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Innovative recipes

In an effort to increase market share, Alibra is developing new ingredients for the food industry

Plate for microbiological analysis in the company’s laboratory

EDUARDO CESARPlate for microbiological analysis in the company’s laboratoryEDUARDO CESAR

Even those who have never heard of Alibra Ingredientes may well have consumed some of the products made by this 100% Brazilian company.  Founded in 2000, with headquarters in Campinas (SP), the company provides additives, dairy products and powdered mixes for the food and beverage industry, which includes Nestlé, Vigor, Bunge, Mococa and Nissin Ajinomoto.  Its portfolio has more than 600 items as ingredients used in the production of ice cream, bread, cookies, dairy products, pizzas and sauces.  The flagship products consist of diary compounds formulated from whey.  Alibra also has a line of ready-to-eat foods, such as chocolate drink mixes, infant cereals and powdered cereals sold through supermarkets and distributors, along with a line of products for industrial kitchens, restaurants and catering companies (airlines and hospitals), such as semi-ready foods and ingredients to prepare sweet or savory dishes.

The history of the company, founded by former Food Engineering program students at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), is marked by its innovativeness.  In 2009, Alibra was the first Brazilian company to create a cheese analogue that has the same physical and sensory characteristics as the dairy product but does not use milk as a raw material.  “There are companies that sell a similar product, but their formulation uses traditional raw materials, like cheese itself.  We have mastered the manufacturing technique of the analogue product starting from functional dairy proteins, special corn or cassava starches and vegetable fats,” explains CEO Humberto Salvador Afonso, one of the company founders.

Business partners Stefanini and Afonso, from left, with employees at the Campinas R&D center

EDUARDO CESAR Business partners Stefanini and Afonso, from left, with employees at the Campinas R&D centerEDUARDO CESAR

The cheese analogue was designed to partially or fully replace traditional cheeses.  According to Afonso, it has the same characteristics and equivalent nutritional value as cheese, but costs up to 20% less.  “The analogue adequately replaces mozzarella and is an important item in our food service line.  We did the research, imported equipment and took five years to develop its formulation.  The result is an innovative food that does not depend on purely dairy products,” says the Alibra CEO.  The cheese analogue is mainly used on pizzas and in preparing semi-ready products such as cheese-filled snacks.

Last year, the company got ahead of its competitors by being first in Brazil to develop oil in powder form, providing an option for industries that look for ingredients high in essential fatty acids.  And more recently, the company developed a line of enriched ice cream, formulated with nanoparticles of iron and vitamin C. “We released an experimental lot on September 23, 2015 Brazil’s National Ice Cream Cone day to call the ice cream industry’s attention to the importance of healthy eating,” Afonso explains.

Company
Alibra
R&D Centers
Campinas (SP) and Marechal Rondon (PR)
Nº of employees
220
Principle products
Ingredients for the dairy industry, cookies, crackers and pizza in addition to ready-to-eat products like chocolate drink mixes and powdered cereals

In a saturated market such as the one for food products and ingredients, the Alibra brand is practically unknown to consumers.  “People don’t know who makes the ingredients.  But we have 900 clients all over Brazil and are betting on innovation to differentiate us.  That is our strength,” he says.  According to Afonso, what sets the company apart is its constant pursuit of innovation and the development of products with high technological value.

The company has two research and development (R&D) centers, one in Campinas and another at its Marechal Cândido Rondon production facility in inland Paraná State, that employ a total of 10 people.  Nearly 1% of Alibra’s earnings, which in 2015 is estimated to reach R$150 million, is invested annually in R&D activities, either in product development, equipment purchases or setting up laboratories.  “In Campinas, we are planning to install Ultra High Temperature (UHT) equipment, which sterilizes several products.  It is an important technology that is going to make product development more effective,” says Executive Director Roberto Stefanini, founding partner of Alibra, in charge of R&D.

