S.C.O.P.E: Scientific Challenges and Opportunities in the Protein Economy
Fourteen years have passed since we inaugurated the World Nutrition Forum in Salzburg. Since then, many challenges as well as changes, mainly in science but as well as in industrial structures, markets and processes introduced throughout all these years have brought about a whole set of factors that influence how we shape the future of our industry. The theme of the 2018 World Nutrition Forum is S.C.O.P.E, or “Scientific Challenges and Opportunities in the Protein Economy.” While this topic is clearly important, I propose an alternative definition of the acronym S.C.O.P.E: “Science & Speed & Service – Chances – Organization 4.0 – Partnership – Entrepreneurship.” The latter reveals how ERBER Group companies engage in the feed to food chain today and how they are positioned for the future. Science, Service and Speed make up the value proposition of ERBER Group—what we c have defined the “3 S concept.”
Science and innovation always has been the driver of growth in Biomin and Erber Group. When the company was established in 1983, it was the first to introduce a probiotic premix line to Austrian customers. The mycotoxin subject was introduced to Biomin in 1985 when we bought a small company which held the world´s first patent for a mycotoxins binder called Antitox Plus®. In 1992, Biomin was the first firm to launch a product to deactivate mycotoxins by the means of biotransformation. Then, Mycofix® became first ever product with the claim of enzymatic degradation of mycotoxins when FUMzyme® was approved by the EU authorities in 2014. Additional specific enzymes are in the R&D pipeline and will soon help the industry to completely eliminate the threat of other toxins. For Romer Labs, a commitment to leading science can be seen in the portfolio of mycotoxin test systems for any use; ranging from the fast field testing with strips up to the 380 degree survey run on the highly sophisticated LCMS-MS. Romer Labs leads the field in allergen testing with 16 different allergen test kits. In Sanphar, science is evident in the first prototype of a vaccine, which is effective against porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), a condition that occurs on farms worldwide with no known protection against it at this point in time. With the world-renowned Biomin Research Center in Tulln, Austria and the new Sanphar research in Thailand, and the various cooperation on a worldwide scale, the future of Science at the Erber Group looks great.
Service is solely based on mutual partnership. It is the third and not the least important part of the Biomin value proposition. A company like Biomin, which is based on Science, cannot forget about the real needs of customers. In addition, we are very confident that we have in all these years placed service close to the heart of each employee at Erber Group. The most prominent service Biomin offers to its customer is the global mycotoxin survey, which has become the gold standard in the field. Since 2004, Biomin offers this service and there is no other company that has such an extensive survey. Service is also very important when it comes to the competence of our sales team and technical service. Biomin continuously trains it sales team to become competent partner in the technical discussion. The technical managers who are in charge of a certain species like poultry, swine and so on back the technical expertise. We also provide relevant educational content to the industry through our magazine, Science & Solutions. Romer has three test locations as a confirmatory lab for all the test kits they offer. Sanphar has just started a vet diagnostic lab in Vietnam, which offers professional service to the feed industry and their customer farms. Moreover, the World Nutrition Forum is definitely the most prestigious and well-known service we offer to our customers.
Science and Service are well-known concepts in the industry. So why do we see speed as an important factor? The best example of speed to me is represented by Frederik Smith the founder of FedEx. Fred started an overnight parcel service in the US with the motto, “If we don’t get it there, we don’t get paid”! Despite the fact that his professor at Yale rejected his thesis, Smith could prove that speed can be foundational for business success. And the key to it is an iron discipline along the transport chain. That is what Biomin offers in a way through a worldwide network of production and logistic hubs. Speed is also of the essence in case something goes wrong. Here, the staff is trained to respond as fast as possible and find a quick solution. Speed is also needed in communication response time. The worldwide video conferencing system first installed company-wide almost ten years ago makes it easy and fast to communicate around the globe. Another sign of speed is that Biomin was the first ever company to receive an EU registration for a mycotoxin deactivation product and later the first to receive a registration for FUMzyme®.
What coincides with the current financial and investment dilemma is a megatrend, which was described by Robert Gordon in his book “The Rise and Fall of American Growth”. Robert Gordon starts his analysis with the first wave of industrialization in the 19th century, driven by the invention of the mechanical weaving machine, steam engine, and railway. Millions of poor peasants left their farm to work in cities. This wave of industrialization increased the productivity of the workforce tremendously. Along with the increased productivity came better pay and fewer working hours.
In the next wave of industrialization the 20th century saw electricity, lighting, the combustion engine and cars take hold. This revolution was also driven by F.W. Taylor’s (1856-1915) scientific management, which separated work into individual and optimized steps as a way to increase productivity. Henry Ford used this idea to invent the assembly line. As productivity increased, working hours were reduced while employee pay rose accordingly. The post-WWII period ushered in an unparalleled growth story in the Western world dominated by the “American Dream.”
