Pepper and Brazil: those expressions belongs together! Pepper in Brazil is grown since some decades in Brasilia. Our equatorial climate is one of the most enabling factors. Fertile land, sun, weather conditions – all those factors favorite to grow the most beautiful pepper in the world, without need of chemicals or pesticides. More than 30.000 ha cultivated areas gives us the opportunity to supply 50.000 metric tons per year.
My home, Espírito Santo, is located on the Brazilian Eastern coastline. In this side of the country, we have huge pepper yields grown in the last decades. Those fields are quite new and the pepper plants are very solid. Almost all of our pepper plants are equipped with irrigation systems, so even when EL NINO leads to draught, our production can go on. The production in Espírito Santo is nearly 14.000 mt in 2015 on about 7.500 hectare.
Pepper farmers in Espírito Santo have a great deal of experiences as they grow for years – COFFEE, CACAO and other agricultural products. Together with our business councils in place and our partners in Europe, they are steadily improving the quality. The experience serves to optimize existing technologies and to give new ones. Thus Brazilian pepper producers are very open for requirements.
Brazilian pepper is used all over the world. Our main customers are located in the United States, in Europe and in the neighboring countries. Brazil is traditionally a Pepper Raw Material Exporter, offering qualities like ASTA USA Standard (570-600 g/l), B1 min 560 g/l and B2 min 500 g/l.
There are a lot of different demands on quality, especially from Europe, where it is important to take account of statutory, legal and certifier demands and regulations. But we have a lot of good customers in the EU, especially in Germany, so our aim is to improve our knowledge and our equipment. We are determined to be a solid and trustworthy partner.
Partners in EUROPE
Unfortunately there are far too few importers from Europe visiting Brazil: Perhaps because of the long and arduous journey – perhaps because of the Portuguese language, which is used in Brazil. Heike and Olaf from AKO The Spice Company! visited my family in Brazil in September last year. They have been among the few European importers, who came to see and to audit Brazilian pepper farmers of all scales, warehouses and processors. We knew this was a long journey for them, and we were very happy to make their acquaintance. I know that quite exactly, as my journey from Brazil to Germany was rather tiring. Even now – 6 weeks after arriving in Germany – I sometimes have sleeping problems. Both of the AKOs are curious and asked a lot of questions.
They had an ambitious workload during their journey: small and medium farmers, large plantations and processors in Para (our northern province) and Espirito Santo (Eastern Brazil). Plantings, harvestings, dryings, processings. They wanted to know everything. And during their audits we got an impression of how complicated the European market is.
But of course, his gave us the opportunity to talk together and to learn from each other. Heike and Olaf talked about European demands and new requirements in terms of pepper drying. Together, we found a good solution how to work with each other! I think our conversations gave them – after seeing some other pepper producer – a good feeling about our partnership.
Learning by doing
I am curious, too. So I was very happy, when Heike and Olaf from AKO The Spice Company! invited me for an eight weeks internship in their company. Like this, I could have an insight in European Spice Processing and I could learn more about AKO. I spent my first days in AKO’s laboratory in the headquarters. A modern, very well equipped laboratory at the service of AKO’s customers, quality control on a high level thus monitoring all aspects of quality control, from visual, sensorial, microbiological to chemical/physical analyze – in line with the European quality assurance requirements. AKO also performs special analyzes such as hygiene controls and ELISA tests.
In the forthcoming two weeks, I saw how AKO’s incoming goods controls and end product controls are done. At the beginning, I was very surprised about the straightforwardness and accuracy and the many different analyses they do. But soon I understood, AKO’s definition of quality is related to product safety and product safety is related to its own high understanding on responsibility for their customers.
In the following days, I was in production to learn what AKO is doing to secure the goods and refine the goods. But before doing so, I needed to have a special hygienic training – as everyone working with AKO. The production buildings are new and unlike Brazil a lot of machineries are used. Every room is equipped with hand-washing basins. Hygienic aspects are very important for AKO and all efforts are done personal and production hygiene to do so. Whenever possible, the huge equipments had to been cleaned, pre-production and post-production wise.
Warehouse and production building are protected and nobody can enter those huge halls without permission. Even I needed to have a finger-print ID to work there!
In the warehouse, I saw huge high-racks shelves and different storage areas for different purposes. Only high-rack forklift could manage an impressing height of about 10 Meters. It was really a shame that I did not have a driving license for a fork-lifter!
Although the Brazilian Pepper quality is already pre-cleaned,
AKO is purifying the pepper in a threefold way again. Huge machineries such as wind-sifters, sieves and magnets are in charge to achieve a purity of at least 99, 5%!
AKO also offers grinded pepper and they grind it themselves. I spent a few days in the grinding department, where several mills are installed. Did you know that AKO is using a cold grinding process to keep the essential oil in the pepper at a high level? Now I understand why AKO does not buy grinded products in the origin. AKO is placing importance on fresh milled and secured products. So the grinded end product has to pass several magnets and sieves before being filled in bags. Impossible to have any impurities in it after grinding!
Particularly attracted me the awful lot of documentary work the staff has to do. Every employee had to write down what he did: pre- and postproduction controls, quantities of raw material used, quantity of end products processed and disinfection and cleaning measurements – ato get a maximum on security and ability of tracking
An awful lot of work: that is what I saw in the quality management department of AKO. This company is certified upon FSSC 22000 – which I did not know before. This global Management Standard for Food Safety provides a maximum on food security and I could not imagine before that a company could manage all those requirements. I learnt that passing a certification like FSSC 22000 is a high reward and requires hard work.
I learned that all that supplier audits Heike and Olaf are doing, are part of the FSSC 22000 implemented suppliers selection programs and that is why both are travelling all around the world.
At the end of my internship, I, as a Brazilian pepper guy, know that AKO had installed a lot of upstream and downstream processes to ensure a high quality standard and safety program in their company. Supplier audits, high hygienic standards, a well elaborated work-flow in production, laboratory and quality management.
So while Brazil stands for Agricultural Products and Pepper, Germany is seen as a country of high demands in quality and security in food. Sometimes for us too complicated and sometimes not even logical.
So I am grateful having had the opportunity to learn all those things. I will return to Brazil in February, starting my University career. My life will go on; new experiences are waiting for me. But I will never forget the nice time in Germany and how much I learned about the long way our Brazilian pepper has to pass until European consumers can take safe usage of it.
I really want to thank the people I got in contact with and of course, I hope my connection to Heike and Olaf and to AKO will continue for years…