Located in Madison, Wisconsin, Tribe 9 Foods (Tribe 9) is a specialty foods company dedicated to creating delicious, nourishing and functional food. For the past four years, the company has built a reputation for producing exceptional fresh and cooked, traditional and gluten-free pastas for retail, foodservice, contract manufacturing and private label customers throughout the United States.

Through its Taste Republic® brand, Tribe 9 manufactures an extensive selection of gluten-free pastas with a true al dente texture including fresh gluten-free spinach fettuccine; four-cheese tortellini and lasagna sheets for retail; and for foodservice, heat-and-serve ziti, penne, shells and macaroni.

“Today our fresh pasta is sold to grocery stores and restaurants across the nation,” says Peter Robertson, VP Food Service & Pasta Guru, Tribe 9 Foods. “We believe fresh pasta can be gluten-free and still have the same amazing taste and texture as traditional pasta. That’s the standard each of our products has to meet before ever making its way to our customers’ plates.”


In 2019, Tribe 9 built a new manufacturing facility to support further growth in Taste Republic’s co-manufacturing, private label and foodservice businesses. Capabilities at this new facility include extrusion, IQF, form-fill-seal, flow-wrap packaging, nut butter milling and gluten-free flour blending.

“The facility was designed for small batches and is still state-of-the-art,” says Robertson. “It includes the capability to produce gluten-free foods, fill individual and industry/bulk containers from consumer packages to 1,200-pound totes, extrude and fill pastas, and freeze using the IQF method, giving us diverse and unique competencies.”

“In the new plant we expanded our singular gluten-free, fresh product line to three lines,” says Robertson. “We also added a line for our gluten free filled-pasta process for ravioli and tortellini—and a second large IQF for the quick frozen pasta line. We added five new production lines when we moved into this building.”

Manufacturing in-house for all three brands with some of the latest processing technology allows large food manufacturers to test innovative packaging/product ideas. But more important, is has allowed Tribe 9 to have complete control over manufacturing process and safety protocols, and product quality.

Continuous-process pasta cooking and cooling

One of these key in-house technologies is a continuous process for cooking and cooling pasta.

In 2017, Tribe 9 implemented a continuous-process pasta cooking and cooling system using a rotary-drum process to support its gluten-free pasta line. This system slowly moves the pasta through an enclosed perforated drum, resulting in the product being submerged in water and using an auger or screw to control dwell times. The pasta is hydrated and cooked to the same degree throughout the movement in the drum from entry to exit. The pasta is then transferred into a cooling system using a similar continuous process. From there the pasta is conveyed to IQF.

“Once we had this system installed we quickly maxed out its capability,” says Robertson. “We also saw the downfalls of working with this particular continuous-process system. It was very difficult to clean because so many of the parts had to come off. We realized the time savings that could be had, and reduced labor hours, with a more automated clean-in-place (CIP) system.”

Sanitation and clean-up times are factors that are critical. Faster changeovers, by speeding up the sanitation process, not only reduce labor hours, but also provide the flexibility to run a variety of different products daily on the same line.

“To handle our heightened volume needs of cooked gluten-free pasta, we added another line, and this time opted for a cooker and cooler with a very complete CIP capability,” says Robertson. “We selected Lyco’s Clean-Flow® continuous-process systems.”

How the process works

Developed by Lyco Manufacturing (Lyco), a supplier of food processing cooking and cooling equipment, the Clean-Flow continuous-processing system for cooking and cooling pasta, vegetables and potatoes was designed to meet more fully the needs for food safety, quick changeovers and faster clean-up time for food processors.

Pasta cooker/cooler output
In this photo, 40°F pasta is being discharged from the Clean-Flow cooler onto a shaker table, prior to freezing. Source: Lyco Manufacturing

Utilizing separate, but connected machines for cooking and cooling, the Clean-Flow design permits pasta to be entered into the cooker, then slowly moved through the cooking zone. A very accurately made screw auger resides in a stationary wedge-wire screen, and encapsulates the screw from the 3:00 to 9:00 o’clock position. The tolerance between the screw and the screen is very close, less than one-half a grain of rice.

Water agitation via a system called Hydro-Flow® is injected through the screen, which keeps the pasta off from the floor of the screen, where it is maintained in total suspension. It more evenly distributes the product loading across the width of the machine, uniformly treating each pasta particle.

In addition, a gentle mechanical stirring action is applied on the pasta as it progresses through the machine. The pasta is cooked to the same degree throughout its movement from entry to exit, with the screw controlling dwell times, ensuring uniform first-in/first-out processing.

This totally-enclosed, continuous-flow process ensures consistent quality of the pasta. It involves moving each food particle through the process with no breaks or variations in time, sequence or temperature.

