The light pink color of some yogurts, the light red hue in some ice creams and baked goods and the deep, nearly violet red in various varieties of sweets and desserts rarely comes from the main ingredients in these foods. The reason is that little color remains from the fruit and vegetables after industrial processing. Food manufacturers therefore use food coloring, and they are increasingly creating these from natural sources. Diana Food offers a broad range of these natural colorings for various shades of red – for instance, from purple carrots, berries and especially red beets. “We use these plants because their powerful color pigments can be easily processed during production and are well suited for our applications,” says Laurette Gratteau in praise of beets, which are also used to add flavor to soups and stews. One number highlights this fact: “We process more than 30,000 tons of red beets into powders and fluid concentrates each year,” says the agronomist.
Local Sourcing: A Pillar of Sustainability
The biologist, who worked in research and development before coming to Diana, is very familiar with this raw material, which the company sources from over 30 farmers and cooperatives in northern France. “The longest path from the field to the factory takes perhaps three or four hours. This regional growing lowers transport costs and also keeps CO2 emissions to a minimum.” Laurette Gratteau visits the fields, which comprise 500 hectares or more, as often as possible. She keeps in close contact with the producers – some of whom have been supplying Diana Food for more than 15 years. “We have a very close partnership that allows for both sides to be clear about what they need and want.” The farmers are well informed on how to grow beets. The agronomists at Diana Food advise them, for instance, during the planting season and the harvesting period. They also collect samples and pass on the results of their research, ensuring that during production the vegetable can be processed with maximum efficiency and the highest yield.
At the same time, with its regular visits and audits Diana ensures that the principles of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative are complied with – an initiative that has been joined by more than 80 companies in the food industry. The company also monitors soil quality and the use and selection of fertilizers and pesticides to ensure a sustainably grown raw material as the final product.
»The longest path from the field to the factory takes perhaps three or four hours.«
Laurette Gratteau Agronomist
Developing Better Cultivation Methods
But sustainability is not just about quality control. Laurette Gratteau knows all about the challenges that can arise in the fields – and works with her team to tackle these. “We had a few farmers, whose lands experienced a fungal attack that reduced the beet harvest from about 80 tons to somewhere between ten and 20 tons per hectare while also affecting their color.” The producers, who were longstanding Diana suppliers, were worried, she recalls. Instead of dropping the suppliers, she immersed herself in the topic to help them find a solution. “There was no existing antidote that we could use in this case. Instead, we had to start experimenting with cultivation methods to ensure that the infection didn’t spread to the other fields,” explains Laurette Gratteau. She also involved external experts on the case, and the costs were split between the farmer and Diana.
The team advised using various watering volumes and schedules, changing the fertilizer and plowing the fields at different times. The project is still ongoing, but they have already seen progress. “We are satisfied with the insights and should be able to avoid similar cases in the future,” says the agronomist, who has four knowledgeable colleagues assisting her. The experiences will also be shared with other farmers and will be further studied by Diana’s own research and development team. “Through our commitment, we are creating added value for our suppliers and for ourselves. We can achieve top product quality while ensuring its availability in the future.”