French Firm Embraces Tech In 130-Year-Old Tradition Of Farming Acacia Gum In Africa
Since 1884 a family business named Alland & Robert, based in Normandy, France, has been an international leader in the processing of natural plant exudates for the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, with a strong focus on acacia gum.
Today, it employs 70 staff and contributes to the livelihood of several million people living in Sahelian Africa, where acacia-producing countries are found.
Alland & Robert exports to all continents, in a total of 69 countries with the support of a network of 37 distributors all over the world.
Frédéric Alland, CEO of Alland & Robert, tells AFKInsider how technology is helping the company grow in Africa.
AFKInsider: Why do you feel the company has lasted so long?
Frédéric Alland: Our company has lasted so long thanks to a combination of several factors. Over the past five generations, Alland & Robert has acquired a very strong expertise of the sourcing and production of natural gums. The strong partnership we have built over the past 134 years with our suppliers throughout the ‘gum belt’ is another key factor to our success. We have integrated these suppliers into our value chain, and they must comply with our charters and safety, ethical, environmental and societal standards.
What’s more, at A&R we have a research and development department, which answers and solves technical issues by providing assistance to our clients, and also, importantly, investigates new gum applications in different fields. A&R is also committed to guaranteeing the sustainability and effectiveness of our production methods and product quality throughout the entire value chain. Our primary raw material, acacia gum, is natural, healthy, and does not have a negative impact on health or the environment. We also have a number of policies which demonstrate our social and economic responsibility and involvement over many different levels both in France and in Africa.
AFKInsider: What has changed over the years?
Frédéric Alland: We’ve seen new applications for acacia gum emerge, in addition to traditional applications such as confectionery, flavoring and drinks. Today, there is a boom in acacia gum use in dietary products for fiber enrichment, as well as in baked products and breads. The global trend for clean label products has pushed acacia gum forward, as food manufacturers search for multifunctional ingredients, and wish to satisfy consumers’ requests for healthy and natural products with fewer additives.
There is also currently a huge focus on green labels and sustainable ingredients. Natural and sustainable ingredients like acacia gum help food manufacturers achieve their aim of producing natural and environmentally-friendly products. Acacia gum is naturally harvested and processed without chemical treatments, thus respecting the environment at every step in the production chain.
The rise of ‘free from’ foods has also driven the need for suppliers to be more transparent about their production processes. At Alland & Robert, we favor clarity at all stages in the supply chain.
Moreover, we provide organic, halal and kosher gums which are guaranteed pesticide-free.
AFKInsider: How much tech is involved in the process?
Frédéric Alland: For several years, Alland & Robert has been committed to minimizing our environmental impact. We strive to control our energy consumption, achieve efficient gains in our buildings and IT, and encourage recycling as well as sustainable consumption suppliers.
That’s why technology is crucial in our production process, from gum selection to packaging, by way of kibbling, solubilization and filtration, and spray drying. We have made huge investments in high-tech equipment at our two plants, which allow us, for example, to provide instant soluble and spray-dried grades of acacia gum.
AFKInsider: How has tech helped the company advance?
Frédéric Alland: The high-tech processes help us to develop products dedicated to certain applications or functional properties, as well as to work with customers and suppliers; to create tailor-made products; to improve production lines and work safety; and to control energy consumption in order to become more energy-efficient.
AFKInsider: How much has the demand for Acacia gum increased or decreased?
Frédéric Alland: The demand for acacia gum is on the rise as there are countless applications, and it concerns so many different industries such as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, beverages. In addition, acacia gum is natural and healthy with a positive environmental impact, which makes the gum a very interesting natural ingredient in the food industry.
Our R&D department is key to our growth: their studies allow us to discover new applications, as well as support our clients with technical assistance. Acacia gum applications such as in dairy products and baked goods are innovative examples which follow food trends.
AFKInsider: How is your company good for Africa?
Frédéric Alland: Acacia gum is not mass-produced, as it is in fact harvested by hand in the so-called ‘gum belt’. Harvest techniques often come from longstanding traditional practices which have been developed over many years by farmers. Ninety percent of wild acacia tree forests remain unexploited, so there is a lot of room for potential growth. The harvest provides revenue and employment for local African communities, particularly in some of the poorest countries in the world.
The acacia gum sector has huge opportunities for growth and also empowers women who are involved in the business, boosting their contributions to family livelihood and well-being. Alland & Robert supports plantations and the search of organic acacia gum, and we pursue better working conditions for our African communities (such as access to clean drinking water, shorter commutes to harvest areas, etc.). Furthermore, we openly assert our commitment to developing long-term business.
AFKInsider: How does it help local economies?
Frédéric Alland: Around three million people can live their lives thanks to the acacia gum harvest. Gum harvest represents an important part of farmers’ incomes. In 2007, the sum earned by each grower varied between $1,256 and $2,020 per metric ton, which represents up to half of his yearly income. This additional income has a significant impact on local populations because the acacia gum harvest is then brought directly by farmers to merchants, who then take it to market.
Consequently, these are important sums which are injected into the local economy, given that the money is directly reinvested in the markets. This income is vitally important for these sub-Saharan populations, many of which usually make enough to just about survive. Moreover, acacia gum income is earned off-season (as the crop is usually harvested between December and April), whilst other crops are usually harvested in autumn. This allows the pickers to spread their incomes out throughout the year.
AFKInsider: What is next for your company?
Frédéric Alland: Our next step is to continue to find and promote new gum applications in different industry fields.
One of our recent developments we would like to share is the result of our first independent study conducted with LEMPA–an independent French expert and professional laboratory specializing in baked goods–on the impact of acacia gum in breads concerning texture, water retention, and preservation. The addition of acacia gum also enhanced the shelf life of both types of bread, with a short-term preservation gain of up to 50 percent.
A further sensory study revealed that breads containing acacia gum are appreciated more by consumers, in both white sliced and gluten-free bread alike. Breads with added acacia gum received more positive feedback on taste, color, smell, and crustiness than the control sample.
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