16 November 2020 - Founded 20 years ago, Herbonis is the Swiss company behind Panbonis®, a 100 % specialty complementary feed that provides the source of 1,25(OH)2D3, the active form of vitamin D3.
Herbonis has been gearing up in the past few years for a more outgoing, market-facing strategy, not only to showcase the company behind the product and why it claims to be ‘Independent by Nature’, but also to meet in a more complete way customer expectations.
Feedinfo spoke to the CEO of Herbonis, Dr. Rätus Böhlen, to discuss why his company has decided to focus on getting closer to customers and the various milestones which led to this new strategy. Dr. Böhlen also shared his views on market opportunities for Herbonis and the company’s priorities as we head into 2021.
[Feedinfo] Dr. Böhlen, Herbonis was founded 20 years ago. But it wasn’t until recently that your strategy changed, and the company became more market oriented. What kick-started this change? Why is it important for Herbonis to build a more direct relationship with its customers?
Dr. Rätus Böhlen
[Rätus Böhlen] Herbonis was founded by former Roche scientists. The company was originally set up to work with Solanum glaucophyllum as a source of the metabolic active form of vitamin D3 for human applications. In 2006, the company decided to investigate the potential for animal nutrition applications, which was a successful move and in the next decade, the company grew. We even decided that for Herbonis it would be best to focus on animal nutrition and we made a clear strategy to move towards this path.
We have 18 direct employees today, all of which have the possibility to become shareholders. The board of directors includes recognized people with a several decades of experience in the animal industry and highly skilled nutritional experts.
In 2020, we see lots of opportunities in the market for our product offering and we wish to intensify our direct customer relationships to improve our services. We also wish to foster a good understanding of the need for new product development to solve our customers’ issues in a smart and natural way. 2020 has also been a year of implementing our key accounts strategy whereby we further build relationships with key clients, even with the challenges that came with COVID-19.
[Feedinfo] Herbonis acquired Robert Aebi Feed Additive Technologies GmbH (FAT) in 2018 and Wyreside Products Limited Ltd. (Herbonis’ UK distributor) earlier in 2020. How have the FAT and Wyreside acquisitions accelerated your growth? How does Herbonis see the relationship with the current partners? And are you still open to new partnerships?
[Rätus Böhlen] In the last three years we have enjoyed an organic growth of 20% and we have been able to optimize our supply chain to be transparent throughout the world, while further strengthening our scientific and technical knowhow. Herbonis has a deep knowledge on product, plant and mode of action. We believe that the combination of our scientific and technical knowledge together with local expertise of our partners is a synergy that can generate the best benefits for the customers. These acquisitions are in line with our strategy to have more direct contact with our end customers and to give better technical support throughout the supply chain.
Our current strategy is mainly based on sustainable organic growth. During COVID-19, we were able to expand our business with several existing customers and generate extra bits of revenue by upselling. We were fortunate to have established strong partnerships with these parties before COVID-19 and we had the time to get to know each other. It can be challenging to seek new contacts in today’s context in which companies are not necessarily developing new ideas and feeding strategies. 2020 has allowed us to really focus on our branding and strategy.
We support our distributors and we always seek synergies. On one side we manage regions in good and open partnerships, and on the other side if there is an opportunity for a selected acquisition that fits in our strategy, we are ready to go for it. We are interested in companies or ideas with special new phytogenic products or companies that have synergies with our current product and distribution network. In this sense we are always looking for ownership of a unique molecule/technology, or of our supply chain.
Today, we may be a one product company, but we want to have three to five products in our portfolio in the mid-term. But it is essential that our new products give proven benefits to our customers and contribute to animal performance and welfare. This is a matter of trust and for this we take our time. Our three pillars that drive us are Nature, Innovation and Trust, so any potential M&A needs to fit within.
These pillars are tightly incorporated in everything we do. We are global in terms of partnerships and the collaborators we work with must have the same thinking as we do, based on trust and transparency.
[Feedinfo] The phytogenic market is rapidly evolving changing with a lot of investor interest in this area. Herbonis prides itself in being independent and has the slogan “Independent by Nature”. Why does that model suit you more?
[Rätus Böhlen] We see ourselves as a rock and we see a storm around us of all kinds of companies being bought out by bigger entities. I think acting as an independent company is the best way to achieve the goals of our strategy in the next years and continue to operate with an entrepreneurial spirit. Our people enjoy being part of a smaller company where innovation remains agile and smart. In my view the smaller companies that become part of larger firms eventually lose their identity and the direct relationships. We only started our journey three years ago and we are not yet where we want to be in three to five years’ time.
As said, Herbonis is independent and we see ourselves as a specialist of proprietary ingredients based on natural plants. We are building up a unique and motivated team of well-known highly skilled experts in the feed industry. With this asset there will be more molecules and applications to come. We aim for at least three essential bio-actives in our company that can be used in future product formulations. These bio-actives should support Panbonis®, our flagship product.
[Feedinfo] How does Herbonis differentiate itself in the phytogenic space with Panbonis®?
[Rätus Böhlen] Panbonis® is a 100% natural supplement that provides 1,25(OH)2D3-glycosides, the source of the active form of vitamin D3. We have been growing and cultivating the plant used in Panbonis for 20 years. We are the only company in the market selling this proven source of the bioactive form of vitamin D3 which stabilises calcium metabolism in animals. It partly has distinct modes of action, e.g. on calcium metabolism, but also partly synergizing with other phytogenics. We have seen that with Panbonis®, animals grow with less health issues (e.g. bone disorders and local inflammations) than those fed only with vitamin D3. Our product is seen to deliver the right amount of active form of vitamin D3 after cleavage of the glycoside.
Panbonis® is a premium product. We simply have a unique natural molecule that we grow in house. This molecule works in different species and gives a significant ROI to our customers worldwide. Having our plant growing, cultivation and production assets nearby and fully under control is a clear benefit for our quality assured product.
[Feedinfo] Panbonis® is your flagship product but are you considering bolstering the portfolio in 2021 and beyond? And are there some sweet spots still available for Panbonis®?
[Rätus Böhlen] Our Panbonis® product is providing solutions for poultry and swine. Currently, we are moving into more applications, starting with ruminants and aquaculture. Our product has the potential to develop even further. And we are looking into new applications in the coming years.
Despite the complexity of our production process, we can quickly adapt to the increasing demand. We have over two years of stock in our warehouses to cater to any extra demand and we adjust the stocks adequately to avoid out of stock situations.
Asia Pacific and Latin America will continue to be big markets. For us, Europe, where we only started selling in 2017, is still a young and growing market in which we see potential. We see sweets spots in the entire EMEA region for further market penetration. We also realise that we still have a lot of work to do to increase our brand awareness, especially in America. Our aim is triple or even quadruple our sales in the next few years.
Published in association with Herbonis