Melting in the mouth

Ambitious expansion into the UK and the USA promises to make Ebrofrost one of the world’s most well-known manufacturers of cooked and frozen pasta and rice

No day is ever the same for Ebrofrost. A company that insists on being regarded as a solutions provider, the manufacturer of cooked and frozen pasta, rice, and cereals of all kinds has turned developing tailor-made products for an ever-widening customer base into a daily business. The organisation was established in June 2013 as a joint venture between German-based pasta specialist Keck and Danrice – Danish producer of cooked, individually quick frozen (IQF) rice, grains, and lentils. “Since most of the industrial customers have been the same for both plants, it made a lot of sense to group the two companies under one umbrella,” Ebrofrost’s Food Service Director, Amalie Schmidt underlines the main reason behind the merger.

Ebrofrost Germany, formerly known as Keck, was established in the 1980s by the eponymous family, who operated a chain of butcher shops in the south of Germany at that time. “At first, we were producing spaetzle – a regional pasta specialty, for the central kitchen of our shops and regional contract catering. Made from semolina, the product is fully cooked and IQF, which allows reaching the perfect cooking point for each different kind of use, as well as perfect portion control – for short pasta like penne and fusilli, but even more importantly, for pasta nests like spaghetti and tagliatelle,” Amalie explains.

It did not take long before producers of ready meals took notice of Keck’s capabilities and started seeking solutions from the company, which led to a considerable expansion of its product range and the volumes made. Fully committed to customisation – of recipes, shapes of nests, and packaging, today Ebrofrost Germany supplies most of the leading manufacturing businesses with pasta and noodles, and makes customised products for renowned international chains.

“As for Danrice, which has been operating under the name of Ebrofrost Denmark since July 2018, it was created with the idea to cook rice. Over time, it moved away from cooking individual small batches to cooking rice in a continuous process, which resulted in a much more efficient production,” Amalie discusses. “After the takeover from Ebro Foods in 2004, the range of products cooked in the facility expanded significantly. Different grains and pulses were added, which put us in a position to offer the market an incomparably wide variety of cooked, IQF solutions, addressing the growing demand in the field.”

True solutions provider

Following the formation of the joint venture, the two entities sensibly moved production of pasta and rice between the plants to achieve better synergies early on. Amalie talks us through the unique features of Ebrofrost’s production process: “First of all, we operate highly automated facilities. In addition, a lot of the machines and line details across the plants we developed ourselves to accurately serve our needs. In making the pasta, instead of cooking it from dry pasta, we prepare dough from semolina, shape it to nearly 100 different designs, and then cook it to a defined cooking point. After that, the pasta is cooled down and shock-frosted in just two minutes. The execution of this process allows us to preserve the full aroma, texture, and colour of freshly-made product.

“Furthermore, we are particularly proud of our unrivalled expertise in customising nests to the shape and weight required by our customers. Moreover we developed portion-packed products that are suitable for heating in the microwave or other appliances,” she adds.

Due to sourcing rice and grains from all over the world, some of which being sensitive to handle, Ebrofrost Denmark has patented certain pieces of its equipment. “We have optimised our process to deliver consistent product quality and save our customers time, especially when it comes to items that require longer cooking times or have a more complicated cooking process. All in all, both factories offer an incredibly high level of reliability that has convinced manufacturers to stop cooking pasta and rice themselves, relying completely on Ebrofrost for the supply of these components, instead.”

In 2015, the company’s Board of Directors decided to take an opportunity to expand into the UK and bought a small plant in Beckley, East Sussex. Once the site was refurbished and adapted for IQF pasta manufacturing, production started in mid-2016. “Unlike the rest of our factories, the UK one specialises on chilled products and is aimed at supplying the British market of deli salads with fresh pasta,” Amalie clarifies.

“The UK is a pretty different market compared to continental Europe, because only 30 per cent of ready meals are frozen, while the remaining 70 per cent are chilled. In Central Europe, it is exactly the other way around,” she remarks. “As we consider ourselves solutions providers, we had to take the local needs into account when setting up the Beckley facility and arrange it in a way that will best serve producers of chilled ready meals. To do that, we drew upon our broad knowledge of processing and expertise on products and raw materials. Our expectations are for an exciting 2019, as we have scheduled the launch of a comprehensive product line comprising of pasta, rice, grains, and pulses for the beginning of the year. At the same time, we will continue to provide frozen product solutions to ready meal producers and develop our business with restaurant groups.”

Acknowledging the fact that the UK has the best developed restaurant chain market in Europe, it is no surprise that Ebrofrost has targeted Britain as an area of expansion. “Couple this with the fact that all of our products are very well-suited for restaurants, particularly chains and groups where consistency is highly important, and you can imagine the promising opportunities ahead of us in the country. What is more, if we take into consideration the probable effects of Brexit, one of which could be lack of labour, our products can play an active role in supporting various operations, as they are extremely easy to handle, while also providing a delicious dining experience,” Amalie comments.

Brand awareness

When Ebrofrost was informed that General Mills in the USA were about to cut production of IQF rice by about 20,000 tonnes by the end of 2017, the company immediately sensed the unique opportunity to cross the Atlantic, supported by the already existing Ebro Foods business, Riviana. “The decision was taken in 2016 and within just 18 months, we had our fourth Ebrofrost plant installed in Memphis, Tennessee. In the beginning, we only had a huge rice and grain cooking and freezing line, but by the end of 2018, an IQF pasta line will also start operation. It is positive to see that the factory is now prepared to provide a selection of basics for the North American market, which will be expanded step-by-step over time.

“Ebrofrost North America’s aspiration is to offer our customers in the region the same broad assortment of products as the one enjoyed by our European clients,” Amalie maintains. “To meet this objective, specialty items, such as Asian noodles and Italian long-cuts like linguine and pappardelle, as well as black quinoa and couscous will be shipped from Europe. Moreover, a central, fully automated cold store is already in preparation and will be opened in 2019. It is projected to function as our central hub for imported goods, enabling us to store everything on-site and guarantee a supply chain without interruptions.”

In line with reigning food trends, the company’s latest products reflect consumers’ penchant for the exotic. “The emergence of more and more casual Asian concepts has motivated us to introduce a range of Asian noodle nests, such as udon, ramen, and soba. For our health-conscious customers, we also offer gluten-free ‘wheat alternatives’ and pasta from pulse, for example,” Amalie reveals. “It is also worth mentioning that our factory in Offingen (Germany) will be halal-certified early next year, which is a clear demonstration of our commitment to our Muslim clients,” she leads us nicely into Ebrofrost’s intentions for the future.

“We are planning to grow in both manufacturing and foodservice. After installing a new production line for short pasta in Offingen, we are following up with a nest production line at Ebrofrost Denmark, which will enable us to produce customised nest sizes in that factory, too, helping us speed up service times for our customers. We can also foresee benefitting from our capability to provide portion packs for meal kits, since this is a growing trend considered to cater perfectly for the needs of today’s consumers.”

For Amalie, however, what stands out as Ebrofrost’s chief mission is raising brand awareness, especially in foodservice. “Many operators are still not very familiar with us and our products, and have not yet discovered the operational savings and the reduction of food waste we can offer. Getting this message across is of utmost importance and our decision that all our companies should change their name to Ebrofrost was a key move towards making the group more visible to the market. Aside from that, we are nicely set up to handle our customers’ requirements efficiently and our aim is to enhance our reputation of a one-stop shop for a broad range of pasta, noodles, rice, and grains,” she concludes.