Preparation and testing of new ingredients

Eduardo CesarPreparation and testing of new ingredientsEduardo Cesar

He explains that the company constantly seeks innovation in order to respond to customer demand for new products.  “While we conduct no pure research at our laboratories, we do develop tailor-made solutions.  We carry out special projects focused on personalized formulations to meet the needs of each customer.  Our ultimate goal is that the product have the desired characteristics,” Stefanini says.  These customized solutions may, for example, take the form of a new additive that makes a food more stable, or an ingredient that alters the original formulation of a customer’s product, making it gooier.

Whey
Alibra’s principal products are compounds and dairy mixes produced using whey along with vegetable or animal fats.  Whey is a co-product of the cheese-manufacturing process and, up to 10 years ago, it was discarded by cheesemakers or used for pig feed.  The product is 6.5% solid matter, consisting mainly of lactose, minerals and the uncurdled proteins such as lacto-albumins and lacto-globulins used in the formation of cheese.  Cheese factories send Alibra pretreated and concentrated whey that is approximately 65% solid.  By using a wide range of drying techniques, the company turns this whey into a powder-based concentrate.  In this process, the product, in its liquid form, is placed in drying towers to remove the water in the concentrate (35% of the total).

Company products prepared for protein analysis

Eduardo CesarCompany products prepared for protein analysisEduardo Cesar

The resulting whey powder is used to produce the compounds and dairy mixes.  The difference between these two ingredients lies in the protein content, which is less than 9% in the mixes, and the presence of powdered milk in the compound’s unique formulation.  “The two, compounds and dairy mixes, are raw materials used to produce ice creams, breads, cookies and pasta.  We also sell concentrated whey powder to clients directly,” says Stefanini.  As final products, Alibra sells its own brands of sweetened dairy compounds as Merilú Powder and Nutrisim, whose formula contains milk protein associated with carbohydrates, vitamins and fat.  They need only be mixed with water, like traditional powdered milks.  Nestlé has a similar dairy compound sold in Northeastern Brazil under the Ideal brand.

Another company product that has a production process similar to whey concentrate is powdered oil, which utilizes spray dryer production technology and was launched in 2015.  It is a process used in drying towers to transform liquid ingredients into powder.  In addition to having increased nutritional and energy value, the powdered oil presents benefits such as ease of storage, handling and transportation.  It is marketed to the enteral nutrition industry, and indicated for patients who have trouble ingesting food in liquid or powder form by mouth, and to animal nutrition companies and manufacturers of supplements and natural products for athletes.

Experiment using nitrogen distiller to prepare samples

Eduardo CesarExperiment using nitrogen distiller to prepare samplesEduardo Cesar

Strategic acquisition
In 2015, to strengthen its market presence, Alibra acquired control of Genkor, which specializes in the fabrication of micro-ingredients (dyes, stabilizers, thickeners, emulsifiers).  The purchase was part of Alibra’s R$23 million investment in the past two years to diversify its operations.  With the acquisition, Genkor became a business unit of Alibra.  “The two companies had complementary products and some partnerships in technical and commercial areas.  There was always a desire to merge and good prospects for coming together,” Afonso says.  Genkor and Alibra are part of the same conglomerate, the Grupo Káiros, made up of 10 food companies, owned by Afonso.

And it was another company in Grupo Káiros that, to a certain extent, inspired Alibra to release its vitamin-enriched popsicle in September 2015.  Specialized in the development of nanometric-scale ingredients, the Functional Mikron division of the company Ultrapan passed on to Alibra the necessary knowledge for the latter to develop popsicles with iron and vitamin C nanoparticles.  “The nanoencapsulation of fortifying elements prevents unpleasant flavors, leaving the product nutritious and tasty.  Other sensory characteristics such as aroma, color, and texture in the mouth are also preserved,” explains food technologist Debora Laschi, technical assistant in the Ice Cream Division.  “With this innovation, Alibra’s intention is not to create a line of enriched popsicles, but rather to sell an encapsulated nutritional system to ice cream makers.”

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