Taking a different view on tomorrow's food

Meet Sumit Pingle, one of our curious minds

The human population and protein consumption are both growing at an unprecedented rate, while the available space for food production is shrinking. An estimated 85 percent of the Earth’s potential agricultural land is already secured for food production but, by 2050, humans are expected to number more than 9 billion, requiring a 50 percent increase in the delivery of high-quality protein. Alfa Laval has teamed up with Bühler Insect Technology Solutions (BITS) to deliver process solutions for insect protein on a bigger scale. Although insects are considered a delicacy in some countries, the primary focus is on insect farming to produce animal feed. Alfa Laval’s more than 50 years’ experience in protein processing (using e.g. meat, fish and soya beans), means that the company is at the forefront of developing new solutions for both plant-based and alternative protein sources – and is also expanding the boundaries of what has previously been impossible.

Sumit Pingle has had many years’ experience working with different protein sources and process solutions. According to him, it is Alfa Laval’s extensive know-how plus the fact that all Alfa Laval’s core products are needed in the process solutions for protein production, which have made the company a significant and well-known supplier to the industry. When protein companies are looking at new feedstocks, they turn to the partner with the biggest technological competence and the most reliable product portfolio. That is why Alfa Laval is teaming up with the most curious partners to challenge the boundaries of protein processing.

After a long career in the energy sector working with finance, supply chain, sales and management, you joined Alfa Laval in 2014 and are now in your second position, as head of Agro and Protein Systems. What are the drivers that have made you successful?

“I would say my curiosity… I'm driven by learning and understanding new areas, and how we can improve our business to win the market. When we understand those business opportunities then we can apply our product portfolio to win our customers’ trust. Wanting to learn and understand new areas is a good driver for how to improve and get better. It could be finding methods of identifying business opportunities or approaching new customer groups. I am a bit competitive. I want to win but I want to win smartly… Another important thing is that I constantly challenge myself and my colleagues to do things better with the customer in mind. It is the only way to expand current boundaries and find new solutions to current and future challenges.”

You work with protein processing. And apart from processing protein from well-known feedstocks such as fish and meat, Alfa Laval is now also developing solutions for algae and plant-based ingredients – and even has processes to extract protein from insects! When designing completely new process solutions – how do you go about it?

“First of all, before going into something new, we need to ensure that there is a strategic fit, and that it’s in line with what we can and want to do; meaning, is this new opportunity in line with our growth strategy? Is there a substantial, long-term market for it? And if the answer is ‘yes’ then we can start developing. We must be humble and respect the fact that it is a new and relatively unknown process so we cannot assume that we know everything. We need to listen to the experts; respecting them and their experience and knowledge, and bringing them into the project. We find our experts both within and outside the company. We have one of the best teams of process experts in the world. But it helps to partner up with complementary portfolios and to understand what they are doing. Sometimes, it is with customers or suppliers, and we also cooperate with universities. We must learn as much as possible to make the right decision on how to proceed. And if we can identify a known or similar application, we can build our changes on that instead of reinventing the wheel. A key success factor is to listen and learn and have the courage to take decisions! Sometimes process development is not a complete paradigm shift, but more of an incremental change.”

“A key success factor is to listen and learn, and have the courage to take decisions!”
Sumit Pingle, Head of Agro and protein systems, Alfa Laval

Recently you developed a new process solution for the industrial-scale processing of insect-based proteins. What were the key success factors in the teamwork?

“Diversity, flexibility and an open environment where you can speak your mind. Without this, collaboration is impossible. And in Alfa Laval, we have a culture that encourages this. In addition, we have great process experts and sales professionals. They know what they are talking about and have the experience and the willingness to challenge boundaries. They share what they know – and what they don't know. It is also about getting support and empowerment for your ideas. At Alfa Laval, we are encouraged to challenge the status quo and raise our voice and say: ‘Well, I think we should do this because…’ And then there is testing, which is extremely important when working with new applications. It can be lab testing and testing at our pilot-scale test facilities or with customers and partners. You must try and learn from the results and even your mistakes sometimes. In parallel, it is important to map the market. I mean, it could be a great new solution but if there's no market, no long-term demand for it, then you should not put any effort into it at all.”

You have been with Alfa Laval since 2014. What would you say are the best things about working for the company?

“Well, top of mind, it is the great colleagues! And the culture we have in our company where we are encouraged to challenge the traditional boundaries to accelerate the success for our customers and us as a company. When I joined the company some years ago, I also wanted to work in strong business areas that are also good for our planet. I realized that Alfa Laval really does contribute like few other companies. We are working with industries where we clean water, recover heat, reduce CO2 emissions and use natural resources in a responsible manner. In my areas, it is about food-waste reduction, sustainability, and the circular economy. They are all nice buzzwords but that is actually what I am working with: finding new ways to feed our planet!”

Sumit Pingle, Head of Agro and protein systems, Alfa Laval

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Food-waste reduction, sustainability, circular economy… they are nice buzzwords but that is actually what I am working with: finding new ways to feed our planet.”