Ekofrisa: minimizing waste, maximising recycling in the food industry
Getting products from field to table in the most ethical way possible is a continuing trend in the food industry. And one of the key ethical values is the goal of reducing waste – for example, by running machines on green energy generated by recycling production waste. Lithuanian company Ekofrisa is a pioneer in this field. One of the main producers of cereals in the Baltic States, Ekofrisa also works with private labels in Germany – and is demonstrating just how much can be achieved when processing buckwheat. Not only is Ekofrisa producing brand new organic snacks for the German market; it uses the leftover husks to fill pillows and even heat its factory premises.
Eco-friendly agriculture with a focus on buckwheat
Applying the rules of the circular economy to production is the food industry’s big new goal. Companies are working with scientists to find creative new ways to recycle and re-use production waste. Ekofrisa is minimizing its production waste by employing an innovative energy strategy. “We heat our factory building by burning the leftover husk of buckwheat,” explains company director Lina Dužinskienė. “The same energy source is used to run our machines. We also use solar energy from our own power plants.”
The big challenge is to find innovative solutions to recycle the maximum amount of waste. “Leftover buckwheat husks, for example, are sold as stuffing for pillows and mattresses,” says Lina Dužinskienė. “We also sell them as mulch that can be used by gardeners. We are still looking for more solutions to recycle buckwheat hulls with the help of scientists and technology. Our current idea is to compost them to fertilise the soil.”
Buckwheat as a tasty organic bar and in muesli
Buckwheat is a naturally gluten-free grain with a high nutritional value. Traditionally popular in Eastern Europe, it’s now finding its way into the diets of other countries. Ekofrisa has developed an organic buckwheat snack aimed at promoting healthy eating habits. It’s available either in the form of organic bars, or mixed with fruit and vegetables into muesli. According to company director Lina Dužinskienė, these ready-to-eat products provide a healthier alternative for children.
Lina adds that getting great-quality buckwheat undoubtedly relies on farming expertise. That’s why Ekofrisa provides specific training to farmers in organic techniques. According to her, the soil in Lithuania, where the company is based, is very suitable for this type of grain – which is why Lithuania ranks among the top 10 countries producing and exporting buckwheat.
New markets, new challenges
Overall, 82% of Ekofrisa’s production is exported. “Most of our exports go to Europe,” says Lina Dužinskienė. “Some also go to Asia, Australia and the USA. In Europe, Germany is our biggest partner.” Ekofrisa’s director adds that many consumers in Germany are looking for organic, vegan and gluten-free food alternatives, helping to set a trend for other countries in Central Europe. According to Lina, while the German market prefers brown buckwheat, other European countries buy green buckwheat, which is not thermally treated.
Ekofrisa mainly exports unprocessed products, so its buckwheat is popular with bakeries and other brands. Some companies also sell Ekofrisa products under their own brand name. Buckwheat snacks such as muesli or organic bars are also on sale in the German market, and can be found online at Amazon.
“These snacks are just the start for Ekofrisa,” says the company’s director. “We have already developed a new product to expand our family of value-added buckwheat products. It’s called ‘hunger killer’ powder mix – a food replacement for those in a hurry. So, we’re not standing still; we have big ambitions to expand our portfolio of buckwheat-based products.”
Ekofrisa already collaborates with distributors and retailers in various market for its groats products, and Lina Dužinskienė foresees similar activities in relation to organic buckwheat-based products. Samples, promotions, so-called ‘below the line’ (BTL) marketing, are regarded as being among the most effective ways to reach end consumers.
The new industrial revolution often called Industry 4.0 sets a new standard for countries, and it seems like Lithuania is prepared quite well. What about Germany? Even though it’s one of the industrial leaders of the world, there are some things where Germany is still lacking. Let’s have a look at things that Germany could learn from Lithuania while making Industry 4.0 a standard of today instead of a standard of the future.
Many consumers choose organic products not just because they are healthier, but also because they are grown without chemical fertilisers. AUGA group, a Lithuanian business that is the largest vertically-integrated organic food company in Europe, believes that businesses can do more for the environment than simply producing eco-friendly products – they need to operate sustainably. To ensure its place in the current market and fulfil the needs of today’s customers, AUGA group is going the extra mile to make sustainability relevant to the food industry.