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Exclusive: Dacsa reveals current strategic plant-based sector insights

7 min read
AUTHOR: Ana Delgado

Food Matters Live sat down with one of the most expert companies in the milling industry, Dacsa Group, as they revealed previously unshared insights about their recent industry activities.

With over 40 years’ of experience in their three key business areas: Rice Milling, Corn Milling and Food Solutions, Dacsa hold ten production plants in seven different locations across Europe and are the leading dry corn milling company all its sectors.

Sunil Mahtani, Dacsa’s International Business Development Manager, shared with us extremely thoughtful and competitive insights regarding the plant-based industry: past, the present and the future.

What were the main key take-aways from your talk at Food Matters Live?

Mahtani recaps on the main take-aways of Dacsa’s session at Food Matters Live and the key aspects which allow this European giant to succeed in the plant-based market.

Firstly, Mahtani emphasises the importance of being truly customer focused and understanding what consumers expect as a means to be able to deliver the products that they look for. In Dacsa’s case, this means understanding what their B2B target market wants and needs, as well as the end-consumer. Dacsa must ensure that they are always “one step ahead” and “understand what industrial companies’ customers will want so that we can help them deliver products the market will require.”

Success in the plant-based market relies on “working very closely in a well-knit ecosystem with different kinds of companies who can provide valuable information about the market and add value to any part of the entire supply chain.” He concludes his points by reporting that “it’s all about understanding the market so that we can help our customer, industrial companies, who will then process and transform our ingredients into end products.”

Mahtani further comments on the importance of gathering the necessary information to understand what forms of innovation the market really needs:“open innovation inspires collaboration and makes you go through a reflective process where you humbly have to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are.” The value of undergoing this reflective work is that it places you in an ideal position to be able to “surround yourself with other companies or partners who can help you cover your weaknesses and capitalise on your strengths.” In all, this allows companies within the plant-based sector to be able to “approach the market with a value proposition which is strong and compelling enough.”

What work or initiatives are Dacsa currently undertaking in order to fulfil their mission of “meeting the demands of our customers in full cooperation with them and suiting their needs beyond their expectations”? 

Similar to many companies in the food space, Dacsa have seen their sales increase over the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in many products quickly fly off the supermarket shelves. Mahtani comments on this by reporting that for Dacsa, “the main challenge was to be able to channelise all of the demand, especially, when it came to supermarkets, for example, as we’ve had to do extra hours to be able to comply with stock shortages.” With many of the company’s products being a commodity, Mahtani states that Dacsa have “had some of the major players, in Spain for example, giving us a shout and saying hey, we need you to help us out because there are no rice packets on our shelves” and how these significant demand changes have “pushed Dacsa to their limit”.

Dacsa Group “aims to become the partner of choice for its customers by bringing added value solutions to the Food Ingredients market.” What valuable solutions has Dacsa recently been working on or developed? 

At the moment, given current consumer trends within the industry, Dacsa’s plant-based portfolio works with clean labels, natural ingredients and allergen-free products. The company has been testing the application of these ingredients in their labs to discover how they can substitute certain products that the market is used to consuming daily and increase their nutritional profile instead. In addition, Dacsa’s current focus is to be able to develop product substitutes to meet consumer demands while nonetheless, not compromising on the taste or texture consumers look for when consuming these products, which Mahtani reports to be “quite challenging.”

In the same vein, Dacsa have been continuing the development of their gluten-free products and adapting to consumer demands regarding nutrition profiles. For example, many consumers are currently looking to reduce the amount of carbohydrates and increase the amount of protein they are obtaining from their diets. Dacsa has thus been developing products with alternative ingredients to heavy carbohydrates such as pasta, with new ingredients such as pulses. The company also have a range of pre-gelatinised flours which can be used in a large variety of applications to help increase yields when introduced into a production system. Mahtani says that it all depends on “what customers’ needs are and if we can help them with our ingredients, then we work hand-in-hand with them to understand precisely what they want and how we can provide this for them with our ingredients.”

There has been a significant rise in plant-based products over the last few years within the industry – what significant changes have Dacsa seen in the last 5-10 years in terms of growth, change or expansion?

Mahtani begins to answer this question by stating how “the plant-based space today has nothing to with what it was 10 years back” and how “10 years ago, plant-based products were merely a thought, 5 years ago they were a trend and today, they are mainstream.” The International Business Development Manager further states that “consumers have understood that plant-based products are not just a healthier choice but likewise a more sustainable one.” He further explains that “when you analyse the numbers and delve into who is actually consuming plant-based products, you understand that it’s predominantly the younger generations and people within the 18- to 35-year-old age range. These are the consumers who are thinking about what kind of a planet they want to live in, what kind of future they want to give their children and are taking the necessary action in order to act sustainably through their diets.”

Mahtani elaborates that “dairy substitutes, for example, have absolutely nailed the endeavour to meet these consumers trends and have been able to take a very strong position in the plant-based market to the point where now, it’s actually strange when you go to a café and they don’t offer dairy milk alternative options.

But that’s still not happening in the meat sector as many restaurants currently aren’t able to provide consumers with plant-based meat alternatives, or a meat analogue, and instead simply rely on vegetable dishes for those not looking to consume animal products.”

He further comments that “I think the challenge is ensuring that we are capable of mimicking the experiences that customers are used to, and I think there has been great progress over the past two years in that sense, with a lot more coming our way with the technological advances we’ve recently seen such as plant-based 3D printing. It’s a huge change and it will take time, but it’s happening.”

Don’t forget to join our Ingredient Insights issue next week as we unveil more insight into Dacsa’s role as Plant-Based Lead Partner at Food Matters Live in June.

View Dacsa’s Ingredient Discovery session at Food Matters Live, along with our other partners and Ingredient Innovators.