Grains & Food: stable performance

In 2022, Grains & Food performed solidly, operating in a challenging environment with disrupted value chains. After a strong start to the year and a recovery of markets in the first half, the investment pattern stagnated due to the disruptions created by the war in Ukraine and the developments in China. In addition, the business suffered from disruptions in the grain and energy markets, especially in Europe and Africa. In these demanding circumstances, order intake amounted to CHF 1,663 million, down 6.5%, while turnover improved by 2.6% to CHF 1,696 million. All business areas of Grains & Food contributed to the turnover growth, with Digital Technologies excelling. 

With new partnerships, Bühler’s food and feed collaboration and innovation ecosystem entered a new level with multiple benefits for customers. Regarding innovative solutions, all businesses report important milestones, be it with new orders for example for large rice projects, start-of-operations with the extension of food parks including that of Angola-based customer, Carrinho Group, and market launches, such as the Sortex H and J optical sorter with Merlin Ai and SpectraVision, and the Granulex® 5 series of hammer mills. To improve agility and customer proximity, Bühler has extended its Asian manufacturing footprint with enlarged capabilities at its India site for the manufacture of optical sorting products.

The Grain Quality & Supply business area benefitted from a rising demand for grain storage solutions, mainly in the Middle East and Africa, triggered by food security stock projects due to the disruptions of the global grain supply. Many governments decided to invest in strategic storage to mitigate food security risks considering the uncertain geopolitical situation. The same background is the cause for large investments in big rice projects, as this staple food is considered an alternative and haven against wheat. However, the rice business is still impacted by a post-pandemic effect, as ongoing travel restrictions in Southeast Asia slowed down decision processes and investments were evaluated more cautiously. A highlight of 2022 was the brewing business, where Grain Quality & Supply won several projects from small to large scale, with strong demand from China’s distilling industry that partially offset the low activity in the malting market. 

Milling Solutions continued its upward trend, growing both in orders and turnover. The business unit profited from the trend to refocus on regional supply chains, triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the investment pattern changed from a few large to numerous small- and mid-sized projects, of which many went to Bühler. Due to the high-capacity utilization in the milling industry, maintenance services also contributed to growth. In 2022, the second Mill E3 was installed and the 74th milling line was connected to the Bühler Insights platform to support milling customers all over the globe. While each Mill E3 is tailored to individual customer needs, energy savings in the range of 8%, approximately 20% in building volume reductions, and installation time savings well above 10,000 hours have been experienced. The energy reduction offered by the Mill E3 combined with digital services is of interest given rising energy costs globally.

Another important driver for this progress was the ongoing trend of plant-based proteins, oats, and pulses, in short: from bean to burger. To ensure leading-edge technology development and new means of collaborating with customers and partners, Milling Solutions, together with the other business areas, started construction on a new Grain Innovation Center (GIC) in Uzwil, Switzerland, where Bühler and its customers and partners will develop, test, and scale sustainable and efficient solutions for grain and feed processing to improve food and feed solutions. The focus will be on yield, quality, energy efficiency, and the flexibility of the plants together with nutritious and great tasting recipes based on a broad variety of grains and pulses. The GIC is scheduled to start operations by the end of 2024.  

This new complex will be rounded off by a biomass energy center, which Bühler is building together with its partner Vyncke. Vyncke specializes in converting biomass and industrial waste into clean energy and has been a strategic partner of Bühler since 2021. The plant is scheduled to go into operation in 2023 and will become a cornerstone of heating energy at the Uzwil site thereby contributing to a significant reduction in its CO2e footprint. Together with other measures already implemented at the site, such as the switch to wood pellets, this plant is expected to reduce CO2e emissions for heating energy by over 60%.

After a rapid expansion during the past years, the Value Nutrition business area experienced restrained development. In its various market segments for animal and human nutrition, trends in the industries and regions differ strongly. Whereas demand for pasta and breakfast cereal equipment was rather low, and market cultivation in China was difficult due to the ongoing restrictive Covid-19 policy, solutions for pet food and alternative proteins enjoyed growing demand. To strengthen its market position, Value Nutrition launched a new generation of hammer mills, the key component for animal nutrition solutions, and concluded new partnerships. A highlight was the formation of a joint venture with IMDHER, the leading company in Mexico in building turnkey plants for animal feed, aqua and pet food plants. Combining the market and project knowledge of IMDHER with the state-of-the-art core technologies such as extrusion and pellet presses from Bühler creates a unique offering. Bühler became a member of MISTA, an innovation platform based in San Francisco, US, which has been created to transform the global food system to meet the needs of the future. Bühler is providing an extruder machine that will be used as part of a co-creation project with other MISTA members. It will be commissioned in February 2023. 

The Digital Technologies business area experienced a strong rebound, driven by a completely renewed portfolio for optical sorting, scales, dosing, and packaging. With new automation and camera systems these products reach a new level of connectivity, efficiency, speed, and precision. The LumoVision optical sorter, which uses ultraviolet light for detection, was applied to additional applications and can now be deployed to sort wheat, coffee, maize, nuts – and plastic waste. Plastic sorting has become a key area as the demand for high quality recycling constantly increases due to high oil prices and the necessity to reduce waste. In packaging, Digital Technologies continued the success story with the joint venture partner Premier Tech and launched new automated packers, complementing Bühler's offering.

To be able to profit from the elevated level of dynamism in the food industries, Grains & Food has massively expanded its collaboration and innovation ecosystem with new partnerships and joint ventures. Together with the partners Hosokawa Alpine, endeco, Flottweg, MMS, and ZETA, Bühler is the only industry player that can now offer integrated solutions for all plant-based protein and food bioprocessing processes for traditional crops such as soy, pulses, single cells, and cultured food. With Value Nutrition and Bühler’s competence in extrusion, texturing, depositing, and moulding, the company covers the complete value chain from the raw materials to finished products.  

To make this new competence field more tangible and accessible for customers, Bühler and endeco are building a protein application center in Uzwil with full integration of the process from raw material to milling, to wet extraction, to extrusion, to finished products. This will enhance processes and recipes for plant-based protein, meat, and dairy applications as well as improved sustainability with less energy consumption.

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