May 2024

A filling line for the times

As extended shelf life (ESL) milk gains in popularity, it is creating opportunities for a more secure and sustainable dairy industry. GEA’s Whitebloc Aero filling line, designed specifically for ESL, is helping major producers like Latteria Soresina in Italy grow their business and shrink their environmental footprint.

Extended shelf life (ESL) milk is having an extended moment around the world – and rightly so. Consumers like it because it stays good for several weeks instead of days, but still has a nutritional and taste profile close to fresh milk. For producers and sellers, the longer shelf life translates into significant efficiency gains. And as the popularity of ESL grows, these gains can have a positive impact on environment and climate: fewer trips to the store for consumers, fewer returns, more streamlined and climate-friendly distribution and transport, and less waste overall. For health, nutrition, food security, environment and climate – it’s a product for our times.

Traditional quality today

Based in the green heartland of northern Italy, Latteria Soresina, is a world leader in the production of Grana Padano and Provolone cheeses, and major regional supplier of an impressive range of cheese, butter, cream, yogurt and milk. In 1900, its founders set out to bring the “excellence of their land to the tables of the world”. 124 years later, the company’s mission is to bring their proud tradition of quality to a wider market more sustainably – and ESL milk figures to play an important part.

“We are a cooperative that operates the same as it did in 1900, as a big family, where everyone has a role to play and respects everyone else’s role,” says Davide Arpini, Technical Director of the Latteria Soresina Group since 2006. “At the same time, our commitment to the future health of our land and grandchildren means promoting greater sustainability in our industry.”

Latteria Soresina recently obtained ISO 14.001 environmental certification and is working to drastically reduce its environmental footprint over the next several years. Along with the increased use of photovoltaics, cogeneration, and LED lighting in its own operations, it has projects in the pipeline to promote water savings, and is constantly working to reduce the carbon footprint of its own products.

Arpini explains why ESL milk is key to their environmental targets. “We are present in the food service and hotel industries in Europe and in international markets. With such large-scale distribution, the potential for waste is significant,” he says. “The limited shelf life of fresh milk presents a huge challenge in terms of returns – having to dispose of the product, but also having to transport it in the process. Our goal is to reduce these returns to zero, which will have a major impact on our carbon footprint. ESL milk makes this possible because we can re-think and optimize our distribution – with a fleet of pickup trucks for dynamic sales that serve major cities, for example – in a way that benefits the environment.”

Milk products
The Aero advantage

In addition to producing its own milk for sale under the Latteria Soresina brand, the company also bottles dairy beverages for other brands. With demand for ESL growing, Latteria Soresina turned to GEA’s Whitebloc Filling System Aero to transition their production from fresh to ESL milk flexibly and sustainably.

“First, Whitebloc Aero line has dual functionality so we can use it to produce both fresh milk and ESL milk – and easily switch between the two modes,” says Arpini. “We will be transitioning to greater production of ESL milk, but still producing large amounts of fresh milk, so the flexibility and simplicity of the Whitebloc Aero is a huge factor.”

In addition to different product types, the Aero can handle a wide range of bottle formats with varying sizes, dimensions and materials, so producers can change bottle formats quickly without having to replace mechanical parts. This is another important factor for Latteria Soresina as they transition to greater use of PET plastic bottles. “PET is not only 100% recyclable but constantly evolving from environmental perspective, says Arpini. “Pre-forms have seen an important, noticeable reduction in weight over the years, which helps optimize distribution even more and achieve the lowest possible impact.”

Overview of Whitebloc Aero
Aseptic know-how for a competitive edge

GEA designed the Whitebloc Aero specifically for ESL beverages. While ESL does not require the same level of decontamination as aseptic filling, the Whitebloc Aero still leverages GEA’s extensive experience in ultra-clean production. Many of the Aero’s features and components – the filling valve, for example – are the same as in the Whitebloc Aseptic, giving customers many of the advantages of aseptic technology but at a lower cost point. “We’re meeting the highest standard for aseptic machines and applying it to ESL beverage production,” explains Massimo Nascimbeni, Product Manager Blowing & Filling. “The Aero can achieve a wide range of decontamination targets on the same system, depending on the required level of product sensitivity and shelf-life for both high and low-acid products. For customers, it means products with a maximum shelf life – and an edge over the competition.”

An added environmental benefit of the Whitebloc Aero is its dry sterilization technology using hydrogen peroxide vapor. “GEA’s dry technology significantly reduces water consumption and overall environmental impact, so this is a very popular solution.”

Davide Arpini,

Technical Director of the Latteria Soresina Group

Latteria Soresina is a longtime customer of the GEA Group for separators and homogenizers, but also for complete lines for milk treatment, pasteurization or heat treatment in general. “By adding the Whitebloc Aero, we benefit from our longstanding relationship with GEA as well as their leading expertise in the field of aseptic technologies and ultra-clean production,” says Arpini. “The Whitebloc Aero also brings real sustainability gains. And ultimately it gives us the flexibility to not only enter the ESL market today, but also to be ready for whatever the market may bring in the future.”

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