Intro Food Parks

Supersize to maximize

Food parks are large industrial food processing facilities that combine entire value chains under one roof and make it possible to leverage economies of scale. They produce more than 1,000 tonnes of food a day, which offers a variety of benefits in food processing with regards to efficiency, food safety, side-stream valorization, labor costs, and much more. With pressure mounting on food producers to get the most out of every grain, food parks are gaining importance across the globe.

Global food system emissions amount to 15.8 gigatons of CO2e, equating to 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the European Commissionʼs Directorate-General for the Environment. Meanwhile, the United Nations calculates that around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail, while an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted, mainly in households and in the food service industry. That’s a total of 31 percent of food that is lost or wasted, meaning that almost 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas is emitted to produce food waste or food loss.

Food waste is being tackled by local governments and organizations. Food producers, on the other hand, are doing everything they can to reduce food loss – because the biggest and most immediate impact is from how we transport, store, and process grains to produce staple foods. That’s where food parks come into play.

Thomas Widmer is Head of Grain Handling at Bühler and is involved in the planning, construction, and start-up of large industrial food and feed processing plants. His wealth of experience in managing big projects around the world allows him to put things in perspective. “The global food system is facing more challenges in terms of climate change, political tensions, and supply chain disruptions. Our customers are dealing with overlapping crises: Covid-19, climate shocks, and conflicts that lead to a spike in ingredient costs. It’s always been Bühler’s mission to develop and improve technologies to adapt to an ever-changing environment. That’s why we’re now in the position to create smart, efficient, and economically viable solutions together with our customers that enable them to provide safe and nutritious foods in sufficient quantities for a growing population. Food parks are the next logical step in this evolution,” he says.

Strong lever effect

Food parks have the capacity to produce in excess of 1,000 tonnes of food per day. This provides a rough estimate of the sheer scale of such facilities. Yet it’s only by looking behind these quantities that we can really see their positive impacts on food value chains. “A food park is usually located near major ports or railways and integrates intake, storage, cleaning, and processing of grains such as wheat, maize, or rice followed by the production of end products – all in one place. This leads to significant savings in transport costs, for example if flour as an intermediate is produced and processed into pasta, biscuits, or animal feed in the same facility,” says Widmer.

Reducing transportation has the most profound impact in food processing. Carrinho Group in Angola, for example, produces 2,442 tonnes of food per day in its food park, providing food for around 15 million people in the southern African state with a population of 34.5 million as of 2021. Thanks to the integrated design of the food park, Carrinho Group saves 250 tonnes of CO2e per day compared to traditional operations with separate locations for process steps. A staggering 80 percent (200 tonnes) of CO2e savings are due to reduced transportation of food.

“At the end of the day, food processors are forced to play by the same market rules as any other producers of goods competing for market share: create synergies, lower avoidable costs, and never stand still when it comes to finding new ways to improve your processes,” Widmer says. Another significant benefit of reducing transport of food post-harvest is the effect on food loss. The math is simple: Every time grains get loaded, unloaded, and loaded again, part of the total amount gets lost. The impact is even more severe in intermediate storage, where toxigenic mold diseases can contaminate large quantities of grains and lead to preventable food losses.

A food park is usually located near major ports or railways and integrates intake, storage, cleaning, and processing of grains followed by the production of end products – all in one place, leading to significant savings.

Thomas Widmer, Head of Grain Handling at Bühler

“Every grain that gets lost from farm to fork has a negative impact on cost, yield, emissions, and of course, food security. The single most efficient measure is finding ways to reduce food loss in the value chains of our customers – from intake all the way to packaging,” says Thomas Widmer.

Edyta Margas, Global Head of Food Safety at Bühler, sees huge potential to increase food safety by reducing the touchpoints of food with other materials and by improving process steps. “We know that the risk of food safety incidents, such as contamination by pathogens or allergens, increases with each added process step or handling activity. Within a food park, where intake, cleaning, storage, processing, and packaging often occur in the same building, we can significantly reduce the risk of contamination, thanks to appropriate factory zoning, hygienic design of the respective machines, seamless process steps, and digital solutions.”

One such solution is Bühlerʼs plant automation system Mercury MES (Manufacturing Execution System). It allows forward and backward traceability of a batch in less than 30 seconds. This fast response time enables food processors to quickly determine where a food safety incident has occurred and remove the affected batch from the value stream. The faster this happens, the less food is lost.

