From nonexistent as a food crop in the early 1900s, soy leaped to the top of the charts in the second half of the 20th century until big business began tampering with its genetic material. Now Brazilian processing company Brejeiro is leading the way back to au naturelle soy for their consumers.
Brejeiro Produtos Alimenticios, S.A., a grain processor in Sao Paulo, is a trusted supplier of both raw materials and final products in Brazil’s agro-economic sector. Brejeiro was founded in 1944 by Max Leonardo Define in Orlandia, Sao Paulo. The family-owned company developed and sold various improved agricultural products, starting with cotton. Over time, the Brejeiro name became identified with rice, which was sold in bulk at agricultural fairs and local markets.
“In the 1940s,” says Guilherme Define, Brejeiro’s general manager, “people wanting grain would go to a neighborhood store and ask for so many kilograms or liters and buy it in small bags. Rice wasn’t pre-packaged as it is today; it was sold by weight.
Brejeiro pioneered the idea of packaged rice with a logo. In the mid-1950s when supermarkets began to appear, the presence of bulk containers was inappropriate. Brejeiro took the lead as the first Brazilian company to break down a bulk product into smaller measured amounts, package it, and sell it with a logo. At a time when rice was normally sold by weight, this was completely new.
By the early 1970s, Brejeiro had consolidated most of the rice business in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and opened a division to extract rice oil. Today Brejeiro markets five types of packaged rice and bottled oil in 900 ml or 18 L bottles. While rice is still 10 percent of Brejeiro’s invoicing, the company has moved primarily into processing soy.
Soybeans are an important global crop for both vegetable oil and defatted soy protein, with a growing proportion consumed by humans in a variety of processed foods. In 1975, Brejeiro diversified into soy oil with the “Sublime” label.
In the 1980s, Brejeiro began making hydrogenated vegetable fat for fats and margarines and investments in the soy oil refining process resulted in its recognition as pure and superior to the bland tasting cotton and rice oils. But with hydrogenated oil transfat newly discovered as unhealthy, Brejeiro was determined to process only soy, not transfats. One of Brejeiro’s top industrial products is Hidrogenada, a no-transfat vegetable fat sold to Brazilian food manufacturers including Bauduco and Unileve.
Brejeiro’s Orlandia facility has 250 employees and the capacity to crush 1,200 tons of soy per day. Brejeiro markets more than 400,000 tons of soy annually, and all soy Brejeiro now processes is certified free of transfat.
“With 30,000 tons of soy per month, we produce 5,000 tons of oil and 24,000 tons of bran,” says Define. “The bran is sold for animal food and the oil becomes low transfat vegetable oil.”
Environmentally conscious, the company has consumers exchange old oil for new oil at stores. Brejeiro collects and recycles it to produce diesel fuel. This program was implemented for the Orlandia plant and is expanding to other cities.
In addition, during the 1990s, Brejeiro perfected the extraction of soy lecithin, which subsequently received the HACCP certificate of quality. Soy lecithin is a healthy by-product of soybean processing and is used in a variety of processed foods as an emulsifier to blend ingredients like water and oil. It is only 0.6 percent of the soy, so that 100 tons of soybeans produce just three-quarters of a ton of lecithin. Since all chocolate contains lecithin as a stabilizer, one of Brejeiro’s largest clients is Ferrero Rocher, the internationally known chocolate manufacturer.
“Our lecithin is of excellent quality and we deliver to any country in the world,” says Define. “Our clients want that consistent quality, even though lecithin is a tiny percentage of the chocolate.”
Brejeiro’s third branch of operation is the production of soy seed in partnership with farmers and centers of development and soy research, such as The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária) or EMBRAPA. Using three hubs, one in Uporanga, SP, one in Uberaba, MG, and one in Anapolis, GO, seed is collected, cached, and prepared to be sold for the next harvest.
Early in 2003, having consolidated its position processing rice and soy lecithin, Brejeiro moved into a new market niche selling retail soybeans. Packaged kilos now appear in the display cases of Sao Paulo supermarkets and projected sales are 150 metric tons by the end of the year.
ENSURING THE FUTURE
In 2008, to strengthen the image of Brazil as an exporter of non-GMO (genetically modified) grain, Brejeiro began working with a group of Brazilian soy processors who launched a collaborative association to guarantee the availability of grains free of GMOs. This consortium is ABRANGE, the Brazilian Association of Non- Genetically Modified Grain, which intends to become the world’s premier supplier of GMO-free soy. ABRANGE consists of the world’s largest soy producing group Andre Maggi; the Brazilian grain crushing group is comprised of Brejeiro, Caramuru, Imcopa, and Vanguarda, with facilities in the states of San Paulo, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Paraná, Tocantins, and Bahia.
ABRANGE estimates European Union demand for unmodified soy and meal at 20 percent of total imports or around eight million tons annually. Together, the five firms handle around six million tons of unmodified grain annually. Non-GM produce demands a premium to cover additional costs of keeping it separate during transportation and storage, and to motivate growers.
“A few years ago we identified a market niche to work with nontransgenics,” said ABRANGE President Cesar Borges de Sousa, also vice president of Caramuru Alimentos, “and we want to make it clear that as long as Europe wants to buy them, our association is here to grow them.“
According to Sousa, with the creation of the ABRANGE, Brazil establishes itself as the main certified producer of non-GM grain and products. The last Brazilian soy crop totaled 60 million tons, with 24 million tons being non-GM. Europe is currently the main market for non-GM Brazilian grain. ABRANGE executives plan to promote it by participating in international events in 2009 in Belgium, England, France, and Germany.
Osíres de Melo, an ABRANGE board member, says Asian countries produce tofu and soy sauce only from non-GM soy. He also observed that foreign demand for meat from Brazil is escalating and that many markets demand animal feed free of GM.
“ABRANGE plays a fundamental part in refuting the idea that there is no demand for non-GM grain.” Melo said, adding that “buyers need to get in touch with us so we know what they need. France’s annual demand for non-GM soy chaff is 20 percent of five million tons. Last year, supply couldn’t meet the demand.“
Determining growth can be difficult since price competition is strong for common products such as rice, bran, and vegetable oil. Distinctive products such as lecithin, vegetable fat, and the textured soy protein for industrial clients enabled Brejeiro to survive tough market conditions of the past. Catering to the most demanding industries in Brazil, Brejeiro supplies large companies such as Nestle and Bauduco which require high quality control.
“A growth market is very hard to calculate over a long period and prices are so volatile, “says Define. “Soy is our top product. We experienced considerable growth through 2004, then the market began to decline and 2005 through 2007 were years of depression. We invoiced R$525 million in 2004 and about R$330 million in 2007. The price of soy was about 50-55 reais per ton and now is about 25 reais. But things are now growing again and 2008 has been a good year; another growth period.”