160-year-old CO2-neutral grains & pulses provider brings entire sorting process in-house
Family-run, grains and pulses business Schalk Mühle, stands by environmentally-friendly practices to supply its customers with the healthiest nutrition on the market. In order to facilitate its growing operations in vegan and organic food production, the Austrian company strengthened its longstanding relationship with Bühler by investing in the SORTEX A: Schalk Mühle’s first ever optical sorter which has allowed the company to stop outsourcing and start controlling its entire sorting process in-house. The company has since been able to achieve a 99.9% accept quality, removing problematic foreign material (FM) and white/damaged pumpkin seeds with ease, while remaining competitive in the market.
The southern Austrian state of Styria (AKA Steiermark), renowned for its world-famous pumpkin seed oil, hosts a scenic landscape of mountains, forests and castles. Styria is also home to Schalk Mühle: a leading provider of organic seed, kernel, grain and pulse products. Established in 1859, the company boasts a rich history. But three key factors have kept Schalk Mühle relevant and successful in present times: its passion for sustainability; its investment in the best technology; and its commitment to producing an almost exclusively organic product portfolio.
“Schalk Mühle is a sixth-generation family business,” comments CEO, Rainer Schalk. “My family operated a flour mill here for more 150 years which has since become a popular tourist museum. In 1950, we started with our first oil press.
“Today, we sell pumpkin seeds, linseeds, sunflower seeds, lentils, beans and chickpeas, organic plant-based oils for cooking and seasoning food, snacks, pestos, creams and protein products for our fitness-orientated customers.”
Having premises in Ilz on the Feistritz River is extremely fortuitous, as it enables Schalk Mühle to minimize its costs and environmental impact by generating its own hydroelectric power. This combined with solar power generated on site enables Schalk Mühle to produce 200% of the electricity it uses each year, some of which is given back to the local community.
“Growing nuts, seeds and kernels naturally leaves a very small carbon footprint. And thanks to our environmentally friendly hydropower and solar power, we produce a wide range of CO2-neutral organic foods, which helps to set us apart from our competitors,” Schalk explains.
Investing in the right technology
Another important ingredient in Schalk Mühle’s success has been investing in the right technology. In the last five years the company made a significant investment in an all new processing/cleaning line for seeds and pulses which features a Bühler SORTEX A optical sorter. “We needed to be able to deliver the highest-quality end product that could be sorted entirely in-house; previously we were outsourcing. The SORTEX A was the perfect fit,” Schalk enthuses.
“It was our first optical sorter and it’s ensured 99.9% product quality, which would otherwise be extremely difficult to achieve. The SORTEX A works very well with the other machines in the line too. It provides a seal of quality assurance for our partners and customers that we wouldn’t get with any other provider.”
As Schalk explains, removing foreign materials (FM) such as tiny pieces of stone, plastic and wood can be a big challenge when cleaning pumpkin seeds and other crops. “The SORTEX A is key to our cleaning process. As well as FM, it successfully removes white and damaged pumpkin seeds. We also use it for flax seeds, chickpeas, beans and hemp seeds – we have the flexibility we need. Our SORTEX A stands at the end of our cleaning line to provide quality assurance,” he adds.
“There are older Bühler machines in our museum, so before buying the SORTEX A we knew how Bühler’s solutions performed. The support and aftercare we’ve always received has been excellent with annual visits from Bühler’s local Salzburg-based service engineers who work with us to ensure optimum performance of our SORTEX A.”
Schalk Mühle has been a part of Austria’s organic movement for more than 20 years. More than 25% of Austria’s total farming land is organic and it has one of the world’s highest densities of organic farmers. However, Styria’s arable land is mostly non-organic. “We wanted to set up an organic business for local communities and then sell their produce worldwide,” recalls Schalk.
“Organic farming is better for the environment, people and the future. We have our own farm where we teach best practices. We share knowledge that enables Austrian farmers to grow a diverse range of crops. Soybeans and wheat are the most common organic crops that Austrian farmers grow, but they’re less aware of the opportunities offered by the more specialized crops such as flax, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. We help them to cultivate these and boost their incomes by selling them.”
Schalk Mühle’s organic philosophy means more than 200 Austrian farmers earn a better income, while consumers throughout Europe can buy high quality produce that is entirely vegan, organic, healthy and delicious.
A competitive edge
Schalk adds: “Most people who work for our business are vegetarians and vegans so our organic ethos is a key part of our values and culture as a business. We want to improve the world through better nutrition and more environmentally-friendly practices.
“We know where exactly our products come from and the journey they go on before reaching our customers – it can all be traced. The market for vegan and organic food will continue to grow and we want to continue to meet that growing demand and remain a leading supplier. That’s why we chose Bühler and the SORTEX A: our values as sustainability-orientated companies are very much aligned, not to mention their machinery gives us an unmatched competitive edge,” he concludes.
War on waste
With, reportedly, more than 2.5bn tons of waste generated in the EU alone each year, Bühler is also doing its bit to reduce global waste.
According to the World Bank, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face fresh water shortages, while a third of food is already wasted each year. Bühler’s sustainability objective is to enable its customers to use 50% less energy, produce 50% less waste and reduce their water use by 50% with its ongoing roll-out of innovative, energy-efficient solutions.