-Colour

You can use plates and decorations that match the dish you’re photographing, playing with similar hues, or experiment with clashing colours. The right setting will make the dish you photograph look even more appealing.

 

6-The human touch

Include a human detail, such as hands, to give your picture a sense of reality.

 

If you’d like to know more, here are some recommended sources:

 

Food Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Appetizing Images Corinna Gisseman

Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots  Nicole S. Young

Food Styling: the art of preparing food for camera  Dolores Custer

Food Photography: Pro Secrets for Styling, Lighting, and Shooting Lara Ferroni

Plate to Pixel: digital food photography and styling Helene Dujardin

1,000 Food Art & Styling Ideas: Mouthwatering Food Presentations from Chefs, Photographers & Bloggers from Around the Globe Ari Bendersky

More Food Styling for Photographers & Stylists: A guide to creating your own appetizing art Linda Belligam