by Isabella Dallera
A few kilometres from Novi Ligure, known as the home city of chocolate and and residence of primary Italian and international confectionery companies, as for instance the Novi-Elah-Dufour group and Pernigotti, a new reality arises: a unique company of its kind, offering research and product development services to the companies of the confectionery industry. NoviLab FOOD S.r.l. was created by Tino Carrega, one of the greatest international experts in the production of chocolate and chocolate-based products, and Marcello Pelà, CEO of the company who, for more than 25 years, has been active in the food market with specialty ingredients. To learn more about the company’s activity, to whom it is addressed, and which production problems can be analysed and solved by the team of NoviLab Food experts, we interviewed Mr. Carrega.
How did the idea come of a centre like NoviLab FOOD?
There are personal reasons and objective reasons for the creation of this structure: personal, because there was an urge to share forty years of experience in the chocolate and confectionery industry, creating a centre equipped with pilot plants for the development and set-up of new recipes and technologies; objective, because we wanted to offer our customers the greatest level of service. The determining factor has been the encounter with Marcello Pelà, with whom we shared and still share aims and way of operating.
Can you outline the centre’s activity more in detail?
The centre was initially established as support to our consultancy activities, which is the core business of our company. More and more often customers are not satisfied with information; they want concrete evidence of what can be achieved. Upon receipt of the customer’s input, the project is developed, and the laboratory carries out the tests necessary for the achievement of such objectives on pilot plants. Relevant samples are produced and at the same time, the know-how is prepared as required for the implementation on an industrial scale. After this phase, the project is completed at the customer’s facilities, with real production and staff training. At our premises we carry out technical/technological training for developing new technologists specialised in the confectionery sector. The fact that NoviLab FOOD is “super partes” and not linked to groups or suppliers of equipment and/or raw materials, ensures maximum objectivity of information and procedures provided: this is an indisputable advantage for our customers. Confidentiality is guaranteed by drawing up specific contracts.
This means that for launching a new product at your centre a company not only finds assistance in the study and research of the best solutions, but also a sort of pre-industrial production of the product itself. Is it correct?
Yes, exactly, and this thanks to pilot plants that faithfully reproduce some stages of industrial production. Tests can be carried out with the customer, until the proper solution is found. The in-house development of a new product frequently entails excessive costs in terms of time and primary materials. Our task consists in reducing at least part of this burden.
Among your customers, there are major trademarks, despite the fact that your activity has just begun. One is inclined to think that behind the initiative there is a unique expertise, yours and of your staff. Which is the personal back-ground of this activity?
Personally, I have been working in the confectionery industry since 1975 (and precisely with cocoa, chocolate, creams, pastes, nuts, candies etc.). I have lived and shared the research and development activity, as well as the factory work with the operators of the lines. In 1988 I started as a consultant; and this allowed me to work with large and small companies, as well as with workshops. These experiences are very important, because they span from sophisticated automation to extreme manual skills, and I think I learned quite a lot absorbing the valuable lessons of each manufacturer. In addition, NoviLab avails itself of experts in bakery goods, ice-cream, labelling regulations and certification requirements, and so on. We are also involving young technology graduates that we, “old” technologists, are training in the best possible way, to guarantee the activity of our centre over time.
As mentioned in the introduction, your centre is located a few kilometres from Novi Ligure, the city of chocolate. We know however, that your field of action is very extensive, and not tied to the local area. Can you tell us in which countries you operate, and in which proportion your activity is divided in Italy and abroad?
We keep an open mind, but it is quite obvious that the initiative is increasingly successful abroad. We engage in important cooperations in Spain, Algeria, Turkey, the US, India, China, Vietnam and Russia; furthermore we have contacts with companies in Serbia, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Iran, Israel etc. In Italy we cooperate with an important confectionery group, but also with many small and medium companies, to which we guarantee continuous assistance. We also work together with equipment manufacturers, supplying all the technological information required for machine set-up. Expressed as a percentage, we might confirm that presently 80% of our activity is directed to foreign countries.
In conclusion we asked Mr. Carrega which is the company’s position with regard to research, applied not only on a case by case basis, but on scientific issues: research the academic world refers to as basic research. Even in this respect NoviLab FOOD operates in harmony with the needs of the sector, cooperating with Universities, and in particular with the Department of Food engineering of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, with headquarters in Piacenza, at which Mr. Carrega is professor in Technologies for confectionery products.