Every grain matters

Whether its specialty foodstuff producers or industrial-sized food processing companies, they all have the same goal: to produce good food of good quality for their markets. The bigger the company, however, the more impactful it is to constantly rethink the status quo of every single process step. It’s this way of thinking, planning, and executing in entire value chains that has led to the rise of food parks in the past 5 to 10 years, or as Widmer puts it: “These companies really do feel the pressure to stay competitive, day in, day out. When we add to this the need to track, measure, and reduce CO2e footprint, we end up with a genuinely holistic approach to get the most out of every grain. And the most efficient way is to combine as many steps as possible under one roof.”

Keeping it circular

This holistic approach goes beyond handling, processing, producing, and packaging foods in the same location. Side-stream valorization plays an increasingly important role. In 2021 Bühler joined forces with the Belgian company Vyncke, a technology supplier specialized in

turning biomass by-products into a climate-neutral form of energy. The targets were clear: To equip 20 percent of the installed base of Bühler’s customers and 80 percent of all new plants with Vyncke’s solutions and introduce the concept of a circular economy on energy level to industrial food and feed plants around the world.

“This partnership offers Bühler the opportunity to provide new services to our customers that help them increase efficiency and save on energy costs. These are two major challenges we’re addressing in a highly competitive environment, which will help us to deliver on our targets to having solutions ready to multiply by 2025 that reduce energy, waste, and water by 50 percent in the value chains of our customers,” says Johannes Wick, CEO Grains & Food at Bühler.

A look into one of the biggest food parks in the world in Dhaka in Bangladesh reveals the impact these solutions unleash on an industrial scale. City Group is one of the world’s largest food producers and operates a food park with a daily capacity of 17,840 tonnes, of which soy oil (8,000 tonnes), flour (6,200 tonnes), and rice (1,400 tonnes) make up the majority. In addition, they process 500 tonnes of red lentils and yellow peas per day. City’s overall storage capacity is 450,000 tonnes, which helps them to avoid shortages and compensate for shipping issues or commodity price irregularities.

With two of Vyncke’s steam burners generating 32 tonnes of process steam for the parboiling plant, City Group converts nearly 300 tonnes of rice husk per day into energy that would otherwise be dumped or landfilled. The resulting energy savings is 250 tonnes of fuel oil per day, enabling City Group to reduce CO2 emissions of their parboiler plant by 60 percent. The fact that the husks are collected, burned, and converted into energy at the same site underlines the key benefit of a food park as a one-stop-shop.

Are developed countries missing out?

Bühler has built food parks for its customers in Angola, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Brazil. While some food parks were built back in the 1960s, the majority have been commissioned in the last few years. This is evidence that the trend towards ultra-large production facilities is gaining traction, and it’s striking that they are predominately being built in the Southern Hemisphere. The question this raises is whether markets such as North America or Europe are falling behind on this megatrend. “The biggest difference between these markets is infrastructure. In Europe or North America, supply chains have been built up and refined over centuries, experiencing constant improvements in terms of proximity, technology, and frictionless alignment across suppliers and borders," Widmer explains. “In Africa or Southern Asia for example, a lot of this infrastructure is missing or currently being developed. This presents us with the unique opportunity to start greenfield projects together with large food processors and build food parks drawing on decades or even centuries of experience.”

This does not mean that existing players in developed countries are not evaluating the many benefits of integrating process steps under one roof. Bühler’s customer Pannonia in Hungary is a prime example. In 2012, the company started producing ethanol and animal feed from maize with an output of 200 million liters and 150,000 tonnes respectively. In 2018, they started their product diversification program to harvest the full potential of each grain of maize. Today, the company processes 1.1 million tonnes of maize into 500 million liters of ethanol, 325,000 tonnes of animal feed, and 12,000 tonnes of maize oil per year. The maize is used to its fullest extent. Starch, fiber, and protein are all processed into various products such as meat alternatives, bio-chemicals, or prebiotics, to name a few. Pannonia’s one-stop-shop uses side streams to produce biogas, which is then reintroduced as an energy into the process steps. And in 2021, Pannonia extended its portfolio by introducing barley processing to its food park to make thin stillage concentrate and organic fertilizer.


Within a food park, where intake, cleaning, storage, processing, and packaging often occurs in the same building, we can significantly reduce the risk of contamination.

Edyta Margas, Global Head of Food Safety at Bühler

United by a common purpose

Thomas Widmer is encouraged by the collaboration with food and feed producers across the globe. “Today, the value of each grain is really seen in its entirety – from side stream valorization to using by-products as a source of energy all the way to making a loaf of bread, pasta, or snacks to name but a few,” he explains. “What really motivates me is that no matter where our customers are, what languages they speak, or what customs and traditions they celebrate, we are all united by our quest to help feed people. This purpose will keep us going and lead to many more fantastic innovations in food and feed processing.”


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