Guaranteed gluten free raw ingredients: thanks to our farmers
We at Schär take our responsibility as a supplier of gluten free products very seriously, because we know that a gluten free diet is a question of confidence as well as taste. Our promise to delivery the highest quality, security and sustainability begins far before the production stage. It starts when we conduct research into the best seeds and in our strictly controlled cultivation of gluten free cereals.
We are proud of our own cereal cultivation under the management of trained, certified Schär contract farmers, who supply us with the most important raw ingredients for our products. This allows us to be absolutely sure that everything remains is supplied from a single source, from sowing and harvesting to processing and the finished product. It also allows us to guarantee you premium gluten free quality. Every raw ingredient must first pass the strict controls of our in-house quality laboratory before it can be used in production. This means that all Schär products are guaranteed gluten free and contain no artificial sweeteners, flavour enhancers, colourings or ingredients from GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Selected farmers with long-term cultivation contracts
During our many years of experience at Schär, we have built up a network of selected farmers for the controlled cultivation of the most important gluten free raw ingredients in Italy, Austria and other European regions. We have gradually perfected the cultivation of rice and maize. The cultivation contract with the farmers covers the entire period from sowing to harvest, i.e. until the raw ingredients are delivered to and accepted by the grain mills run by Schär. After delivery to Schär's production facilities, the flours must pass further quality tests before they are allowed into Schär’s bakeries.
The Schär cultivation plan defines the seed the farmers use, the minimum cultivation area, the yield and the distance to adjacent fields they must guarantee in order to be able to deliver their grain uncontiminated by gluten or other allergens, heavy metals or fungal toxins. Schär’s agronomists visit the fields periodically to check the health of the plants and harvest, carry out measurements and take samples for analysis. This intensive advice and support is a huge bonus for the farmers.
“Although the documentation for controlled cultivation presents an enormous amount of work for the farmers and for us, it is the only way to ensure transparent traceability for the entire workflow and guarantee security”, explains Eduard Bernhart, Head of Schär Agricultural Projects.
The crucial moment is the harvest. Especially in climatically difficult years, maize, for example, can be contaminated with fungal toxins. Schär farmers therefore deliver their maize to the partner mills earlier than conventional farmers in order to reduce this risk significantly. In addition, the drivers of the harvesting vehicles must submit documentation guaranteeing that the harvesting equipment has been thoroughly cleaned. If the harvested cereals meet expectations, the vegetation cycle ends in a win-win situation. Schär can count on guaranteed premium gluten free quality for its most important raw ingredients. Farmers appreciate the added value of information, expertise and monitoring, as well as security of purchase at a fair price.
Although the cooperation with Schär is hard work for the committed farmers, they are proud when their raw ingredients overcome the hurdles for the production of gluten free Schär specialities and contribute to the quality of life for people with special nutritional needs.
Sustainable concepts: cultivation of second-generation raw ingredients
At Schär, we not only want gluten free products to provide people with more enjoyment of life; we also want to set ecological and ethical quality standards. Accordingly, controlled cultivation is entering a new phase: our agronomists are motivating our hard-working contract farmers to reduce water consumption. Innovative irrigation methods such as drip irrigation can save up to two thirds of water consumption. They are also encouraging farmers to adopt advanced planting methods, such as rotation of different cereals instead of intensive monocultures, the cultivation of catch crops and the use of protective sheeting. This allows promotion of the natural balance in the soil, significant reduction of the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and an increase in the cereals’ natural nutrients.
An in-house research team for an optimum gluten free harvest
We at Schär have been conducting intensive fundamental research for a long time in order to determine which seeds are most suitable for gluten free cultivation. The aim is to determine which properties the plants must have and which nutritional and baking properties the raw ingredients should have so that they are optimally suited to the requirements of the production of gluten free products and meet our customers’ taste expectations. The “Filiera”, as the entire chain of controlled cultivation from sowing to delivery of the raw ingredients is also called in Italian, begins in our research department. This is located in the Area Science Park research centre in Trieste and is the foundation stone for our first-class raw ingredients.
In addition to rice and maize, other gluten free cereals and pseudo-cereals such as millet, oats and buckwheat are also playing an increasingly important role in processing. They offer not only more nutrients and taste in the latest gluten free Schär products, but also advantages in terms of biodiversity. The ongoing RE-CEREAL research project is therefore currently investigating the cultivation of millet, buckwheat and oats in the Alpine border region between Italy and Austria in order to convince local farmers that they present a worthwhile alternative to the cultivation of monocultures.
Rice: an example of security from field to shelf
In order to better understand the complex processes and strict controls, let’s follow a Schär rice grain from sowing through to the processed product.
- Selection of growing area and rice variety: Rice cultivation has a long tradition in northern Italy. However, a grain of rice that is designed to end up in a gluten free Schär product does not come from just any field in this region. Only farmers who identify with the company’s philosophy are considered and become long-term partners. Our agronomists regularly check the cultivated areas. The only rice varieties that are cultivated are those that have been selected by Schär for their excellent properties and high quality.
- Training farmers: We maintain a close, trusting relationship with our rice farmers. Schär provides farmers with thorough training to prevent contamination with cereals that contain gluten or other allergens during cultivation.
- Controlled cultivation: No cereals that contain gluten may be grown on the fields beforehand. Sufficient distance must also be maintained from other cultures, roads and industrial areas. All the necessary tools, machines and vehicles must be cleaned before harvesting. Cultivated rice must be planted according to strict guidelines for gluten free foods. After the rice grain has been carefully ripened, harvested and dried under the best conditions, its husk is removed and it is polished.
- Safe processing in the mill: Before it goes to the mill, the grain is loaded into separate or cleaned transporters. Since the risk of contamination by fine flour dust in a mixed-cereal mill would be very high, the rice used by Schär is only processed in mills that grind exclusively gluten free cereals. Here, too, quality controls are conducted on a regular basis.
- Tested quality in the Schär quality laboratory: The rice grain leaves the mill as fine flour and is transported to one of Schär’s production facilities. Before the flour is used in crispy pizza bases, pasta or cakes, samples are taken from the receiving warehouse. Schär’s quality laboratory tests these products for certain characteristics. The moisture, water absorption capacity and organoleptic properties of the flour are tested, as of course is the presence of gluten, other allergens and micro-organisms. It may only be unloaded if it meets the quality requirements.
- Controlled production in Schär’s production facilities: The flour is processed with other raw ingredients according to tried and tested recipes to produce one of the numerous Schär products. Controls ensure consistent product quality. Finished foodstuffs are then subjected to a final inspection. Only if they meet the specifications and standards are they transported to the points of sale.
- Fast delivery to the point of sale: With fresh products, such as Master Baker’s breads, speed is of the essence. An efficient distribution chain guarantees that these products are available on the shelves within the shortest possible time.