Ecotone invests in capacity to meet ‘significant growth’ in European dairy alternatives

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Ecotone ramps up plant-based beverage capacity / Pic: GettyImages-Elena Medoks
Ecotone ramps up plant-based beverage capacity / Pic: GettyImages-Elena Medoks

Related tags Ecotone plant-based dairy

European organic food company Ecotone is investing €20m to increase its capacity in plant-based milks.

Ecotone is ramping up production output at its plant-based beverage production facility in Nadia Plesine, Northern Italy. The fresh investment includes the development of a new production line that will allow production of an additional 27 million litres of plant-based beverages per year.

The factory produces organic plant-based drinks for brands including Bjorg, Bonneterre, Isola Bio, Abbott Kinney's and EcoCesta. One hundred and sixty-tree people are employed across a site, making it one of the largest European production sites of its kind. Across five production lines, Ecotone said 120 million litres leave the factory each year, 50% of which are destined for France, where Ecotone generates 60% of its turnover.

“The introduction of new line and operational improvements are giving us the chance to meet the significant growth in the dairy alternative market [which has seen] +41% growth in Europe vs 2019,”​ Ecotone CEO Christophe Barnouin told FoodNavigator.

Industry 4.0 for environmental gains

The B-Corp certified food and beverage group has operated at Badia Plesine since 1993. The location is important because of its proximity to Ecotone’s network of more than 100 producers that have 4,500 hectares of land under organic cultivation in Italy.

“Ecotone is committed to developing agroecological practices that go beyond the organic specifications (hedge planting, crop rotation or setting up hives in the fields) to promote more biodiversity, and to cultivate more than 35 plant species, thus stimulating cultivated biodiversity and the diversity of diets,”​ the company noted.

The group aims to make Badia Plesine a ‘flagship’ of Industry 4.0 and investments have focused on automation, including an internal pallet flow management system via laser-guided vehicles. A reorganisation of the factory’s production workshop also allows for increased automation - with 50% of its intralogistics requiring no human intervention, and a fully automated production flow between bottling and loading pallets into trucks. Increased efficiency reduces the use of plastic by 15% and optimises transport with the elimination of 58 tons of CO2, Ecotone revealed.

The production site has a system of ‘total circularity of water’, whereby industrial washing water undergoes biological treatment with activated sludge and is then reused in agricultural production processes. It also operates exclusively on renewable energies, with a ‘co-generator’ that recovers energy from the factory’s production processes and supplies the site with 40% of its energy.

“The investments made over the last three years to bring production up to Industry 4.0 standards, and the opening of an additional production line, have created 32 new job positions, mainly in technical and R&D functions. More hires are expected as the volume of production increases,”​ the company said. With its valuable know-how, the Badia Polesine factory represents a European centre of excellence for research and development of plant-based beverages.

Barnoiun told us that the expanded R&D function will ‘absolutely’ be able to increase Ecotone’s ability to innovate behind its brands. “Having internal R&D enables us to see our products and test what works at each stage of the production process – from raw materials through to the finished product. This allows us to be proactive and agile when it comes to the development of new products – helping us tap into both the market and new trends,”​ he said.

"This major investment aims to strengthen Ecotone's industrial competitiveness in a growing market for plant-based beverages. With a strong presence throughout Europe, just like its brands, with nine production sites, including two in France, Ecotone is committed to its values and leading the way towards more innovation and sustainability in the food industry. I would like to pay tribute to the unwavering mobilization of the teams over the past three years, which has enabled the project to succeed and make the Badia Polesine factory a European industrial flagship.”

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