GEA has played an instrumental role in transforming the entrepreneurial vision of a one-time building contractor into a cutting-edge, modern-day dry pasta enterprise.
Founded in 1908 by a building contractor at the service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Pastificio Felicetti has come a long way in the last 100 years. Despite a background in publishing within the construction industry, Valentino Felicetti had an entrepreneurial vision of “Prima fabbrica Fiemmese di paste alimentari” or the first pasta factory in the Italian Val di Fiemme.
Not at all intimidated by the prospect of getting involved in a completely new market, Valentino was determined to succeed. Fortunately, the next four generations of the family also shared that enthusiasm and drive. They have capitalized on Valentino’s dream and created a company that, today, is one of the top export specialists among medium size, premium pasta manufacturers.
At a thousand meters above sea level, where the Travignolo and Avisio rivers meet, lies Predazzo. Surrounded by majestic peaks, it is also the source of two precious raw materials: water from the Latemar springs and fresh air that passes through the Val di Fassa and Travignolo valleys, which is used to process the best grains the company can acquire.
This strong focus on using natural raw materials and locating in Predazzo is something that has remained unchanged with time. Even in the mid-1970s, when the opportunity arose to move to a more industrially relevant area that had better access to suppliers and more convenient transportation routes, the family chose to stay in Predazzo. The rationale? Grain can be delivered, but you can only use water where it flows.
As such, sustainability and protecting nature are absolute imperatives for Pastificio Felicetti. Present-day CEO, Riccardo Felicetti, believes that living in the middle of the Dolomites almost compels you to respect nature and the area around you, which he thinks is probably very different from what other entrepreneurs feel about their factory’s location. “From our point of view, this creates a huge point of differentiation, and one that is reflected in the quality of our product,” he says.
“This is one of the most important foundations of the company and something that is pivotal to its history. More than a business, more than a simple project, it is part of my family’s heritage. No matter how big Pastificio Felicetti grows, it remains true to its traditional values and original corporate spirit.”
Always looking ahead, the company has constantly invested in new lines, current technologies and modern machinery. And, although, the company’s existing semi-automatic lines had served them well, the 1970s was a decade of change. Looking around the market, it soon became clear that the number of pasta equipment manufacturers was — and is — actually quite limited. But, perhaps a chance purchase, many years ago, was to steer Felicetti in the right direction. In 1946, when the Pavan company was founded, an investment had been made in a die-washing system. And, even though GEA acquired Pavan in 2018, the same commercial relationship still remains in place and has grown from strength to strength.
“The decision to partner with GEA/Pavan was probably made by my grandfather, and the relationship continued with my father,” notes Riccardo, adding: “This is an organization in the world of dry pasta that has developed technologies and processes that are considerably more advanced than many others. Furthermore, they have applied these innovations as a way to move away from certain traditional concepts that are very good for advertising campaigns or talking to consumers, but much less so for manufacturers.”
During the decision-making process of the late-1970s, the company found itself facing a technological and qualitative leap forward, both from the point of view of the plant itself and the engineering concepts that were fundamental to its operations. “This convinced us to invest in our first GEA/Pavan machines and, with time, we integrated more and more equipment and components into the Predazzo site,” Riccardo says.
Between 1979 and 2009, a series of investments resulted in the acquisition of multiple short-cut and long-cut pasta lines (with capacities up to 1500 kg/h and 1000 kg/h, respectively), the implementation of Thermo Active System (TAS) dryers and a 300 kg/h nest-shape line (including flour handling, storage, packaging and dies and molds).
The Molina facility
Continuing the GEA collaboration at the company’s new Molina plant, equipment installation commenced in October 2020 and was completed in April 2021. Ancillary plant was then integrated and the commissioning process took until August 2021 to finalize. In place at the facility are a 1500 kg/h long-cut pasta line and a 2100 kg/h short-cut pasta line, both of which are equipped with TAS dryers.
Drying is one of the most delicate and important phases of the pasta production process; the rapid reduction in water content and the progressive increase in temperature block the expansion of starches and activate proteinic coagulation, leading to a product with improved color, flavor and cooking performance. TAS technology, which alternates between drying and stabilization phases, maintains the product in a plastic and porous state throughout the process and keeps the Maillard reaction under control.
Thanks to integrated software, each stage can be controlled within defined tolerances to keep both the temperature and humidity conditions constant. Furthermore, with no need for supplementary machinery, TAS technology also ensures a uniform production process, the efficient use of energy and drying times of less than 2 and 5 hours for short-cut and long-cut pasta, respectively. Another benefit of using a high-temperature process is that it eliminates the risk of contamination.
Key purchase drivers throughout the company’s expansion were the capability of the machines to meet their needs, flexibility and, above all, the level of communication between GEA’s engineers and Felicetti’s own technicians. “As a pasta factory, we are slightly unusual in terms of the types of products we make and the high levels of quality we demand; it is also important for us that consumers understand that although our products are made by machines, they are made by machines that respond very well to what our people ask them to do. GEA helped us to achieve that goal,” notes Riccardo.
Preserving the future
And, of course, as highlighted in GEA’s recent Mission 26 statement, taking a “holistic climate and sustainability approach” is a fundamental part of the company’s underlying commitment to “engineering for a better world.” Both the pasta sector and today’s food industry need quick and concrete solutions that enable environmentally aware manufacturers to provide products that have a reduced ecological impact and, at the same time, meet market demands and satisfy final consumers.
As an example, the availability of cutting-edge systems and novel technologies that contribute to a reduced environmental footprint is a trend that is playing an important role in the decision-making process of producers and consumers. Using more planet-friendly packaging, for example, is considered to be a fundamental step forward for the food industry. At Felicetti, not only are both lines able to process organic flours and pasta, they are also fitted with new systems that can handle 100 percent paper packaging.
“Environmental ethics have always been a fundamental objective for Felicetti,” adds Riccardo: “There cannot be development without sustainability and we do not want to take anything away from nature and from our area. Our packaging is not only recyclable, it is also biodegradable, compostable and sustainable. What is more, it is breathable and protects the pasta from external agents without creating condensation or humidity to preserve its organoleptic properties.”
Using only pure local water, fresh air, sustainably sourced raw materials and green technologies, we are determined to safeguard the natural surroundings of our pasta factory and the wider world”– Riccardo Felicetti, Pastificio Felicetti CEO
Keeping up with the times
Looking forward, Riccardo sees a growing market for dry pasta. Why? Because pasta is an extremely important food staple that addresses the nutritional needs of a growing global population. What is more, cereals are a sustainable resource and products derived from these crops will certainly benefit from the changing climatic conditions that are affecting the world’s agriculture.
How will the product evolve? He believes that dry pasta should become increasingly available to a wider population. In 1967 for example, the Italian “pasta purity” law stated that pasta could only be produced using durum wheat. This made Italian pasta much more usable, which means it is simpler to cook, easier to use and much more accessible.
Of course, technology has helped to augment this usability. “We now have products all over the world that can be prepared and eaten exactly as they would be here in Val di Fiemme or anywhere in Italy. I am hoping that we will not experience another huge technological upheaval, though, as we have just installed two additional “traditional” machines. Respect for the environment and a stronger focus on a healthier diet will massively impact the future of the dry pasta market, as will the use of vegetable proteins, but all of this can only benefit the end product and ensure its longevity.”