Robert Gordon further postulates that in the third wave of industrialization – the age of digitalization – things have changed. The computer has helped to revolutionize the way we work and communicate. Handheld devices, social networks as well as the cloud are drivers of next generations. Nevertheless, while factories not full of people but robots may look good on the books of the company it has not become reality yet, that all this “new economy” yields in a similar strong increase in productivity as the previous waves of innovation did.
The buzzword “Industry 4.0” predicts a world where the computer on the assembly line talks to the computer of the supplier. Goods are transported by driverless trucks and unloaded by robots around the clock. No humans, no bio break time. Now, one might hope that this will hold true for industrial blue collar jobs only. Only recently the first fully computerized law firm has opened shop in the USA, and the first firm without any staff has been incorporated. We might be able to see a feed mill operation fully controlled by computers. Perhaps robots could run chicken houses and processing plants can operated by “Industry 4.0” standards. And with the prospect of artificial intelligence taking over the jobs of engineers, designers, teachers and may be even doctors, what does that mean for us as a society? So far it was safe to say that children receiving better educations than their parents have better career prospects. But what if this paradigm is no longer true?
I am sure that education will still be a key in the future of the new knowledge society. According to Peter Drucker, “The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers.” Without education and know-how we are lost in the new world of knowledge work. However, when we look at the world population growth we see a mixed picture. The strongest growth of world population comes from Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Many of these are the areas in which the literacy rates and education levels are the lowest compared to other areas. According to some think tanks, strong population growth puts severe financial strain on already squeezed education budgets, which have to compete for capital against other investments such as infrastructure. Such countries face a severe challenge. Often this is combined with corruption and government inefficiency or other forms of crisis.
There are politicians in the EU who call for a Marshall Plan for Africa just as the US did for Europe after the WWII. However, in view of the tight financial situation in most EU countries plus ongoing austerity measures, the situation provides little hope for a major breakthrough of that front. Sadly, the walls of “fortress Europe” cannot be built high enough in the minds of some. The pressure on the rich countries to act will increase as the situation in the poorest countries worsens.
There is another factor that slowly creeps into this already negative equation: growing inequality in many countries and the loss of the middle class – a group largely considered the backbone of modern societies. This is the case where 1% of the population owns 40% of the asset in a developed country while the middle class experience erosion of their wealth. It is natural that humans want to have a better future. Who does not want to have a bigger car? Since the early 2000s no real income increase, or in some cases even negative income growth made all the dreams of a bigger house, bigger car or better university for the kids an illusion. That is why an economist like Thomas Piketty can claim with some rights that a new redistribution is on the agenda. That is why Switzerland considered a universal basic income for every Swiss citizen. We will see more of these discussions coming up since the so-called trickle-down effect from the rich to the poor obviously does not work the way it was thought to. The question remains: what will happen if nothing is done to balance the inequality in places with high Gini coefficients? Will there be a peaceful solution? The radical strikes in a developed country like France during the Euro 2016 show how a small-but-powerful ultra-left union can paralyze a whole country just to promote their own case.
The question I have asked myself is what can we at Biomin or Erber Group offer to help to master these future challenges? Biomin is the biggest division of Erber Group, which moved to its new Campus headquarters in Austria in 2015. With the sister division Romer Labs we take the question of mycotoxin risk management very seriously. We offer the most advanced solutions in testing and deactivation for the feed and food industry. Sanphar, our new animal health arm, focuses on biosecurity, vet diagnostics and animal vaccine developments. In EFB (Erber Future Business), we have a cluster of new starts-ups ranging from plant protection, novel vaccines, new enzyme applications to aquaponics. Erber Group with all its parts has the ambitious vision of: “Innovative and sustainable solutions for the safety and quality of feed and food production for a growing world population.”
Of course, entrepreneurship requires ‘grit’—a quality that encompasses resilience in the face of setbacks and the appetite to embrace very ambitious goals time and again. That is a necessary quality for entrepreneurship because not every activity is a success. There are some failures along the way. Failure does not equal defeat. Instead, a failure offers the entrepreneur a lesson. At a minimum, it means do not repeat your mistake. And in the best case, a failure will open the door to new opportunities: the seed of a new success.
The challenges of entrepreneurship evolve over time, as an idea becomes a business that first struggles to survive, then grapples with how to grow, succeeds and then matures. The firm must grow up as it grows in size, from an initial disrupter to a constant innovator. For example, the question of learning how to grow shifts to the question of how to maintain growth.
In a nutshell, with Science we make sure that our products are always the top of its class. With Speed we make sure that we are there when needed and our response time to customer requests is as fast as possible With Service we make sure that our long standing customers are served as we would like to be served. We truly believe that considering challenges as a chance to find innovative approaches supported by our strong commitment to new organizational structures and technologies. We trust, that partnership and entrepreneurship go hand in hand.
In this way, we hope that we can contribute to make the future a better one for the current generation, our children’s generation and beyond.