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“Sustainability has given us a purpose and a reason to exist”

Interview with Goizane Lizarralde, head of R&D at Okin

What does your company do?

Okin is a company that has been dedicated exclusively to the manufacture of frozen bread for 30 years, specifically frozen pre-cooked bread. Our brand is present in almost all retail outlets in Spain and 15% of our turnover comes from exports to countries such as France, Belgium and Italy.

One of our defining characteristics is that everything we produce is Clean Label, i.e. without additives or preservatives, which is one of the requirements when producing a new one. Our company is also characterised by the use of renewable energy in the production process of our products.

How important is sustainability for your company?

At Okin, we do not understand innovation without sustainability and in recent years we have been working more actively on this aspect. We all have to be aware, both consumers and buyers, companies and governments, that all our decisions have an impact on the environment.

For this reason, since 2020 we have had a multi-departmental working group made up of Management, Quality, Logistics, R&D, Prevention and Marketing, which defends and ensures that all projects are carried out based on this strategic axis, which is so important for Okin. In this way, sustainability has given us a purpose and a reason to exist.

What are the main challenges and opportunities facing the cereal sector in terms of sustainability?

The cereal sector in Spain is taking important steps to identify the challenges of the future thanks to the work being carried out by the Spanish Association of Cereal Technicians (AETC).

An example of this can be found in the XXXV AETC Technical Conference, whose title “Beyond 2030” gave a good account of the problems currently affecting the sector. To this end, various presentations were held over several days, focusing on the challenges facing the sector, which is increasingly being called upon to be more environmentally sustainable and which is struggling to achieve economic sustainability at the same time.

What is your role in the LIFE Innocereal EU project?

Our role in the LIFE Innocereal EU project is as a partner beneficiary, assessing the baking quality of the common wheat sown during the project through good agricultural practices. Thus, once the wheat has been sown and transformed into baking flour, we are in charge of scoring the baking quality of the wheat in our facilities under various parameters, such as protein or elasticity, so that the bread finally has the necessary characteristics for its introduction on the market.

In the same way, we have also supported in the elaboration of the Manual of Good Practices.

What will it mean for your company to work together with others to create a certification system for low-carbon cereals at European level?

If there are several links within the sector that are committed, in the end we will have a good result. For us, collaborating with other companies is enriching; we innovate by collaborating with laboratories, technology centres, etc.

Furthermore, it is important to point out that the creation of a certification seal for low-carbon cereals, which identifies the sustainable production of products such as bread, would give consumers the ability to make informed decisions about the purchase of this product.

Finally, what benefits can this project bring to companies in the cereal sector?

This project will be able to position the sector as an industry that has managed to overcome a deeply entrenched system.

Ultimately, if we don’t start working within the value chain in this way, based on sustainable cereal production through new technologies, I don’t know if we will have wheat in 2050.