GEA is commissioned by leading French dairy and beverage producer to build a plant for processing oats, rice and soy

At the end of 2020, GEA received a multi-million euro equipment order destined for the plant-based beverages growth market. The industrial technology group will build a new production plant for producing oat, rice and soy base for beverages and hand it over to Laiterie de Saint-Denis-de-l’Hôtel (LSDH), one of France’s leading manufacturers of liquid food and vegetable products. All process steps, from the raw material intake of grains and flour to in-line standardization, will be incorporated into the plant, which is scheduled for stepwise commissioning from mid-2022. What’s more, GEA will supply a pilot plant for product development. The project is associated with a European protein research center and subsidised under a national economic stimulus programme.

GEA’s extraction plant paves the way to expanding in-house production

Based in the Centre-Val de Loire region, LSDH is an independent French family business that was originally established as a dairy but now produces and packages a variety of beverages and liquid foods, which are mainly retailed as store brands in the country’s major supermarket chains. With GEA’s process technology, LSDH aims to further expand its position on the market for plant-based beverages. The new plant, which is being built at the company’s headquarters in Saint-Denis-de-l’Hôtel, is part of a €300 million investment program to modernise LSDH’s production infrastructure.

For the first time, LSDH will be able to extract the oat, rice and soy concentrates on its own production line.

“LSDH is significantly expanding its vertical range of manufacture. We feel very honored that the company has chosen to partner with GEA in taking this important step,” said Luc Gillis, who heads GEA’s business in France and the Maghreb countries. “Throughout its history, LSDH has proven that it is not only highly attuned to consumer trends but also has the foresight as a business to unreservedly embrace change. When milk quotas were introduced in 1984, LSDH began using its technology to process other foods. Now, the company is once again investing in its infrastructure and its fitness for the future. In view of the uncertainty created by the pandemic, this decision deserves the greatest respect.”

GEA’s end-to-end process integration for plant-based products

GEA will hand over a turnkey plant for continuous extraction to LSDH. This entails combining processing technologies, such as soaking, milling, separation through decanting, enzyme deactivation, starch hydrolysis, blending, homogenization and pasteurization, with the engineering expertise required to plan, automate and operate the plant. As a single source for all components in the extraction process, GEA shows its strength as a process integrator.

Heinz-Jürgen Kroner, who is responsible for liquid and filling technologies at GEA, commented on the order’s significance, “GEA regards plant-based applications as a strategic growth area, thanks not only to rising global demand for these products, but also to our technology portfolio and comprehensive project experience. As a result, we are able to support our clients throughout the entire process, right up to providing services once production gets underway.” With the new plant, LSDH will be able to produce 14 tons of soy and cereal concentrate per hour.

Trials at test centers in Ahaus and Oelde

While LSDH already operates several GEA UHT plants, the process engineering group will be responsible for all aspects of planning and equipping the new plant. Thanks to the results of the successful test series conducted at the test centers in Ahaus and Oelde, GEA and the customer have finalized the concept, gauged plant performance and established a framework for the contract.

“At our test centers, we prove that we can bridge disciplinary divides and get our technology and process experts on the same page to integrate the best ideas into a customized concept. That was key to winning this project,” said Kroner.

In addition, experience gained on similar projects in China, Australia and Spain helped in planning the process. Most recently in 2019, GEA fitted out an end-to-end soybean extraction plant for one of China’s largest dairy manufacturer.

Economic stimulus program for vegetable proteins in France

In response to the modern health- and sustainability-conscious food culture, strictly plant-based products made from soy and cereals in the form of beverages, cottage cheese, spreads and other convenience foods are making inroads into French kitchens. The country’s sales of products in this category increased by 12% to 32 million liters in 2020. This demand is fueling France’s efforts to promote the production of vegetable proteins found in cereals, pulses and soybeans at a national level. To address consumer criticism directed at soy production conditions and reduce reliance on foreign soy imports, the French government has launched an investment program for the regional cultivation of this crop. As part of this initiative, LSDH is working to establish the shortest possible supply chains for high-quality regional products. With the new extraction facility as well as the pilot plant for processing other cereal-, nut- and legume-based beverages, GEA is supporting LSDH in this endeavor and will contribute not only its technological knowledge but also its process expertise.