All photos courtesy of Bühler AG
SOUTH TYROL, ITALY — Imagine paying for a set of roller mills with apples. That’s the arrangement Rieper SpA had with Bühler AG in 1945 when it purchased its first milling machine from the Uzwil, Switzerland-based milling equipment manufacturer.
Alexander Rieper, managing director of Rieper, which is based in the northern Italy town of Vintl, explained how this odd transaction transpired. He runs the company with his sister Kartin and their father Peter.
“In 1945 when my grandfather, Albert, wanted to buy new roller mills from Bühler it was not possible to bring Italian money to Switzerland,” he said. “But Switzerland would let in what it needed and at that time they needed apples. We were in the lucky situation to have enough of them in South Tyrol. The result was a contract in which we would send apples to a grocery store in Zurich, they would pay Bühler, and we got the new roller mills.”
Rieper has grown significantly since that roller mills-for-apples trade, expanding into the feed milling business in the late 1940s when it was seeking a use for its flour milling byproduct, wheat bran, and seven years ago entering the baking business when it purchased a bakery from a former flour customer.
The entrepreneurial activity of the Rieper family dates back to 1860, but it wasn’t until 1910 that they entered the flour milling business.
“My great grandfather in the early 1900s bought a small mill on the river because he wanted to get the water rights in order to run one of the very first hydroelectric plants (in that region),” Alexander Rieper told World Grain, a sister publication to Milling & Baking News.
Now in its fifth generation as a family-owned business and the leading flour and feed supplier in the South Tyrol province, Rieper, which employs 118 people, is thriving as it provides flour, feed and bakery products to more than 5,000 customers in northern Italy and the surrounding region.
Alexander Rieper explained the company’s recipe for success.
“Our biggest goal is to produce high-quality products and to give the customers the best possible service,” he said. “We do this by having great employees and we try to remain passionate about products. We are keen on new technical developments.”
The latest flour milling technology is on display in Rieper’s new mill in South Tyrol, which is in northern Italy near the Austrian border. Bühler, which has partnered with Rieper on many projects over the last 72 years, designed and equipped the plant, which was commissioned in 2016 and has a 24-hour production capacity of 240 tonnes (wheat equivalent) per day.
“We moved the good parts from the existing mill, including the MDDK roller mills, some scales and a peeler, and purchased the newest purifiers and plansifters,” said Alexander Rieper, noting that it took just eight months for the new mill to be built and put into operation.
One of the reasons for building the new mill, Alexander Rieper said, was that the company wanted to do everything possible to meet the growing expectations in the North Italian market for food safety and hygiene.
“It starts with the design of the plant,” he said. “The selection of the raw materials, proper maintenance of the building and equipment and strict quality control measures are the next steps, and last but not least you have to keep the plants clean.”
The new Rieper mill grinds hard wheat, soft wheat, rye, spelt and Kamut to produce a wide assortment of flours that are sold to large industrial and small handcraft bakers as well as retail outlets. The flour is used in soups, sauces, cakes, pies, pastries, biscuits and bread.
Once among the world’s leaders in bread consumption, Italy has seen the amount of bread consumed per capita fall by nearly 50% over the last 10 years.
Coldretti, a farmer’s association, said that the drop in consumption was coupled with an increase in organic bread, gluten-free products and those made with non-wheat grains such as spelt. Italians still prefer artisan bread, which represents 88% of the market.
“The Italian market is in search of darker flours with higher nutritional values,” Alexander Rieper said. “We are constantly developing new products.”
All raw materials for the flour mill, as well as the feed mill, come from European Union countries, with the majority coming from Germany, Italy and Austria, Alexander Rieper said.
Between its feed and flour mills, it processes 145,000 tonnes of grains and oilseeds, but at any one time it has only 5,500 tonnes of storage space, “so we have to have a very strong logistics department,” Alexander Rieper said.
Although Italy is well known for its semolina production and pasta consumption — the country leads the world in pasta consumption at 26 kg per year with product penetration of 99% of Italian households — Rieper is not involved in durum milling, Alexander Rieper said.
According to the milling industry body Italmopa, the Italian milling sector features about 348 mills. Production of flour, wheat flour and durum wheat semolina amounted in 2016 to 7.751 million tonnes (including 4.006 million tonnes of wheat flour and 3.745 million tonnes of durum wheat). Italy is a net importer for durum, hard and soft wheat.
Rieper’s feed mill grinds corn, feed wheat, soybeans, barley and rapeseed into formulations for livestock in northern Italy.
The leading feed producer in the South Tyrol province, Rieper specializes in custom feed mixes.
“All of our raw materials are non-G.M. and we have very low limits for mycotoxins,” Alexander Rieper said. “With over 1,400 recipes, we serve 4,000 customers in the feed industry.”
Built in 2002, the feed mill, which has a production capacity of 550 tonnes per 24 hours, is still “one of the most modern plants in Europe,” said Alexander Rieper, who noted that all its equipment in the feed mill, from intake to outload and bagging equipment, is manufactured by Bühler.
“We run vertical hammermills and different types of Bühler pellet presses,” he said. “All our production buildings are equipped with a special air conditioning system that filtrates and controls the air coming into the plants, warms it up during wintertime recycling process energy, and tries to keep it as cool as possible during the summertime.”
All raw materials in both the flour and feed mills are brought in by truck, and for the delivery of finished products the company owns 23 trucks of different sizes, Alexander Rieper said.
He said several trends are affecting the feed market in Italy.
“The South Tyrol feed market at the moment shows a strong trend going to intense consulting of the farmers — mainly cows for milk production in our area — which leads to an infinity of personalized recipes,” he said. “We have over 1,400 active recipes in our system and do between 80 and 100 individual recipes per day.”
While Rieper is growing its market share, Italy, the sixth biggest producer of compound feed among E.U. countries in 2016 at 13.6 million tonnes, according to the Alltech Feed Survey, has seen a slight decline in feed output in recent years, having dropped from 14.6 million tonnes in 2012.
Rieper’s newest endeavor
Rieper produces about 350 tonnes of bread per year at its bakery in South Tyrol. The bread, which is sold in northern Italy, is all sourdough based, made with rye, wheat, spelt and Kamut flour or mixes of those flours.
“The particular thing is that we produce it in long loafs, slice it, bag it and pasteurize it,” Alexander Rieper said. “In this way it gets a shelf life of up to 90 days. It is a high percentage of whole wheat bread and approximately 20% is organic bread.”