What are the latest technologies in large-scale food preparation? To find out we visited the Bologna Interport, one of the largest intermodal logistics platforms in Europe, where EAT HAPPY GROUP, a company specialized in the production of sushi for large-scale retail trade, is based. During our journey inside the production plant – where to enter you have to wash yourself but above all cover yourself well, because the temperature is constant between 0 and 4 degrees – dozens of workers work on 2,000 m2 but are given a “great hand” by the automation and technology.
Warehouses and food reception
Our journey starts from the warehouse where the company receives the raw materials: we are talking about sauces, cheeses, vegetables and obviously fish. Here there are two completely automated cold rooms at 0-4 degrees and two cells at -20 degrees: in this way, explains CEO Andrea Calistri who accompanies us inside the factory, it is possible to automate spaces and volumes. Everything moves automatically, controlled and above all tracked, according to the dictates of Industry 4.0. The receipt of materials takes place through a production plan designed by engineers who establish how much raw material must be purchased, and therefore processed, every day based on calculations and algorithms.
The interior of the kitchen is very different from what we imagined. We are not in front of the kitchen of a restaurant, but rather a very spacious place where three machines are located: a machine that washes the rice, a machine that cooks it, a machine that breaks it down. The three machines are managed centrally and are controlled remotely, as well as by the operators physically present on site. The cooking (EAT HAPPY GROUP cooks around 400 kilos of rice per day) takes place in ultra-technological ovens with an “armored” recipe after which, thanks to a futuristic machine with few examples in the world nicknamed Stardust, the rice is brought in around 3 minutes to the 95 degrees (cooking temperature) to 22-24 degrees (processing temperature): a third of the time of traditional blast chillers.
The preparation of sushi
Where we could technologize much more (and instead it was decided not to) is the actual preparation phase of the sushi. Here we find “only” machinery that creates the balls for the nighiri, that creates the bed of rice and closes the seaweed, that cuts the maki. Everything else is done by hand in a traditional way. “To date – explains Calistri – we want to maintain the craftsmanship of the product and ensure that the sushi tray inside the supermarket is very similar to the one you might find in a restaurant. We have automation processes but there are many other activities that could be made automatic, from cutting salmon which today is done entirely by hand, to cutting vegetables. But this would mean not maintaining the craftsmanship of the product.”
About EAT HAPPY GROUP
German multinational with headquarters in Cologne, EAT HAPPY GROUP has been present in Italy since 2018 with two brands: EAT HAPPY, a corner in supermarkets where sushi is prepared on the spot, and Wakame Italia, a widespread network of display cases and refrigerators present in supermarkets where the sushi prepared in the Bologna factory we visited is sold. Small curiosity: all Wakame brand refrigerators are networked with a control center that monitors the temperature and acts in the event of a malfunction. EAT HAPPY GROUP in Italy produces from 10 to 14 thousand boxes of sushi every day.