The pasta runs through the 40-inch diameter, 7-ft. long cooking Clean-Flow system, then is immediately put through another 30-inch diameter, 7-ft. long Clean-Flow cooling system to stop the cooking process. The cooling system is identical to the Clean-Flow cooking system in process steps and functionality, including Hydro-Flow and the gentle mechanical stirring action.

The Clean-Flow cooler chills the pasta temperature down to 40°F. Then the food particles exit the cooler onto a shaker table that distributes the products onto a stainless-steel belt, and then they are conveyed straight into the freezer. The IQF is a continuous-freezing process—a liquid nitrogen tunnel. When the particles of frozen pasta exit the freezer they are packaged into totes and put into deep-freeze storage, pending distribution.

Pre-programmed PLCs ensure a highly-controlled process and recipe management for precise automated control of cook and cool functions, including time and temperature. This results in uniform heating and cooling, and a totally consistent end product.

“We are finding it increasingly difficult to procure qualified machine operators,” says Robertson. “Designing systems that are more intuitive to operate makes a significant impact on improving our machine and line uptime, product quality and overall plant performance. Clean-Flow, definitely, is such an intuitive system.”

This combination Clean-Flow cook and cool system at Tribe 9 processes approximately 60,000 pounds of gluten-free pasta weekly, resulting in more than 99 percent of the fragile pasta being undamaged.

Automated CIP saves time

Clean-Flow is designed to reduce clean-up from hours to minutes, because the screw is totally exposed for cleaning. During clean-up the wedge-wire screen is released from its fixed position, and is continually rotated 360 degrees around the screw, alternately exposing the interior and exterior of the screen to CIP manifolds located in the cover of the machine. The screw can be rotated at the same time as the screen, again exposing all surfaces to the cleansing water sprays. With this capability, the CIP system can clean more than 98 percent of the machine without manual intervention.

“A critical reason why we decided to go with Clean-Flow was because of the reduced time to clean the system,” says Robertson. “The Clean-Flow line for cooked gluten-free pasta is our biggest process line, and yet now it is the easiest to clean. We run the line two shifts daily, five days per week. The CIP, from start to finish, including filling and heating the water, is about 40 minutes. What we save in cleaning time and labor is just amazing.”

Poised for expansion

Tribe 9 Foods was formed to create delicious, nourishing and functional food to improve the lives of others. By combining the unique and diverse skills of three fast-growing companies, the idea was together it could do more: Create more nutritious products; Provide more great local jobs for employees; Contribute more to its communities; and demonstrate more how to be a responsible and sustainable manufacturer.

Supporting this initiative, in 2018 Tribe 9 Foods became a certified B-Corporation as a commitment to use business as a force for good and improve its practices to further benefit workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. Certified B Corporations balance purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

“Tribe 9 is committed to these ideals, and a part of this is constantly innovating our processes and bringing on new operations,” said Robertson. “We are currently adding another 23,000 square feet of space to aid our production potential, and we are poised to minimally double our sales volume with our current facilities. It is process systems like Clean-Flow that are critical to Tribe 9 maintaining its successful positioning in the market as a premiere alternative pasta maker.”

About Tribe 9 Foods

Tribe 9 Foods creates delicious, nourishing and functional food, and takes a collaborative approach to its relationships, knowing that when its customers succeed, it succeeds. Its brands include Taste Republic® gluten-free, fresh pasta, RP’s® fresh traditional pasta and Yumbutter® nut butters. In addition to its brands, Tribe 9 Foods has extensive capabilities in both co-manufacturing and private label. The company’s products can be found in over 6,000 retail locations throughout the United States.

In 2018, Tribe 9 Foods became a certified B-Corporation as a commitment to use business as a force for good and improve its practices to further benefit workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. Certified B Corporations balance purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

For more information, contact Peter Robertson, VP Food Service & Pasta Guru, Tribe 9 Foods; 2901 Progress Rd, Madison, WI 53716; Telephone 608-310-1222; email probertson@tribe9foods.com; www.tribe9foods.com.

About Lyco Manufacturing, Inc.

Lyco Manufacturing is a manufacturer of commercial cooking and cooling machines, liquid-solid separation screens, root crop peelers/scrubbers, and snap bean equipment for the processing of pasta, rice, dry beans and vegetables. The company has designed and installed thousands of machines for 50 of the top 100 food companies in North America and many smaller food manufacturers.

Founded in 1980 by owner and Chairman of the Board, David R. Zittel, Lyco Manufacturing is housed in a state-of-the-art 80,000 square-foot facility located in Columbus, Wisconsin, USA, 30 miles northeast of the capital city of Madison.

For more information contact Jeff Zittel, Vice President of Sales, Marketing, Applications Engineering & Sales, Lyco Manufacturing, Inc.; Phone 920-623-4152; jeff.zittel@lycomfg.com; 115 Commercial Drive, Columbus, Wisconsin 53925; www.lycomfg.com