Key Business Outlooks For 2024 (5/10): Inge Demeyere, Cargill Food Solutions Europe

The year 2023 has brought more international turmoil, supply chain disruption and historic inflation all over the globe, putting a lot of pressure on the baking industry. Concerns about the availability of raw materials, the cost of energy, transport capacity, regulations, labor shortage and purchasing power had companies and professionals worried and looking for solutions.

That is what we see in these interviews with top managers from the most important industry players: the industry fought back and invested in research and development to provide sustainable solutions that address these challenges.

For 2024, representatives of some of the most important equipment and ingredients manufacturing companies talk in unison about sustainability, automation, energy-saving technology, traceability and working for the customers, to make sure their access to good bakery products is unhindered by the setbacks of the world. None of the viewpoints shared with us is lacking in hope, an essential attribute for a long-term winning business.

Conventional food production systems have enjoyed uninterrupted growth over the last few decades. While this trend is expected to continue in the short term, resource constraints may dampen expansion in the long term. Furthermore, the sector is increasingly ripe for disruption.

It is up to the bakers, transporters and retailers to find the right way to stay profitable and capitalize on the market opportunities that await them in 2024.

Inge Demeyere, Managing Director Bakery, Ice Cream and Chocolate Confectionery at Cargill Food Solutions Europe

Considering the market volatility, the bottleneck of resources, the energy crisis, the increasing prices and workforce scarcity, what does this past year look like for your company when you draw the line? 

Having been around for over 150 years we are certainly no strangers to turbulent times. In just the last few years global food suppliers have had to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, severe weather, trade and supply chain disruptions as well as political and socioeconomic conflicts and tensions around the world. 

Our customers want us to help them find solutions when supply chain disruptions occur. Thanks to our global presence and deep connections across supply chains, we are well-positioned to help them weather the storm of disruptions, with scope to tap into different markets and business areas as required.

Our rich history also provides us with the tools and expertise needed to track global macro trends and co-create innovative solutions to meet them. For example, we know that affordability and inflation are obviously at the front of the mind for a lot of our customers as they experience increased volatility in markets. That’s why we invest in innovation and co-creation, helping our customers remain competitive in a volatile market space. 

What are your expectations for next year, keeping in mind the legacy of 2023, but also the current challenges? 

The world is fast-paced and changing quickly, with volatility becoming the new ‘normal’. As an organization, we are adapting accordingly to work more regionally with our customers, providing them with a breadth and depth of resources that set a new standard for innovation and collaboration. 

Our customers are looking for a growth and innovation partner who engages further on sustainability, while continuing to deliver reliably. Cargill Food Solutions is our response, where we innovate to new heights, deliver comprehensive solutions, and accelerate sustainability – all anchored by connections to revitalize food for happier, healthier lives. 

Our customers can depend on our insight-led innovation to create nutritious and tasty products that contribute to happier, healthier lives. One great example can be found in the development of plant-based and healthier solutions to tap into macro trends. Here we can tap into a broad portfolio of solutions – from texturizers and fats to healthier oils – to deliver a delicious mouthfeel and enhanced flavours while serving consumer demand.

How do you estimate the market will evolve and what is your priority list for 2024? 

Across Europe, we are seeing a rising middle class and ageing population that is increasingly interested in health and wellness and sustainability. We’re making investments in these growth areas accordingly. For example, we know that today’s consumers want it all – a great tasting indulgent product but not at the cost of their health and nutrition goals, so they are seeking out low sugar options where possible. 

Our Gerkens Sweety Cocoa Powder range is one great example of how we’re making it possible for chocolate beverage producers to hit the sweet spot for consumers. These cocoa powders enable up to 30% sugar reduction in the end application while providing a nice chocolatey taste that is loved by consumers.  

Additionally, we’re finding that ‘natural ingredients’ is the most appealing claim on packaging for cocoa and chocolate products, with 70% of EMEA consumers considering the lack of additional sweeteners to be most important on the ingredient list (Source: Cargill proprietary research 2021). Here, Stevia is a great option, as a nature-derived alternatives to sugar. Since EU approval in 2011, stevia-based sweeteners have quickly become a favorite high-intensity sweetener. We plan to expand our European portfolio further, with a next-generation sweetener that enables even deeper sugar reductions and can bring stevia’s sweetness to a wider range of applications, including soda fountain beverages and other more concentrated applications.   

Another major trend that we’re seeing is that consumers are seeking innovative, sensory experiences, particularly within the indulgence category. There’s a greater focus on nostalgic flavors – such as caramel and white chocolate – that evoke memories of childhood. Meeting these trends, we are focusing on developing exciting, high-value products such as ice cream, sweet bakery and chocolate confectionery. A great example of this is the new Cargill Caramel Selection, a range of irresistible caramel sensorials made with uniquely blended ingredients and designed to deliver indulgent flavors like never before, going beyond what is currently available on the market.  

Finally, we’re seeing significant growth in the value-added segments such as gourmet, dairy-free, vegan, clean-label and sugar-reduced chocolate products. We are investing to meet these demands and deliver solutions to customers as a strong indulgence expert. Over the last few years, we acquired speciality chocolate brands Smet and Leman, and opened our House of Chocolate innovation center.  

As we look to the future, we plan to add 60% capacity to our chocolate coatings & fillings plant in Deventer, the Netherlands. The upgraded facility will be designed to deliver solution compounds without nuts and can also produce sugar-free and palm-free coatings & fillings. We’re also looking to expand out gourmet production and capabilities (couverture and decorations) in Mouscron, Belgium, and extend our white liquid chocolate line in Berlin, Germany, ensuring that we are well-positioned to cover every indulgence request. 

Where did the growth opportunities come from and what is the most important lesson you have learned in recent times? 

An important lesson learned in 2023 was how quickly supply chains can be disrupted by political and economic issues, and the need to ensure everything in your supply chain is secure and sustainable to weather those storms. For us, this ties in with our growth plan to differentiate with sustainability, as we commit to doing what’s right at every step of the value chain and helping our customers grow their business, advance their sustainability goals, and strengthen their credibility.

Our 2023 Sustainability Consumer Insights survey found that consumer interest in sustainable products is growing, with expectations from brands higher than ever, with 55% of consumers reporting that they would love to incorporate “more sustainable” foods and beverage into their diets and 2 in 5 willing to pay more for “sustainable” products.

Customers want to track their carbon footprint and therefore, we are well positioned to help them. We are rolling out a full Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) across our entire ingredients portfolio to help our customers quantify the emissions in their supply chain and track progress towards their environmental targets. This will help our customers to consider using appropriate green claims for on-pack labelling.

This is in addition to the sustainability progress we’re embedding across our entire supply chain – from the expansion of the Cargill Cocoa Promise to the launch of ‘WindWings’ earlier this year, helping to decarbonize the shipping industry which transports raw materials around the world. 

What do you consider to be the most valuable asset you have in 2024 as a company?

Read the rest of the story in the January / February edition of European Baker & Biscuit.

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