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Partner show | Jeroen Elfers Says We Need to Work Together on Dairy

2021-10-11 11:40:13 Comments:0 Views:795 category:SDDDC News

With the revitalization and internationalization of China's dairy industry, new opportunities and challenges continue to emerge. The ever-evolving food culture has made consumers increasingly demanding nutrition, health, freshness, and enjoyment. How to use a wealth of dairy products to meet diverse consumption requirements? In order to increase self-sufficiency by achieving continuous production growth under multiple pressures such as rising feed costs and environmental protection? How should small and medium farms develop in the future? Are cooperatives the answer? How do we look long-term to these developments for the dairy industry? How should the industry work together to prepare for future development?

It is difficult to give exact answers to these questions, but they are worth discussing in-depth and exploring them in the collision of thoughts. As an industry think tank, the Sino-Dutch Dairy Development Center will link the wisdom of the dairy industry in China, the Netherlands and the world, looking forward to the collision of multiple perspectives and experiences.

In the first partner show, we have Mr. Jeroen Elfers who will share his industry observations on the world and China from an international perspective and his own industry experience. The full video is at the end of each paragraph.

Let’s get to know something about Mr. Jeroen Elfers.

Jeroen Elfers

Jeroen Elfers is the Corporate Director of Dairy Development and Milkstreams at FrieslandCampina. The core steerco member of Sino Dutch Dairy Development Centre. He is also a member of the Board of the Dutch Dairy Association since 2015. Jeroen has a master's degree in Personal Management Sciences and worked for various multinationals like Stork, Rexam, and General Electrics in the Netherlands, Sweden and United Kingdom. He started his career at FrieslandCampina as the Corporate Director HR, was closely involved with the merger between Friesland Foods and Campina in 2009 and pursued his career as Corporate Director of Cooperative Affairs.

Royal FrieslandCampina was founded in 1871 and is the first dairy company in the Netherlands with a royal title. It is a global dairy company originating from the Netherlands with a one and a half century-old history. It is committed to providing the world with high-quality natural nutrition, having nearly 70% of the farms in the Netherlands as members. Every day, Royal FrieslandCampina provides nutritious dairy products to more than 1 billion consumers worldwide.

Jeroen has a small (non-commercial) farm with several beef cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as a dog and cats. There is always a woman behind a man on his way to success, but in Jeroen’s case, he is supported by 3 ladies (his wife and 2 daughters)! And lets us not forget his 3 boys! A big family. 

Jeroen said that he did not grow up on a farm when he was a child, he actually was a chief-firemen at the early start of his career. In 2004, he officially entered the dairy industry and worked in many different other sectors. Jeroen said that he is very happy with his current working status. Although he has joined FrieslandCampina for many years, he feels like every day in the office is a new start with new energy. The company has reinvented itself several times due to mergers and has grown fast in the last 20 years. Besides the sector develops fast, it is innovative and it has a global scope, which makes the work always challenging.

What’s your favorite innovation/development in RFC? Why?

I have to think about that for a long time because as I mentioned I’ve worked with RFC for quite a long time, there are many innovations and creations I like. 

The most recent one that I am very proud of is the creation of a new milk stream called ‘On the way to PlanetProof’, an independent quality label. We selected the best 10% performing farmers on Sustainability. We collect and process their milk separately and then we sell it as dairy products under the label of ‘On the way to PlanetProof’. Now more than 700 mln. kg p.a. was sold by suppliers since we established the label 2 years ago. So you can say that this is our fastest growing special milk stream in the Netherlands and it fits the development in trends on sustainability. I was one of the team members who established this concept, it really excites me and I am very proud of this idea.

RFC has many products like cheese and butter which are not very popular in China yet, what do you think about this? And will RFC consider making some products that will suit Chinese consumer’s diets?

Yes, we do and we will. The key point is “yet”. RFC has been producing cheese, butter, and so on for almost 150 years and we export these to over 90 countries worldwide and it is the basis of everything we do. Due to globalization and new trends, nations and young generations tend to experiment with various kitchens and flavors, etc. China does this as well. We are getting used to other countries’ kitchens. For example, the Italian kitchen (pizza, pasta, etc.) contains a lot of cheese. Europeans also more often eat food prepared in an Asian way. And this gives us opportunities for products that we produce. For sure we need to consider specific needs as most Asian people are lactose intolerant, so the products need to be lactose-free. But we are confident that cheese and butter will also become a main ingredient in China.

Based on the form of the Dutch dairy industry, is the business model of dairy farmers investing in dairy companies feasible in China?

Definitely. I don’t think we should say that the Dutch model is the best model for each country as there are many different factors that you need to consider like history and climate etc., but yes, the Dutch model does have its own characteristics which are very usable for many countries. 

We do believe that smallholders and family-based dairy farms applying meadow grazing could be a sustainable farm system, also for China. It will assure high employment and a more sustainable model than a model fully based on large-scale commercial farms. Also in China, smallholders still form the backbone of its national dairy production.

Based on your international dairy experience, with the control of large-scale dairy farms by dairy companies, how should China's small and medium-sized farms develop in the future? 

To be honest, what is happening in China is very impressive and I have to be very modest to give advice in this case. Family farms and smallholders are the backbones of the dairy industry. The numbers of large-scale farms are growing very fast in China, which means milk production is growing as well. But by the end of the day, the total milk production depends on family farms and smallholders as well. It is a pity that the number of small farms is declining in China.  And I think it would help if there is more focus on the development of those small farms, to help them improving productivity, quality and farm management, to make them a stronger back-bone. In the longer term, this is more sustainable. 
I do believe that this hybrid model can create a stronger sustainable foundation in China. It is important to cherish and support the small-sized and family-based farms in China. Also, the efforts to become more self-sufficient in dairy production means to become less dependent on the import of feed (roughage/forage). Otherwise, there is no true self-sufficiency, but just a shift in the decoupling point in the value chain.
Where do you see the dairy industry going and which challenges will the industry run into?

There are a few challenges. On the one hand, the growth of the world population and the demands of high nutritional food like dairy, but substitutes like plant-based are growing as well. Another challenge is the environmental issue, how do we use the earth in a responsible way so that we can pass on the earth to our next generation in a better shape. To achieve this balance, we need to know how to source and make efficient but also eco-friendly use of our land and production of dairy which requires strong collaboration between dairy players. Like what SDDDC is doing--to work together in a pre-competitive way on topics like sustainability. Secondly, the impact of the government policy is also important, to develop a long-term policy for food production. Thirdly what I think is very important is that consumers value food and dairy that is produced in a responsible and sustainable way. This requires collaboration, innovation and long-term view together in food production and dairy in specific.

Congrats again for CNDDD’s launching last October in Nigeria, how many similar centers are you involved in? What is the conception so far?

I am involved in 3 dairy centers (in the Netherlands, China and Nigeria); they are all unique in their model. These centers are based on people, the companies that cooperate together on pre-competitive topics. The philosophy behind them is that lots of companies are competitors but at the end of the day, we all benefit from large consumption of dairy products, and from working together on innovation, sustainability, and quality of dairy. If the quality of a certain dairy producer has issues, it will influence the whole industry. 

SDDDC is very special in this case, it’s a collaboration based on the so-called Golden Triangle, between dairy companies, the private sector, the public sector and knowledge institutes in both Netherlands and China and also runs as a knowledge center.




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